The impact of Indigenous community sports programs: the case of surfing

Aboriginal Australians Sport Australia

There has been strong research interest in the links between sport and recreation programs and various health and social outcomes and a well-established body of literature exists on the use of sport to address social issues in mainstream society. The consensus is that physical activity is an important contributor to health for all people. While there is strong research interest, what remains unclear is the value and impact of sport and physical activity on Indigenous communities.

Indigenous groups cannot be considered to be homogenous as there is much diversity between and within groups. It is therefore important this report is not viewed as taking an essentialist view of who Indigenous people are and how they develop. Rather, this paper attempts to describe and discuss the experiences of some individuals and their communities in site-specific surfing programs.

The results of this project indicate that surfing should continue to be considered as an appropriate sport for use with Indigenous communities.

It should be noted, however, that any program needs to take into consideration the diversity of Indigenous culture, how communities operate and should seek appropriate guidance.

While there was great variety in terms of how surf programs in this study operated, there were some common elements across all programs including: strict surfer-to-coach ratios, opt-in opt-out structures and avoidance of controlling coach behaviours.

In addition to these characteristics, quality programs also had consistency in personnel (small groups rather than single providers).

This research project provided experience and information to develop recommendations relating to future similar programs including:

  • Programs should be supported in longer term allotments
  • Programs should collect meaningful data (well-constructed interview and survey protocols) over and above simple participation statistics
  • To achieve meaningful outcomes, programs need continuity and should not be one-offs
  • As transport costs represent the greatest barrier to participation in programs and surfing as a lifestyle pursuit, programs should consider the transport options most suitable for their area.

Individuals who participated in the research highlighted that it can take a long time for the effects of programs to be felt. As a result, longitudinal tracking by program providers is required to provide ongoing evidence in support of programs. Funding to programs should also be sought across longer time frames to provide a greater platform to generate positive outcomes.

Through this research it was possible to identify the development of individual and organisational capacity. In both areas, however, these capacities were not automatically enhanced. Careful planning and strong encouragement and support from program providers were required.

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