When I typed “AFL” into the Google search bar, the results were not what I was looking for at first. The first result was a graph of the stock price fluctuations of Aflac Incorporated. Next came something about fiber optic cables, the American Federation of Labor, and Arena Football – getting closer, but still not what I was looking for.
What I’d like to introduce you to is the game of Australian Rules Football. Aussies take it very seriously. They don’t even care that the rest of the world is oblivious to its existence – they still love it all the same like a proud parent whose child just never really amounted to much in the outside world. In their eyes, it’s obviously the best. And they’re right, it actually is.
I can still hear fondly in my head a telephone call I’d get every Friday that goes something like, “Oi, Tash, come with us the footy tonight it’s the doggies verse the Sydney Swans!” (like I should know who the other team was and care who’s on it.) I fell whole heartedly in love with this game kind of against my will while I was studying abroad in South Australia – I got enticed to go to a game by a cute guy’s cute dog who was the Uni team’s “mascot” at orientation. It was all downhill from there to the point where I ended up watching “the footy show” – kind of like sports center with a lot more comedy – over pretty much anything else on television.
It’s not American football. Nor is it soccer. It’s kind of like rugby, but it’s not. If you want an example of a sport that takes EVERYTHING in terms of fitness, this is it: stamina, speed, strength, power, and most importantly grit. They don’t wear pads. They don’t even wear helmets. The hits are hard, the runs are long, and the kicks are far. It’s demanding. They play on a field that’s a massive oval that’s 150 meters long by 90 meters wide with four poles sticking out of the ground on either end. You can’t even see who’s who on the far side of the field from the stands. It’s huge, as are the players, and they run the ENTIRE GAME.
I’d love to explain the rules fully but I’d lose you, so I’ll give you the gist. Basically the object of the game is to score points by kicking the ball between sets of four posts. The middle two are called goal posts and the outside ones are called behind posts. Six points are scored when the ball is kicked between the two middle post without being touched by any player, and one is scored when the ball passes between a goal post and a behind post, or if it hits a post. You can’t throw the ball, you have to “bump” it with your fist (harder than it sounds) or kick it to a teammate, and if you run it, you have to bounce it or touch it to the ground every 15 meters. Tackling’s fully legal, and fights are not uncommon. There are 18 players per team on the field at a time. Play goes on 20 minute quarters. Another interesting thing (and maybe why aussies are so much fitter than us on the whole) is that they don’t suddenly STOP playing after high school or university – their leagues are based on ability and any one team has a broad spectrum of ages from teens to over 50-somethings still playing the same brutal sport just as tough as their young counterparts.
This game flows like none other. That was what struck me the most. Despite the constant tackles and what not, it’s in a fluid state of constant motion, as are the players. I was blown away by the sheer athleticism this sport demands. At pretty much every level, but especially the pros, these were some of the fittest athletes I had ever seen playing a sport which takes every single ounce of guts and stamina they have simply because they love their game – their fame and glory never extended off their continent, and pros work other jobs because it doesn’t pay them much. I don’t think they’d have it any other way. American athletes in this country could really learn something from the AFL.
Skip ahead to 3:08 to get a sense of what Aussie Rules Football is all about: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9MgakP9mC7o