In a wonderful example of collaboration and long-term local support for the Defence community, Veteran Sport Australia (VSA) and the NRL’s Battlefield to Footy Fields program are working with the help of community rugby league Group 21 secretary, Kevin Lomax, to develop veteran-friendly clubs in the Hunter region. This innovative model would provide opportunities to upskill veterans as sports trainers and referees, so they can give back in a volunteer capacity.
It’s a win-win situation, as while local sporting clubs are always looking for volunteers to keep competitions running, the healing power of sport has been shown to improve the health and wellbeing of veterans, particularly if managing recovery, reintegration into society and rehabilitation.
As Kevin notes, “We’ve been at critical levels for sports trainers over the past few years, and almost had games that couldn’t go ahead because we didn’t have enough sports trainers. So to get members of the Defence community trained up and keen to volunteer makes a huge difference to the club.”
“Plus you can’t underestimate the healing impact of sport – it got me out on the weekends, as I followed the kids to their sport after being freshly discharged, it expanded my scope of friends, creating connections in the community & helped me evolve back into a human after being a soldier for so long. You are creating common ground with people, whereas when I was in the army you are always hanging with your army mates, so when you leave the army you don’t have anything to talk about. You’ve got to find that common ground and sport was a bridge to create that new team environment – because you are part of a club, a team and you find a new core of friends.”
It’s easy to see why Kevin was looking for ways to involve more members of the Defence community with the sport he loves.
The Battlefield to Footy Field seed was firmly planted in Singleton when Kevin met VSA’s engagement specialist, Rachel Kerrigan, at a local Defence Family Lawn Bowls event Rachel helped organise. Kevin wears a few different hats that made him uniquely qualified to recognise the opportunity that B2F presented his community – Secretary of Group 21 Junior Rugby League, Coach at Singleton Greyhounds, a Solider On Pathways Officer and military veteran having served in the Army for 15 years. Speaking with Rachel, he understood how transformative creating a veteran-friendly club could be, for the Defence community and the broader league-loving locals.
As Kevin notes, “It can be quite isolating if you’ve just moved here from Nth Queensland and you don’t know anyone. You start to meet Defence families, but you can get stuck in the Defence bubble and not get further into the community. Footy is a way to perhaps have a BBQ with a few civilian friends from the team. So we let them know league is here and that we have a lot of Defence families already in the club, that we’re very warm, welcoming, friendly and provide a safe place where you can feel involved.”
Kevin also heard about the current success of the Battlefields to Footy Fields program and positive feedback from a recent presentation held at Lone Pine Barracks in Singleton, and knew this would be a good fit for his club. Given the number of ex-serving and serving members in the Singleton footy club, with some already qualified as refs and trainers, The Greyhounds could provide mentoring and a pathway for new recruits of the program. The result is a ‘Veteran Friendly Club’, willing and capable of supporting those graduating from the Battlefields to Footy Fields program.
Kevin expects that being involved in Battlefield to Footy Fields will give veterans confidence if and when they move on, providing sustainable positive impact on their wellbeing. “If they have good experience they will know how to approach a new club. They can say they’ve already volunteered as a sports trainer which also gives the new club confidence, which in turn boosts the Veteran’s self-esteem.” All while providing connections within a new community where the veteran is adding value.
The program is already reaping rewards. An example of success to date is illustrated by two young diggers, Ishaan McNeill and Cooper Fox, who graduated from the recent Level 1 Sport’s Trainers course and are now volunteering with the Greyhounds.
According to Ishaan ,“Whilst being in Singleton, it has helped me primarily in engaging with social activities outside of work. It’s been especially beneficial for my physical and mental health by creating opportunities to meet others and has expanded my First Aid education with insight into common sports injuries.”
Kevin notes, “For a couple of young men who had no ties to the club, and are keen to volunteer and be part of the community, they are just phenomenal. And it’s win-win, because they’re injured and can’t be involved in military training at the moment, so for them to be integrated into the footy club has given them purpose, built their morale and been so appreciated by everyone here at the club.’
All Battlefield to Footy Field graduates reiterate that volunteering in a sport that you love is a great way to become a part of that sporting family. You stay active and connected, build relationships and stay mentally and physically fit.
Needless to say, Kevin and the Greyhounds are thrilled to have them as part of their rugby league family saying, “The main message I have is just how much impact two blokes can have. The way these boys have stepped up is just so appreciated.”
Kevin remains a driving force for B2F in the Hunter region, continuing to link in local clubs and ex-service organisations while working with the NRL and VSA to host training, skills sessions, family fun days and school activities for the Defence community.
At Veteran Sport Australia, we have the honour of partnering with many like-minded sporting organisations to further our reach, engagement and impact throughout the veteran community. One of our strongest partnerships, which we’re very proud of, is with the NRL. You can read more about it here.
We’re excited about the future of this partnership and the new and inspiring ways we can work with and support our veteran community. We look forward to continuing to work with the NRL, who share our belief in the power of sport to change lives.
If you would like more information about Battlefields to Footy Fields please contact NRL Project Officer ‑ Battlefields to Footy Fields, Troy Burgess at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you are interested in other sporting and community activities, please contact VSA.