This research project titled 'The Impact of Indigenous Community Sports Programs: The Case of Surfing' investigated the social impact of sport and physical activity on the lives of Indigenous Australians and their communities. This research was a three year joint project between the Australian Sports Commission, the Laureus Sport for Good Foundation and the University of Queensland.  Surfing Australia and some of its affiliates were consulted on the project.

While there has been strong research interest in the links between sport and recreation programs and various health and social outcomes in mainstream society, what remains unclear is the value and impact of sport and physical activity in Indigenous communities. The aims was too provide an evidence based position to inform government, sport, organisations and individuals working with Indigenous communities of the factors that influence the participation of Indigenous Australians in sport and recreation.

Impact of Indigenous Community Sport Programs (Surfing) Report - Findings

  • Acknowledgement of the diversity within the Indigenous communities can help avoid over-generalisations and enhance cultural sensitivity and awareness.
  • Conduct common courtesies such as a ‘welcome to country’ or an acknowledgement of the traditional custodians of the land.
  • Surfing was considered a family and communal event and has a strong alignment with Indigenous culture.
  • One factor of success was the involvement of key individuals with existing community connections.
  • The research found sport programs operated most efficiently and effectively if a small, stable team of people with strong community relations, trust and respect planned and delivered the sports program.
  • For all programs there was a profound and pervasive sense that Indigenous sport programs need continuity. That is, they should not be one-offs.
  • Sport programs were beneficial as a diversionary activity that could alleviate boredom in youth, which in turn might help overcome self-harm risk, anti-social behaviour and substance abuse.
  • Sport programs are not a ‘cure all’ and do not always reduce anti-social behaviour
  • The personal challenge of surfing improved the confidence and self esteem of participants and had positive influences on empathy, maturity and social skills which contribute to positive developments at home and school.
  • The professional capacity building that the surfing programs generated was upskilling participants, particularly coaching. However, the individual capacity of surfing participants is not automatically enhance and requires careful planning, encouragement and support from program providers.
  • There was evidence of greater organisational capacity as a result of the Indigenous surfing program.
  • A community organisation involved at one of the sites significantly changed its focus following the success of single staff member’s involvement in the program and now focuses mainly on Indigenous issues.
  • The key finding of this study was that surfing programs offer substantial potential for Indigenous people and their communities to form connections that may positively shape and influence their lives within and beyond surfing.
  • Surf programs provided a way for Indigenous people to (re)connect with country, foster connections between participants and program providers, form bonds with other Indigenous children and untie community members to reinforce and pass on aspects of culture.  
  • Another key achievement was gaining insight into effective research and report methods. Namely: building and maintaining relationships; approaching communities with an attitude of partnership, acknowledging and reflecting on researcher personal histories, adopting a strengths-based approach and carefully selecting appropriate methods.

Impact of Indigenous Community Sport Programs (Surfing) Report - Methodology


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