Why teenagers leave sport: Tackling the big issue
RECENTLY appointed board member Darren Boettcher accepts that one of rugby league's biggest challenges may never be "fixed''.
With more than 40 years experience in the game, Boettcher is fully aware of a trend that most administrators are grappling with these days.
"Rugby league is like most sports,'' he said, offering an honest and thought-provoking insight into the game he loves.
"There's a natural fall-out of numbers once they get into that high school age and then they go from high school into university.
"Back when I was playing football all those years ago, it wasn't an issue. We all couldn't wait to play senior football.
"Life changes and it's generational now.
"We find there's so many more sports out there that are competing for everyone's participation and also now jobs in university become more important just for the sake of cost of living.''
Ipswich-born and bred Boettcher said although the social enjoyment of rugby league hadn't changed, additional pressures had dramatically affected the transition from teenage years to senior football.
"The traditional take-up of players from juniors to seniors is declining,'' he said.
"You've got that transition from the under 15s through to the under 18s. It's a big void there where players are falling off the sport and it's happening in all regions - in Brisbane and the Gold Coast - and it's happening in other sports as well.
"The kids today have got to maintain their job security to maintain getting their education through university; and also some of the players these days contribute to the income of the family.
"So there's a lot of outside pressures put on sport itself.
"We're never going to fix that. It's a fact of life.
"We just have to manage that balance and find that balance, and what works for rugby league in Ipswich is our role.''
Such a common sense approach is why Boettcher was widely welcomed to the recently restructured Rugby League Ipswich board.
Boettcher, 53 this year, has been involved in all levels of rugby league for many years. That includes everything from being a former Swifts club president to coaching and managing junior and senior club and representative sides.
He's worked with the Ipswich Diggers for the past 15 years as manager and assistant coach, also being involved with the city's Mal Meninga and Cyril Connell teams.
He played with Swifts from nine years of age until he retired in the middle of the 1991 season to start a job in real estate and when his wife Susan was pregnant.
While he missed out on sharing in the Bluebirds A-Grade premiership that year, the former second rower/hooker said job security was important at the time.
That's why the former Bremer High School student understands what a lot of young footballers are going through all these years later.
From one of Ipswich's proudest rugby league families, Boettcher knows part of the solution is looking after more than the players at grassroots level.
"My role on the board is do governance . . . so making sure that we're trying to find ways of involving the families more in the football,'' he said.
"And making sure that the league is run with a level playing field for all clubs, which I think we do a very good job at it but there's always room for improvement.
"The cost of living is very expensive these days and we're finding some of the kids that when they leave school and get jobs are contributing to the income of the family.
"A lot of clubs focus on the players but we need to be talking to the families of them because it's a family decision.
"It's all about getting back to the clubs in making sure they are looking after their players and they're involving their family in the club. All clubs want to be family clubs.''
Hearing Boettcher chat about rugby league highlights how knowledgeable he is about the game and how much he wants to help tackle the challenges.
"What we're also finding is that some clubs are getting stronger through that (current pressures) and some clubs are getting weaker,'' he said.
"For us as a board, we have to find that balance to keep the competition even.
"Are we ever going to fix it, who knows?
"At the end of the day it's our job to make sure that it's an even level playing field for all clubs.''