Spiders’ “father” to disabled footballers

Michael Baldwin prepares for training at Jubilee Park, the Spiders home ground. Photo Jack Bennett
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When Michael Baldwin’s intellectually disabled son Tom started his football journey, he was there every step of the way. Jack Bennett reports.
Michael Baldwin prepares for training at Jubilee Park, the Spiders home ground. Photo Jack Bennett

A Melbourne man is committed to making a difference, spending almost a decade developing football and life skills programs for people with mild to medium intellectual disabilities.

Michael Baldwin is the senior coach and a committee member of the Ringwood Spiders, an all-abilities sporting club competing in the Football Integration Development Association (FIDA).

His involvement began back in 2007 when his son Tom, who has an intellectual disability, joined the club as a player.

Michael wanted to give Tom the chance to express his passion for sport in a supportive environment, so he got involved with the Spiders to help him fulfil that passion.

The Spiders 2019 senior squad poses before training. Michael’s son Tom is fourth from left, wearing a warm-up jacket. Photo Jack Bennett

After five years sitting on the club’s committee, Michael started as senior coach in 2012, a role he’s since held for seven years.  

“It’s all voluntary so if you put your hand up you’ve got the job, and I felt like I could bring a bit of structure and experience,” he said.

Club President Paul House praised Michael’s ability to get the best out of his players. “He does a great job preparing our guys for game day,” Paul said.

To prepare his players for game day, Michael brings in a range of guest speakers and programs to educate them.

He’s organised dietary programs, alcohol education programs and visits from local police, giving players the chance to improve their lives through learning from influential people.

“We had a dietitian come down from the Richmond Football Club who spoke to the players, so she imparted some valuable stuff that all our guys remembered,” Michael said.

Michael is a father figure around the club, supporting players through some difficult times.

“A lot of these guys come from dysfunctional families and might not talk to their parents, so it’s our job to give them some support and structure,” he said.

He encourages his players not to worry too much about winning, telling them “just get out there and have a kick and some fun” on game day.

Spiders players in action at Jubilee Park. Photo Gavin Ross

A few years ago, Michael and the committee created an assistance card program to help players in difficult social situations.  

It was created after one player was tricked into handing out bank details at the train station.

“The idea is for the players to present the card to tell people they’ve got a disability and need further help,” he said.

Michael is retiring from coaching after this year and he encourages prospective volunteers to visit the club website (www.ringwoodspiders.com) or contact a committee member for more information.