Untapped Outback Talent

June 12, 2024
Love sports? Maybe you play it, or watch it, or love reading about it- like I do? Maybe you have a young reader in your life who loves watching and playing and reading about sports too?
This week I wanted to chat about outback sports talent- and the lack of facilities, resources, coaches, pathways, and recruitment in rural and remote areas. The huge, missed opportunity, and untapped talent that teams of all sports codes miss out on.
A topic that I highlight in my books as well:
  • My Deadly Boots (Lothian 2022) is a picture book that highlights the isolation and the challenges that the protagonist faces in getting their boots, then the challenges they face when others try to put them down, and then highlights the strengths that remote outback players have too.
  • Tracks of the Missing (Magabala 2022) is a YA suspense thriller where the main protagonist, Deklan Archer, has gone to the closest main centre to try to get a chance to be spotted by recruiters- an opportunity that doesn’t come very often at all, and that they would never get in their remote community.
  • Backyard Footy (Lothian 2023) is a picture book that showcases the amazing AFL and AFLW talent from the Kimberley WA, and the diversity of First Nations players and outback backyards. This book shows real life AFL and AFLW players having fun in community.
  • Backyard Tennis (out in July) about fun, sports and community in an isolated remote outback town.
  • Kimberley Kickers: Jy goes for gold (out in September) about the actual lived experience of AFL star, Jy Farrar, as he grew up in a very geographically isolated town, his experience of boarding school, and the challenges he overcame to finally achieve his dream.

Remote outback players of all codes face the geographical isolation and challenges accessing sports games. Some remotes have limited access to community due to flooding at certain times of the year, others face large public transport fees on the once a week Greyhound bus between communities or main centres. This geographical isolation impacts both ways- young players getting to main centres for training or games or opportunities- but also in coaches or carnivals or recruiters going to the remotes as well.
Young players often aspire to play a game like their role models or family members play- and in some remote communities there are a wealth of role models who play community level basketball or footy or rugby or teeball. We even have role models like Patty Mills, Eddie Betts, Ash Barty in elite sports.
Access to training, facilities and resources is often one of the biggest challenges. Some organisations have been trying to bridge that gap: Shooting Stars, Stars Academy, Beyond the Broncos, Garnduwa Kimberley Spirit program to name a few- that now have regional, rural and remote ‘academies’ or ‘programs’. These organisations provide facilities and resources and trainers to support young people to be exposed and immersed in sports, education and health. To set goals, to have opportunities to learn and grow.
The fact still remains, the talent, skills and diversity that could go so far in enriching Australian sports is often overlooked. All codes of sports (football, soccer, tennis, rugby, swimming, athletics, basketball etc) could consider:
  • Rural and remote tours with their athletes- strategically planned so regions are targeted over a specific cycle.
  • Rural and remote matches or games- strategically planned so that different geographical locations have access. Schools, youth groups are encouraged or invited to plan ahead and attend.
  • Rural and remote carnivals to support local, grass roots talent.
  • Rural and remote training camps with opportunities for outlaying communities to be involved as well.
  • Elite sports pathways from rural and remote communities- such as the Garnduwa Kimberley Spirit model.
  • Culture training for sports codes and clubs- to be a welcoming and culturally aware workplace and team for remote First Nations players to join.
  • Upskill and train local coaches, and have pathways into coaching and umpiring for rural and remote adults who will become advocates, touchstones and role models.
  • Regional, rural and remote Hubs for sports codes.
I could talk all day about remote sports… and I have herehere and here, and herehere.
But the takeaway message for you as a reader, teacher, librarian, or sports fan? What can you do?
  • Read diverse books about the lived experience of outback First Nations peoples- so we as a community develop understanding and empathy for the challenges, strengths and opportunities First Nations peoples and communities can bring. Like the ones I write.
  • Advocate for ‘space at the table’ for First Nations peoples in your local sports clubs and in discussions with people in positions of power (if you know any).
  • Support remote First Nations players in your favourite sports codes- cheer for them, talk about them in a positive light on social media, write them a letter showing your support. For example, AFL’s Jy Farrar, Shane McAdam, Sammo Petrevski-Seton, Conrad Williams.
  • Support charities that support remote sports:
  • Share this email with someone you know that loves sport or is in a sport team or is in a sports organisation.

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