As a parent, I want to give my daughter the confidence and tools she needs to live a happy, healthy and active life. PLUS, the resilience to pick herself up when life throws her lemons.
I caught up with two very talented and active people to get their insights on; how to get kids moving, why it matters and finding the right balance.
I will be sharing their views and experiences over two articles. I learnt a lot - I hope you do too!
Five Minute Read
First Up - Meet Lauren Spark, AFLW Player (Premiership Winner), Teacher and Adventure Seeker (Go Ms. Spark)!
What keeps Lauren going is her desire to help kids and adults become more active and build healthy habits. She has also worked with elite female athletes to progress their sporting careers.
Lauren with her nephew Levi, after a Western Bulldogs AFLW match.
Tell me about your childhood and how you got into AFLW.
Lauren: I am a child of the 80s and my life was spent outdoors!
At the end of our street there was a HUGE paddock and lake that was the meeting point for every local kid in the area – together we built cubbies, climbed trees and just played and played until our parents called us back inside.
When the Mighty Ducks came onto the scene – our streets became an open-ended sports field and we played every sport we could think of.
Growing up I played netball, tennis, volleyball, football, beach volleyball… I just loved being outdoors and playing sport.
One of my favourite sports growing up was of course Football. I was ALWAYS one of the kids that ran onto the field to kick the ball at the end of the game and a big highlight of my childhood was meeting Wayne Carey.
As much as I loved football, there were zero opportunities for women to play professionally, so my career took another path… I studied to become a Primary School Teacher and played competition level Beach Volleyball.
One of the highlights of my Beach Volleyball career was playing against Sydney Olympic gold medallists Nathalie Cook and Kerri Pottharst. Legends of the sport.
It wasn’t until 2016 (I was 31) that the AFLW league came on the scene. When I finally got the call from the Western Bulldogs AFLW team that I was drafted, I was based in London. What a reason to come home!
What was wonderful about being part of the AFLW? How has that shaped you?
When you join a football team you instantly have 29 close friends you get to see three times a week! It’s an incredible sense of community and team play that is hard to beat.
I played for Western Bulldogs for 5 years and together we won a premiership. It wasn’t until I injured my ankle that I decided to retire professionally and work off-field to help the Clubs. I am now working full time for Essendon to set up their new AFLW team and look after player welfare.
Over the 5 years at Western Bulldogs, I was a teacher by day and trained with the Club at night. That adds up to 13-hour days…it was an amazing experience, but incredibly gruelling.
I remember one day my students got together and designed a special sign to hold up before a big match, it said ‘Good luck Ms. Spark!’ Such a special memory.
How can parents find the right balance? Juggling screens, sport, free-play, time outdoors?
As a teacher I know that every child is different, and sport is not always the answer.
Sport is very structured with lots of rules, and it doesn’t allow for creative free-play or expression (which is also very important).
Children need the space and time to find what works for them.
In my teaching degree, I also majored in Outdoor Education (walk, bike, hike and kayak). One of the things I had to do was design an outdoor adventure program. My final plan? A trip to the Adelaide Hills where we hiked and camped – it was an amazing experience and I wish we could all do more of that!
For children (and adults), it’s really important we take ‘brain-breaks’, this could be telling a kid who can’t stop wriggling to run across the oval during class.
Or it could be going for an extended walk in a local park to re-set and get away from the pressures of everyday life.
One thing I have noticed is that kids often need to be challenged to be creative these days and are less confident in making decisions. So, anything we can do to help encourage creativity and child-led activities is the way to go.
I have a little nephew Levi (he’s 3.5 years old), and we love making up games together.
I’m Pirate Polly and he’s Pirate Pete – if we see a log outside, he makes one of us walk the plank!
Your top tips to getting kids active!
When children are young it really is trial and error – help them find what they love!
It could be hiking, gymnastics, football, cycling, tennis, netball, swimming… anything! This will help them grow up being active and hopefully stay active later in life (if they love it).
Also – making time to just get out and explore will make a big difference. As it will create healthy habits growing up.
Children are always watching what you do as parents – so parents should get involved in play whenever they can and be active as well.
The hardest part is taking that first step and then making it a regular part of your routine.
Winter is always the most challenging time of year – but it’s the BEST time to be active (why else is football played in Winter)?
My TOP tip – get a dog, as you always need to take them for a walk outside 😊
Your favourite parks around Melbourne?
Lauren walking at Werribee Gorge
I love taking my dog Maggie for a walk, I even started mapping the dog-friendly parks around Melbourne!
My favourite places to take Maggie are Newport Lakes (Newport - the dog area above the Reserve), Doug Grant Reserve (Altona), The Warmies in Spotswood and McIvor Reserve (Yarraville). I love Brimbank Park in Keilor East as well.
For a bigger escape I like going for a hike around Werribee Gorge and Hanging Rock,
You can follow Lauren Spark on Instagram to see her adventures.