“The theory underlying Midnight Basketball® is very simple in the short term and very sophisticated over the longer term.
At its core is the idea that success breeds success.”
Midnight Basketball Australia
is an Endorsed ACNC Charity
"It takes a village to solve a problem."
Say wise people and anyone who has ever been involved in
Midnight Basketball anywhere.
Encouraging School Based Traineeship programs - Edan Porter, Commonwealth Bank Indigenous School Based Trainee
"When I was in Tamworth recently, I had the opportunity to meet long term Midnight Basketball Tamworth participant Edan Porter who was successful in securing a Midnight Basketball Indigenous School Based Traineeship this year with the Commonwealth Bank. We caught up over a microphone about what the School Based Traineeship has meant to him and he provided some helpful insight to what is actually involved. He was super keen to spread the message to Midnight Basketballers around the country to apply for the Traineeships each year. We are certainly all very proud of Edan." Tess White, CEO Midnight Basketball Australia
This page outlines just who is Midnight Basketball Australia and what is the Midnight Basketball Late Night Social Basketball Competition and why it is so fun and how it can benefit your community.
As we finalise the National Review of Midnight Basketball, we have exciting plans for upscaling the Midnight Basketball social basketball competition and how we can put in to practice all of our experience over the last 10 years to support communities to run a high quality, exciting competition.
What is it that we do that brings benefit to communities, and all its children and teenagers, to ensure that we all continue to undertake important sustainable work with impact.
How can we use sport to provide benefit to teenagers and communities is so many positive ways.
Midnight Basketball® is a national charity supporting approved communities to help children and youth achieve a good life.
Aim 1 - early age entry in to club sport. Communities are encouraged to support ALL young children to participate from ENTRY AGE into club sport. The earlier children participate in Club sport, the more it will become a ‘norm’, they will benefit from activities designed according to their age, and allow all children to keep up, rather than missing out on key learnings or having to continuously try to catch up. This will result in the participation in more mainstream activities, hence the more they will be engaged with their local community and all the learning and benefits this brings.
Aim 2 - children continue playing club sport. Communities are encouraged to support all children to continue in club sport from early age to the end of their teen years.
Aim 3 - Midnight Basketball competition run for teenagers. To support the many needs of ALL teenagers, there should be more positive pro-social activities provided, particularly to fill a gap on Friday and Saturday nights.
Every night of each 5-8 week Tournament includes:
Tournament Manager briefs volunteers (coaches, scorers, dinner helpers, bus supervisors) and professional referees, security, bus drivers, facilitators and others (around 20 volunteers a night).
|7:15pm Player Sign in, Dinner||
Players arrive and welcomed after 7pm and sign in. Everyone caches up, and has a nutritious meal to stay focused and energetic all night.
Teams attend motivating mentoring sessions which utilise the analogy of sport and teamwork to focus on teen issues, life skills and activities, with topics such as:
Players participate in at least three matches of tournament basketball each night with qualified Association referees and more friendlies if time.
Basketball plays a crucial role due to its unique inclusionary qualities as a team sport, including building leadership and teamwork skills, behavioural improvement, fitness and focus.
Virtually anyone can play, is held indoors, and everyone loves it !
Finally, at the end of the night, buses (driver and supervisor on all buses) take the players safely home to their front door – with everyone home and in bed by Midnight.
ADD TOURNAMENT NIGHT PIC
We are all very proud of our brand and we aim to utilise its power and magnetism for good. This section explains how we can optimise our brand as a best-practice mechanism to create positive changes in young lives.
All teenagers face challenges and opportunities. They each face the temptation of underage drinking, drugs, antisocial behaviour, poor health outcomes and social isolation.
They also face incredible opportunity, enjoyment and the prospect of a truly good life in their Australian communities.
In order to create true equality, Midnight Basketball Australia believes that overcoming obstacles will be a proactive element of the social competition. As will those things that are just great fun and provide a vehicle for socailising, getting fit, learning teamworks and all the other great benefits of social sporting competition. We want to have all children and teenagers of all backgrounds playing on the same court, and taking part in the same self-development activities, as equals.
