Making football accessible

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PHOTO: BEN TOMSETT

AFTER moving to Invercargill nine weeks ago, Aotearoa Maori Football Te Waipounamu kaiwhakahaere (South Island development officer) Robbie Hawkins has led the charge in bringing Aotearoa Maori Football to Southland, forming two youth teams for this year’s draw.

Having left his previous coaching position in Canterbury, he and his family moved in across the road from the South End Soccer Club, and he soon noticed there was no junior club.

After getting in touch with Southland Football, Hawkins went along to a meeting where they discussed resources and long-term planning and then received a resource consent.

“I sent it out to all the schools in the area, and they all came on board and put the flyers out, and from there we managed to get two junior teams for the season which hasn’t happened for a very long time in this area.”

After a lifetime of involvement with other sports, with qualifications in touch rugby, cricket, badminton and others, Hawkins first got involved with football while living in Canterbury, and noticed a lack of Maori and Pacific Island coaches and players.

“I realised it was more of a financial situation, and a lot of it came down to time and transport for kids to get to venues. Low-economic areas, deprivation, all those things that we all know about, I then thought, let’s remove that as a barrier.”

While in Canterbury, he joined a local club and was put up as youth coach for the year, and although he didn’t yet have qualifications in football, he said he took the skills he’d learned in coaching other sports and applied them to the game.

“I said to the kids and parents guys are going to teach me about the game’. I learned from them and grew from there.”

After coaching for some time, he eventually made it official by seeking out qualifications for football coaching, which he has now added to his belt.

Once qualified, Hawkins began tapping all the clubs around the Canterbury area, identifying who all the Maori in the sport were and started formulating a database to get a group going.

He then got involved with Aotearoa Maori Football.

“For me, Invercargill is the sports capital of Aotearoa, New Zealand. As soon as I moved down here, there’s sports builds everywhere and everything’s set up.”

He said he had been building bridges with groups throughout the community including marae to introduce youth to football.

He said Active Southland had already provided a great foundation for sporting activities in Invercargill, and he saw his role as opening up doorways with them to involve Maori and Pacific Islanders in football.

“I want the young ones to eventually be able to drive themselves. Empower them, teach them, guide them, mentor them, and I’d like to see them playing it in 15 years’ time.”

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