The forum attracted more than 100 representatives from organisations as diverse as Scope Australia, Leisure Networks, University of Melbourne, VicHealth, the Southern Lights ice hockey team and Gippsland Ranges Roller Derby.
It provided opportunities to share successes and ideas, and network with peers in the field. Topics ranged from enabling and including people from all abilities in sport and recreation, gender inclusion, and encouraging women and girls to get active.
Michaela Cook from Hockey Victoria has led the development of an all-abilities state hockey team, and an annual competition where the team takes on players from Victoria’s emergency services.
Her mantra is “See the able and not the label” and she explained that creating the all abilities state team was a great way to take the players’ skills to the next level, however there were no comparable teams in any other state or territory.
That’s when the idea of taking on the emergency services hockey teams was born.
Michaela says it has been a win-win with the hockey team getting to play a competitive game and getting a better understanding and respect for emergency workers, while the emergency workers have relished the opportunity to encourage the players and build up their own knowledge and respect of people of all abilities.
Her goal now is to extend the annual Emergency Services Day event so more players have the opportunity to take part, and she’s also making good progress at encouraging other states and territories to develop an all abilities team.
Rachel Toovey is a physiotherapist and researcher at the University of Melbourne who conducted a study on the best way to teach ambulant children with cerebral palsy to ride a bike.
She said the study demonstrated that structured instruction provided real benefits rather than relying on families alone.
The program she has been developing is built around the five F words – Function, Fitness, Friends, Family and Fun.
She found that children who developed riding skills had positive gains in all five F words.
Gretta Connell from Leisure Networks outlined a pilot program rolling out in Geelong looking at the best ways of encouraging and supporting children with autism to take up bike riding.
She stressed that including families in the journey was an important part of the program to ensure it had long lasting benefit.
Currently the pilot is targeting five to 12 year-olds, but Gretta would like to extend that to teenagers, as many had already missed the boat to learn riding while young and could really benefit from a health and community participation perspective.
Nithya Solomon from VicHealth presented a model to make community sport and recreation clubs more willing to become female friendly and aware.
VicHealth has developed a Quick Wins one-page guide for clubs that asks only 10 questions. Her research found clubs were much more willing to engage and act when provided with the short form, rather than facing daunting questionnaires or audits.
Kade Matthews and Caitlin Grigsby from the Southern Lights LGBTQI ice hockey and Gippsland Ranges roller derby then outlined their work and challenges building teams.
Kade said many players had significant trauma from past sporting incidents where phrases like “gay” or “queer” were used as taunts, but the Southern Lights provided a safe environment where players could thrive and build skills.
Caitlin explained how being LGBTQI in a conservative community like Gippsland was very intimidating, but roller derby had opened up a new world for the players, and was also starting to break acceptance barriers in the community.
Perhaps the stars of the day were Jye Yates of Bendigo Balloon Football League and Emily Buxton D’Arcy of Scope Australia who outlined how Jye had set up the Bendigo league after searching YouTube for sports he and his mates could play.
He is now a leading player, captain and coach for the league, and has found employment helping mentor students, including those from Catherine McAuley College who volunteer with the league as part of their VCAL studies.
After the forum Jye captained the Saints all stars team who defeated the Bulldogs all stars team in a ferociously competitive game organised by Scope at the nearby MSAC stadium with more than 300 spectators cheering them on, and an all abilities band playing at halftime.
Sport and Recreation Victoria supports organisations in the sport and recreation sector deliver initiatives that increase participation in sport and active recreation through its Together more active program.