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Sporting Schools a ‘vital’ link for teens

Good Shepherd College cricket

Image: Victoria’s Good Shepherd College has used Sporting Schools to try different sports in a bid to increase female participation numbers in sport.

Only five of the Year 7-8 girls at Good Shepherd College in Hamilton, in Victoria’s south-west, play an organised sport.

The College’s director of sport, Rhett Beattie, says sporting organisations, schools and clubs need to support individuals and “make it OK to be a beginner at any age”.

Netball aside, he says the opportunities for other sports are reduced in their mid-teens, especially for those that don’t make the grade to compete beyond puberty.

“For this reason, in those early secondary years, Sporting Schools is vital for girls’ participation in sport and activity,” he says.

Beattie says the lack of participation in sport is a complex problem for both sexes.

“Body image remains a problem,” he says. “Not only how the young person perceives how they look in uniform etc., but how they look when they are attempting the skills in the sport, e.g. catching a ball, hitting a ball or even running. I have found this issue raised increasingly of late.

“We all know that the older you get, the less you want to look like a beginner.”

He says the success of women’s AFL and cricket is starting to attract girls in the area “because they have strength in numbers as ‘beginner’ teenagers”.

The challenges are for schools and clubs to provide sporting experiences that are non-threatening, Beattie says, allowing pathways for those that want to strive to improve and another environment for those that want to play socially.

“At Good Shepherd we have used the Sporting School funding to access coaches and clubs within our local area … Creating these introductions to sports help take away the anxiety that some children (and parents) face when first becoming involved in club sport.”

Year 7 and 8 girls at Bialik College, in the Melbourne suburb of Hawthorn East, also have “a history of disengaging” in sport.

Jay Baker, the College’s director of sport – primary, has chosen to offer athletics this term to help improve the girls’ knowledge, skill base and self-esteem.

Baker says the students really appreciated the time and space to explore a new skill in a non-competitive environment. “In addition, they enjoyed being a focus group which made them feel valued,” he says.

He finds the girls are more engaged in the Sporting School program, respond well to external coaches and the supportive environment.

“Social pressure has a big impact at our school, with students being more focused on other areas, such as body image and technology.”

He says more education on the benefits of a healthy lifestyle, role models and access to positive environments in which to learn, is needed to help boost participation numbers.

To date, the ASC’s Sporting Schools program has funded almost 350 schools across the country to deliver a secondary schools program.

The secondary school program, which started in Term 4 2017, now offers 15 sports including rowing, athletics, gymnastics, netball, rugby union, soccer, tennis and cricket.

There are currently more than 390 secondary schools registered with the program and another 1,125 combined schools registered, representing 54% of all the secondary and combined schools in Australia.

Sporting Schools is a $160 million Australian Government initiative to get more children playing more sport, before, during and after school. More information about Sporting Schools secondary school programs can be found here.