Okay. So that’s the angle you take. It’s not, “We’re going to teach you about diversity!”
It’s about personal growth. It’s not about diversity at all! We just say, “You’re going to run faster! You’re going to jump higher!” And then get them in.
Three quarters of it is actually around cultural awareness, understanding self, understanding your ability to influence, understanding personality differences and how you can communicate more effectively. How you can resolve conflict. How you can start to create a cultural shift within your club if you’re challenged by some of the culture there. So it introduces them to all this stuff and they just love it. They really buy into it. And it’s delivered with such authenticity and passion because the volunteers I recruit to run the program stem from a sporting background and really connect with this vision of creating sport for social change.
Do you find there’s a big difference between men’s and women’s clubs?
Yeah, without a doubt. To be honest with you, I think it’s a lot easier for women to engage with this program than it is for guys. ‘Cause guys are at that stage where it’s all about being cool. Girls are far more open to personal growth and things that are a little softer around the edges, so to speak. Which is where we just really need to get our marketing right. So it’s pitched as something that’s straight down the line, something blokey.
Once you get them in they realise, This is amazing. This is changing my life. Our intention is to expose them to new opportunities, to the fact that there’s a lot more out there.
So you feel like that will do half the job?
From that point they’ve got a choice. They can say, “I want to lead my life the way I was because that’s great.” Or, “There are other ways to do life.” The anecdotal evidence that we’ve received from the process so far has been amazing. But now it’s just a matter of getting some really solid data to say we’re actually having an impact on these guys and changing club culture.
Is that what you’re working on at the moment?
We’ve got Deakin Uni on it. We’ve done two years of the current work and now they’ll be able to tell us, “Right, this is the impact you’ve had.”
So how did you get Game Changers off the ground?
It was Captains Camp and then it was Game Changers, and now the organisation Game Changers facilitates a range of different programs with Captains Camp being the flagship program.
The way we got Captains Camp off the ground was by me literally phoning up the presidents of the three most significant footy and netball leagues in Gippsland and saying, “Hey, this is who I am. I want to borrow 15 minutes of your time at the next board meeting to present my idea.”
One of my most memorable moments was the very first pitch—12 months before Captains Camp even ran—standing in front of a bunch of 50- to 70-year-olds, talking about creating inclusive, empowering footy-netball clubs. And they’re all like, “Mate, that sounds awesome. Go for it.”
From there I started a journey of pitching the program to 30 separate footy and netball clubs in the space of 10 weeks. That really built my network. It got people talking about it. It recruited participants. The moment I first welcomed the participants—we call them “Skippers”—to Captains Camp was really significant for me. “Whoa there are 30 kids sitting in front of me right now!”
We’ve got a six-month program ahead! All the talk and road-tripping for the last six years has got us here.
That’s what it took? Six years to get from idea to the first camp?
Yup. Six years to get from me coming off the YMCA program, developing the idea, recruiting, building the confidence and then getting stuck into it.
I was at university during that time. But I had this little book and every time I had an idea around what Captains Camp would look like, I’d scribble in it. So when it came to actually programming, I had two to three years’ worth of notes that I was flicking through going, “Yep, scrap that, keep that, keep that, scrap that.” And that was actually what shaped the program.
And when you pitched to the older guys at the clubs, did they reflect on what things were like in their day? Did they feel like the culture was messed up?
I think it takes a lot of boys until they’re the parents of 15-year-old sons to actually look back on their life and go, “Whoa, that’s what it was like.” Or, “I don’t want my son to grow up in the same environment.” And so I find that connecting with a lot of these guys is great. They’ve reflected on what life was like back then—when they were drinking shitloads and smoking at half-time and all that kind of stuff—and gone, “I’m so glad that doesn’t exist anymore. But I understand there are still some really significant cultural issues that exist in our club.”
I think even sometimes me just speaking with them opens them to the idea that change is possible. ‘Cause for them it’s just the way it’s always been, the way it always will be. They’re not necessarily cool with it, but they’re like…
What are you going to do?
“What do you do?” Change doesn’t happen.
It makes you wonder how many people are just going along for the ride. Like in that situation where you said you weren’t comfortable, I wonder how many of your friends were feeling the same way, thinking, I don’t know how to challenge this.
Oh massive! And that’s the beauty of Game Changers. I’ve had some really authentic conversations with guys I used to play footy with. And you really get some solid heart-to-heart around what it was like for them at 16 being part of this super-masculine environment.
Oh really? What do they say?
Just like, “Yeah man, I used to have heaps of anxiety turning up to footy training sometimes. I didn’t want to get shit hung on me so I didn’t speak up.”
Or, you know, “There was a time where I thought I might be gay, but I wasn’t. But, you know, there’s no way I wanted to be gay in this club.” And even for girls it’s like, “Goddamn some of those A-grade girls were bitches. And I was so intimidated by them.” That’s a huge driver for me. Why not create a phenomenal culture at sporting clubs so then it becomes a space for character building and empowerment for anybody who joins the club?