Now is the time for a new Australian Sporting Model

21 June 2020

"Now is the time" declared Federer, asking for changes to be made in his sporting organisation, but it is more significant than that. Getting community sport back on track requires being bold. Let's stop trying to fix the problem but create something new.

For years, community sport has been suffering, please, no more band-aid solutions that don't work, let's seize this opportunity to reset the sporting model, so sport can regain its evitable position in Australian history. More importantly, it is time to change a sporting model that is doing more harm than good. Past history had us running around fields, participating and enjoying the challenge to be our best. An era when our Australia's sporting passion was about participation, with any game open to anyone at any time. Nowaday's, the media full of stories from players expressing their concerns about burnout and mental health issues.

We now have a chance to refocus our priorities, stop the barriers and produce mentally healthy players. Reestablishing and building sporting participation means listening to the child's voice and their needs in the playing environment. For them, sport must be fun and an opportunity to play with friends, not regulated by age, body shape, strength or ability. Instead, youth sport has lost its way and is now a billion-dollar industry, driven by parents who don't want their child to miss out on the latest equipment, coaching or program. Then there is the added pressure from parents and coaches, pushing for early specialisation and with a win at all costs mentality. However, lost in the process is the child's needs and motivations. To compete against technology, sports must be entertaining and unregulated, unlike the present, where a 10-year-old must relentlessly practise the same skill repeatedly until it is perfected. And we wonder why so many young participants are lost to sport for good in their early teens.

Isolation has seen a rise in family sporting activities; mums and dads are joining children in cycling, walking, and kicking a ball at the park. It like a return to nostalgic past-times of free-range sport when Australia had its "Golden Era". A time when sporting activities changed with the seasons and our elite athletes were more personable and less entitled. Sporting conditions that have been shown to promote a broader skill base and reduced pressure for more positive experimental learning and better performance outcomes.

A great example of sporting success evolving from family sport comes from Norwich, in Vermont, USA. A town which has had Olympic representation in every cycle since 1984. A small town with high family and community values and one that shuts school early every Wednesday so that families can spend valuable time together playing sport.

While Norway shows what can be achieved when a child's voice is upheld. They have adopted the "Children's Rights in Sports" document and now have 93% of children participating in organised sports. It still promotes competition, but not at the expense of a child's development or the Norwegian vision of "Joy of sport for all".

While Governments are handing out money to get the economy back on track, supporting organisations to enable free community sport would provide much welcome relief. We have done this in the past with free University education, opening the doors for greater and equal access. Why not sport?

To grow, we must change, and this change will create a new way of sporting life in Australia, one I look forward to seeing.