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Kathryn Powley
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A new project is underway to help more children participate in sports and the benefits are paying off.

University of Melbourne Deputy Head of Social Work Professor Lou Harms says just over half of primary school aged children are involved in sport and recreation clubs, but in high school and later teen years, this rate falls.

“Some young people face more barriers to participation than others – social, financial and physical – but when these are overcome, everyone benefits. We want to show young people that exclusion from activity is not an answer and inclusion is possible,” Professor Harms says.

A three-year partnership between University of Melbourne social work postgraduate students, the Hobsons Bay Community Fund, Hobsons Bay City Council and Wyndham City Council aims to boost the participation of children who are often excluded.

It has resulted in the release of Sports for Everyone – A Guide to Inclusion for Young People in Sport.

The project involves community organisations, businesses, sporting clubs, young people and their parents, and focusses on 12-18-year-olds with diverse backgrounds, circumstances and abilities.

The social work students worked in Melbourne’s western suburbs to identify and assist youngsters wanting to be involved in sport and recreation.

“Exclusion is usually unintentional, based on what is unfamiliar or misunderstood about a person’s abilities, needs and preferences,” Professor Harms says.

“Working with the community showed us all that we are defined by more than one identity or ability and therefore our approach to inclusion shouldn’t just focus on one characteristic.”

Professor Harms says involvement in local sporting clubs supports physical and mental health and builds networks which help with belonging, education and employment. 

More than 20 local sporting and recreation clubs have participated in the project, including football, soccer, netball, basketball, lawn bowling, lacrosse, rugby, Minecraft (computer gaming), pool competition, baseball, sailing, surf-lifesaving, swimming, table tennis, karate and fishing. 

The Hobsons Bay Community Fund and the University of Melbourne will launch Sports for Everyone – A Guide to Inclusion for Young People in Sport at the Kooringal Golf Club at 5pm today.