A deep dive into inclusive and cultural safety within netball
This article was submitted as part of our call for reshaping the future of sport and development.
Netball in Australia has a long history of inequality, with 2022 marking 22 years since an Indigenous player has represented the Diamonds and 32 years since an Indigenous player has featured in the national team at the Commonwealth Games. Before that, only two Indigenous women have represented Australia at the highest level – Marcia Ella-Duncan in the 1980s and Sharon Finnan-White in the 1990s.
Glass Jar Australia, a charity organisation working directly with Aboriginal girls and women across Western and South Australia to empower them through their education journey, has undertaken research to examine the inequalities that still plague the sport and how they impact on the mental health and wellbeing of our young girls.
The Black Diamonds project – the first of its kind – reviewed the netball service delivery within Australia to ensure the policies and practices are transformed to better facilitate the engagement and retention of Aboriginal people within netball.
Through yarning circles, an Aboriginal research methodology, it was discovered that one of the most common barriers that participants face within the sport of netball is discrimination and racism. Participants explained how throughout their lives, discrimination was experienced and felt in a variety of ways. Their experiences of discrimination ranged from segregation and not feeling welcome/not fitting in, to not being heard or feeling as if they do not have a safe space for feedback. Participants talked about how they would often brush off racist experiences outwardly, but inwardly would feel disrespected and isolated. The broad and life-long detrimental effects of overt and institutional racism are highly damaging, with these experiences often leading to poor mental and physical health.
The Research Manager for the Black Diamonds report, Dr Rose Whitau, highlighted the importance of the research methodology used.
“The strength of yarning with people with such diverse experiences from across the state is the breadth of solutions that were presented. The research clearly shows where the gaps are – and most importantly, how netball might fix the system.”
One of the key solutions outlined in the report, born from the yarning circles, was the need for development opportunities for players, coaches, and officials. The lack of opportunities, particularly in regional areas, does not provide a safe space for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander players, coaches, or officials to flourish and develop. Another key solution to the issue of discrimination was for more transparency around selection criteria and Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander representation within selection panels. Most importantly, the application of these solutions must consider both the cultural appropriateness of the approach, as well as the mental health support that will be provided along the journey.
The Black Diamonds report puts forward solutions that drive us toward the UN Sustainable Development Goal of empowering and promoting social, economic and political inclusion for all, regardless of race and ethnicity.
At a grassroots level, Shooting Stars is championing the mental health of Aboriginal girls through their mental health and wellbeing program, Seven Sisters. The program creates a fun, interactive and culturally safe environment in which young Aboriginal girls are supported to strengthen their mental health. The participants learn to recognise and manage their emotions, develop and maintain positive relationships and improve their health-seeking behaviours.
The methodology used to deliver the program is centered around netball, using a mix of skills and drills that are used as a vehicle for learning emotional coping mechanisms. The program aims to support these participants on their mental health journey, teaching them skills in emotional recognition and regulation, teamwork, netball and physical activity, and to help them develop positive relationships both on and off the netball court.
At the end of the 10-week program, a community event is held which combines aspects from the program into a full day of interaction with local health service providers. The aim of this event is to increase service acquisition while breaking the day up with netball games and team building activities. The event provides platform for the girls to further develop the skills that they have learnt within the program and to be celebrated for what they have achieved.
In providing crucial access to local health service providers, Shooting Stars are working towards reducing the stigma behind accessing services and creating a safe space for participants and families that may need assistance from health services in the future.
The key to these events is mutual interaction between both the services and the participants. By ensuring it is a two-way relationship, the girls become familiar with what different services provide, how they can help and the people that work there.
Seven Sisters Program Coordinator, Jade McGuire, explained how a program such as this is vitally needed amongst the Indigenous community.
“Over the years of being involved with Shooting Stars across multiple sites and through my education in Occupational Therapy, I noticed a definitive need for access to mental health resources and further education in these rural and remote sites.”
“Being culturally appropriate, inclusive and respectful were at the forefront of the program development.” she said. “Having a program that is tailored to Aboriginal girls allows for that deeper connection to happen amongst the participants. They can relate to the characters, the stories and the activities as we use traditional games, storylines and illustrations throughout to connect to each perspective of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander perspectives of social and emotional health.”
The promotion and application of netball at the grassroots level, combined with the findings of the report providing solutions at a higher level, aims to provide a more equitable space for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders.
Shooting Stars is a not-for-profit organisation that is working towards its vision of empowered Aboriginal Girls and women. With sites across Western and South Australia, the program helps girls make informed choices about their education and employment journey.