Children in Greater Sydney are not getting enough exercise because of repeated pandemic lockdowns, say junior rugby league officials engaged in a stop-start recruitment drive.

And they say 15 months of coronavirus restrictions combined with regular cancellations of games have left parents unsure about keeping their children in junior sport.

President of Penshurst RSL Kookaburras Junior Rugby League Club, Sean Willett said encouraging consistent exercise was one of the club’s main challenges due to lockdowns.

“I think kids are finding it very difficult to get motivated to exercise… Seniors in particular have struggled to get motivated [especially] if they are unable to work and because of bans on organised training and group exercise,” he said.

To keep the community safe, tight restrictions and bans have been enforced to stop the spread of the delta variant of COVID-19, impacting on both young people’s physical and mental health. Lifeline said it received a record 3,345 callers on August 2, 2021.

Kids are finding it very difficult to get motivated.

Changing health advice has resulted in communication being particularly delicate for the club. Willett highlighted the need to understand the community’s anxiety because of the virus, and to provide relevant information, and support to the community where possible.

Facebook, the Team App (website) and WhatsApp have been used as platforms to reach players, to try and encourage them to keep training as best they can. But winter conditions, and not being able to train in a bigger group, have not aided this process.

If the season resumes in the warmer months, Willett believes it will encourage more training to take place if it can be safely done.

Before the current outbreak, he said the club had recovered well so far in 2021, utilising a three-pillar business plan he called ‘Engagement, development and enjoyment’.

The club successfully used social media posts, pre-season training barbeques and a presence at local shopping centers. Pathways were provided particularly at a local level, and hopefully progress to a national level. Enjoyment was also key to ensure all players and volunteers who took to the field had fun.

rugby league

A Penshurst RSL Rugby League Club announcement to encourage players to stay fit.

Statistics suggest these efforts had an impact in the St George competition.

NSW Rugby League support coordinator, Joshua Elias reported 1,674 players registered for this season. An emphatic response from the community.

Compare this to the past two seasons, and it paints an entirely different picture.

In 2019, 1,269 players registered to play, and 1,255 in 2020. In the same season, the competition only retained 60 per cent of players from the previous season. Notably, the six to 13 age group experienced a 4.96 per cent drop in growth.

Sydney’s first lockdown in late March 2020 was poor timing for recruitment, which usually commences mid-April. Whereas currently, the lockdown has come at a far better time for clubs compared to 2020, Elias said.

If we do get back on, we’ll be able to ramp up really quickly.

“Financially clubs don’t feel as affected as last season because a lot of clubs were desperate to get on [field] to pay their fees,” he said.

“So far in 2021, financial stress has been less. Ten weeks of play already were able to get underway including the pre-season.”

However, some financial casualties have been clear at club level. This includes the canteen and other game day revenue, limited by reduced home games and time on field. Meat raffles revenue has also impacted finances. These usually run for 42 weeks a year, yet were stopped by extended closure periods due to COVID-19, Willett said.

But he said the club remains in a ‘fantastic’ financial position and the club would rebound in compliance with COVID-19 safety measures and recruitment.

“The good thing is given we did it before, we did it last year,” he said. “If we do get back on, we’ll be able to ramp up really quickly… we know what we’re doing now! We’ve returned to play before.”

For now in lockdown, the club urges the community to reach out for support.

If you are struggling in lockdown and need someone to talk to about it, call Lifeline on: 13 11 14 or  

Register to play in NSW:

Register to play in St George:

Main picture supplied by NSW Rugby League.