From Zimbabwe to Calamvale

By Keith Shangare

If I had been asked a few years back if I would ever play AFL or work for AFL Queensland, I would have thought the person asking the question was delusional.

While I have always been a huge fan of AFL, my journey from Africa (Zimbabwe) in 2004 to Australia was for study and I had no idea that the trajectory of my life would take such a great turn.

The best moment was when I watched my first ever live AFL match with [AFLQ CEO] Michael Conlan and [AFLQ Chairman] Darryl Bray at last year’s Multicultural Round match at the Gabba. So when I got the opportunity to work for AFLQ in July 2012 I was beyond thrilled.

I began playing AFL in March after talking to [AFLQ Brisbane North Regional Manager] Luke Jeffery. Family has been supportive, but friends have questioned, why AFL? Why not soccer or basketball? I guess this is the result of soccer being predominantly huge and popular in Africa and I had played soccer when I was younger.

When I started to play for the Calamvale Leopards, it affected me to some degree. I put so much pressure on myself because I had self doubt and I thought … what have I got myself into?

I am 5’8 tall, I was not that fit at the time, and definitely not good at all. What I had though, was the persistent determination to succeed in this new venture and, being a young man, energy is abundant.

I thought the guys displayed fantastic skills, so I wanted to be fantastic. I saw the guys run and kick and I wanted to do the same. But I was not good enough, I could not kick let alone run and kick at the same time.

I was trying to do everything at once because I was so overwhelmed. I wanted to kick, take a mark and handball all at once instead of slowly getting into it.

However with consistent pre-season training, games and the Ipswich carnival, I slowly transformed. I played my first game during pre-season which lasted for 15 minutes of the first quarter because I exhausted myself by running rampant all over the field.

As I continue to grow within the team and sport, I do not mind the pressure anymore. I have started to think that this could be one of the best moments in my life and I will make the most of it.

It is such a difficult thing to become part of a team that consists of individuals that have played the sport since they were 6 years old, are from the same culture, are best mates and you, being different in all aspects, does not help the situation.

 It is the most stressful thing and there are so many reasons to want to give up. There are off-field issues that have come up like vilification, assault, sexual assault, drugs, alcohol and doping. I work with a lot of Multicultural organisations, so issues like this mean my phone starts ringing non-stop

However, because AFL is such an inclusive sport and the Calamvale Leopards are welcoming, I keep going for training and games because the team welcomes you, teaches you and you see the determination, hard work, commitment and desire to win in everything they do.

I admire the camaraderie they have continued to display from the time I met them to now. I know I can improve and I look forward to training every week. I am so obsessed with playing that I get disappointed when the game ends.

I think I am as fresh as they come and the team patiently simplifies everything for me. They constantly tell me not to overthink anything, to just go out there and have fun and most importantly to stick to my man.

Sometimes I have to remind myself during the game that I am playing AFL and not soccer because I find myself kicking the footy of the ground instead of picking it up and I can just hear from ear shot my team mates shouting “pick up the ball, pick it up, pick it up”.

I strongly believe that every time I get to training or get on the field on match day I am learning something new. My hope and desire is to be an integral member of the team and to finally, belong.

– Keith Shangare is a Diversity Divelopment Officer with AFL Queensland

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