Meaningful Activity: The Influence of Sports Among Indigenous Young People
Australia is regarded as one of the sportiest nations in the world. The people of this nation are sports crazy, packing out stadiums week in week out to watch a variety of different sports: Aussie Rules Football, Rugby, Soccer, and Cricket. Australia is more known for sports through the success of cricket and rugby in the last few years.
Australian Rules Football is watched by 7 million Aussies every year, around 1/3 of the population, but is rather unknown around the world. Founded in the 1850’s, Aussie rules, referred to as ‘footy’, is regarded as the national sport, and boasts as the most watched and possibly the most lucrative sport in Australia.
Aussies love their footy! And it’s not any different in the Kimberley. If you ever find yourself in towns across the Kimberley, you’d find it very difficult to find a young person without a footy in their hand. Communities gather together for the local footy game on Saturday afternoons, watching their sons, brothers, partners, and nephews play a game that is very much at the core of young peoples lives and identity.
Footy is hotly contested across the Kimberley, with leagues and competitions taking place in West Kimberley, Central Kimberley, and East Kimberley. With many communities in the Kimberley facing difficulty and hardships that include government funding cuts, and educational problems, footy gives young people of the Kimberley something to get excited about, something to make of their lives. For many of them this is the only thing that matters to them. They’re out everyday with a football in hand, kicking it about with their friends and thriving on putting on their jersey and boots on a Saturday afternoon.
Why does footy mean so much to them?
For a lot of young people growing up in the Kimberley, they face a lot of troubles in their home environment, academic education, and friendship groups. Some things that are sadly part of their lives as they grow up are; friends or family that have committed suicide, alcoholic parents or relatives and abusive family members. For many young people this is a harsh reality, as much as we would like to pretend it isn’t, this is sadly the case. Footy gives young people the chance to escape the reality, to get away from it all while they’re on the footy field. Within every young person there is a strong desire to have purpose, to know who they are, to make a difference. It’s the same with Kimberley’s young people.
I spent time in the Kimberley and had incredible opportunities to hang out with many of these young people. Most of the ones I talked to wanted something different, they had a hope and belief that they could be different, that they didn’t have to go down the same path as many people have went down before, that led to alcoholism, abuse, and taking their own life.
What can change the course of a young persons life?
This is a question that has been asked hundreds of times, a question that government officials and nation leaders are asking today, not just in Australia but around the world. There are endless ideas as to what the solution can be, a lot have been tried and tested, some proving successful and some proving otherwise.
Healthcare and education are often the first two options sought after, however a third option has been proven to make a larger influence in the course of someone’s life – meaningful activity. For Indigenous youth in the Kimberley that meaningful activity is Footy. Sadly though, for Indigenous youth there seems to be a disconnect between ability and opportunity.
There are two Aussie Rules coaches who live in indigenous communities who try and match ability with opportunity. However, there are four major issues facing training Indigenous youth: lack of coaching expertise, lack of club structure, communication barriers and adequate preparation for the Australian Football League.
These two coaches are the start of bringing true training and coaching to the Kimberley, they are providing an opportunity for indigenous young people to get on the right track and hopefully make it to the big time with their footballing ability. They provide fantastic platform for young people to engage in meaningful activity, to play footy, receiving quality coaching that can improve not only their game, but also their lifestyle and social skills. But there is a great need for more coaches, more people committed to bringing competitive Footy to the Kimberley.
How Footy can change Indigenous Youth:
If Indigenous young people have opportunity to make something of their life, to be the change they want to be, and to live a life that reflects the one that gave us life, Jesus, then I strongly believe, for any young person, that we need to provide and facilitate such opportunities. Every young person needs to be encouraged, have good role models, and be given opportunities to build up hope of doing incredible things.
I believe a key solution to this is using a meaningful activity that automatically engages them and drives them, Footy. This is already a proven activity that draws in people of all ages, and to take something like footy and use it to encourage, empower, and impart young people, we could see a drastic change in the generations to follow.