A football science program that engages young indigenous players with life at university is having implications that extend beyond the game.
Dr Fadi Ma’ayah had never seen an AFL game until he moved from Jordan to Australia in 1996, but now the sports sciences and football course coordinator is using the popular sport to inspire indigenous youth to undertake higher education.
Through the Study Hard Play Hard program, Dr Ma’ayah has teamed up with the Djinda Falcons Aboriginal Football Program for the past four years, with the aim of building Aboriginal students’ aspirations for their future.
Under Study Hard Play Hard, players take part in football science workshops to improve their understanding of how science could be applied in their sporting careers. High profile West Coast Eagles and Perth Glory coaches and players also regularly give talks.
Dr Ma’ayah also invited more than 160 players and their families on to ECU’s Joondalup campus last year to present the Djinda Falcons’ Academy Awards. The choice of venue was no coincidence however. He wanted to ensure the athletes received a first‑hand look at university life.
“We try to inspire those children to take on higher education because there is a big gap and they get caught in poverty,” Dr Ma'ayah said.
“If you improve their education you can improve their health, their outcomes, their children and you break that cycle.
“My involvement is about using football to inspire them to think about the future and think about study, career pathways to university and career pathways to TAFE ... because if you make it as a footballer then that is fantastic, but you still need to study because you might retire and you need a job at the end of the day.
“If you don’t make it as a professional you need a Plan B to improve your life, your income and your community.”
Dr Ma’ayah attributed the program’s success to Djinda Falcons’ founder and manager Sharon Kenney’s commitment to fostering strong ties between the University and the Aboriginal community.
Ms Kenney said the Djinda Falcons program was unique because it engaged parents, siblings, caseworkers and carers, not only ensuring the boys were supported, but giving families access to resources and opportunities.
Ms Kenney said all of the participants studying Year 12 last year either graduated high school or secured an apprenticeship. Her own son, Brody, had completed a cadetship with WA Police and enrolled at the Police Academy.
As a result of the Study Hard Play Hard program, three parents, including Ms Kenney, and one sibling, had also enrolled at ECU for further study.
The football program will be made available to girls in 2018, with about 50 young people expected to take part. “It is showing people what they can do for themselves if given the opportunity,” Ms Kenney said.
“The research is great, but what we have set up at the Djinda Falcons and the support we get is also benefitting the whole community.”
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