It turns out that young people aren’t doing much exercise, and this becomes worse the older we get. Physical exercise levels halve during adolescence, with a massive drop-off occurring around the age of 15. While some young people see sport as fun, others find it quite stressful. Young people are even less likely to do regular exercise or mainstream sport if they’re female, queer, struggling financially, are living with injury or disability, go to a public school, or live rurally.
Nothing like statistics to hook people in, right? My first week on the job I had to go through around 40 pages of them. It was dry work. But it did make me understand the gravity of what we are doing at Latrobe Streetgames. As I sifted through these papers, in the most cliché way, I started really looking back. When I was 15 I stopped playing basketball, stopped running, stopped exercising regularly, I started VCE in a new place, I had my first girlfriends and boyfriends, my first serious friendships, and I couldn’t have been more self-conscious about doing sport. The mainstream sports pushed through my school just didn’t appeal. I wanted to get out, have fun, get fitter, maybe learn some new skills, but the level of competition and ability-focus I kept seeing in sport really turned me away.
This is not an uncommon story for young people, and we can’t afford to overlook it. We know that regular exercise increases almost every aspect of mental health, physical health, and can massively increase social support and a sense of belonging for young people. Too often, staying in regular organised sport means pressure and competition, paying hefty sums for insurance, membership, uniforms, and travel, taking hours out of the week for training and travelling to comps. If a young person is new to sport, experiencing injury, or physical disability, the pace of mainstream club sports can sometimes become unmanageable, or even a risk. While there are heaps of rewards out there in the club setup, it’s just not for everyone.
A similar project called Streetgames in the UK, as well as Australian social sports initiatives like Reclink and PCYC, were a big part of informing Gippsport’s thinking around how to bridge this gap. UK Streetgames started back in 2007, and now have 102,278 participants UK-wide. They responded to a similar gap in their communities, and much of their success was because they made sure it was designed well, responding to real community need.
Gippsport and the Latrobe Health Innovation Zone (LHIZ) wanted to provide sport done different for young people living in the Latrobe Valley. We applied for a grant project under LHIZ, and a few weeks later we found out we got it. Latrobe Streetgames was born!