Midnight Basketball Australia's brand is inclusive, providing a social competition where participation is not just open to, but actively supported for all teenagers - no matter their background.
To achieve this we will:
Midnight Basketball Australia is a relatively well-known organisation across Australia. Even if people are not directly aware of the work we do, many are familiar with our name. The challenge we now face is transitioning from a program that 'support disadvantaged youth' to an organisation that promotes inclusivity, without directly highlighting it.
To fulfil this inclusiveness and achieve equality, Midnight Basketball Australia faces a double-edged sword that comes with labelling those we are trying to help. We believe all children and teenagers need support and we want to celebrate the great work by Midnight Basketball communities shown through images or stories that show us helping ALL children and teenagers getting support and mentoring, and celebrating the wins - of which we have no shortage.
This situation is definitely in Midnight Basketball Australia’s favour, and is able to be turned into a large success - and be a proud and important part of the branding and implementation of identifying and attacking teen issues openly and head on.
We are creating a social competition that not only attracts teenagers, but also the engagement of those within the community who can support their personal growth and development.
Beyond the backbone of our incredible volunteers, committee members, sponsors and organisers - we want to attract more people who will inspire our teenage participants, helping them to realise their potential. Whether they are sporting stars, community role models, artists and young leaders, attracting the best talent to enrich Midnight Basketball is essential and will be supported by our new brand.
To create a brand experience that is authentic in our mission and delivery, Midnight Basketball Australia embraces a set of values that reflect their commitment to improving the opportunities and experiences for all young people and belief in uplift.
Our brand embraces and expresses these values across all touchpoints.
Equality Authenticity Integrity Respect Compassion Generosity
Independence Inclusiveness Community Collaboration Perseverance
Participation Fun Empowerment Opportunity Development Discovery
To enhance the life skills of young people and promote inclusiveness and opportunity through the game of basketball.
The language that Midnight Basketball Australia uses must not only convey the key information required to educate and empower our stakeholders, it must also generate strong appeal with the 12 to 18-year age bracket.
Information will be presented quickly, easy to read and digest sentences and visual cues. Our language is short and concise in its messaging. Our voice is not be paternal.
Our teenage participants are playing Midnight Basketball because it is something that they can feel truly a part of. Their competition. Their game. Their night of the week. We aim to empower them to have their own futures.
Our primary focus is the teenagers and therefore energised, optimistic and youth-centric showcasing our player generated content including testimonials and quotes. We have a powerful opportunity to build the brand through the teenagers talking about and writing about and showcasing their experiences through imaging.
Similarly with supporters, volunteers and other mentors who bring the brand to live through the same storytelling opportunities.
Other stakeholders who require extensive ‘behind the scenes’ information such as running Tournaments, Volunteer registration, WWC and other governance information, need to be able to find information efficiently - are busy and their time is valuable - and have it readily available at the point of need.
Brands can be divided into 12 traditional archetypes or personalities, which help audiences understand their purpose and their form - who they are. While the products and services may vary, in clarifying our archetype we can measure whether our communications and marketing are true to the characteristics of the brand.
BRAND ARCHETYPE IMAGE.
The Midnight Basketball Australia brand archetype is the Freedom Explorer. Discovery through experience.
This is because Midnight Basketball is an aspirational place where teenagers are free to discover their independence. It’s not like the regimented conformity of local league basketball. It’s social sport, and social development, it’s high energy and great fun with a youthful edge to it.
An Explorer brand thrives in unfamiliar territory. It’s bold, daring and willing to explore new horizons.
The new Midnight Basketball Australia brand embodies a spirit that’s not afraid of a challenge and is often motivated by the desire for freedom and independence.
Although Explorer organisations recognise the boundaries around them, they don’t let those restrictions stop them. Instead, Explorer brands are constantly pushing the limits.
This typifies what Midnight Basketball Australia is doing with this rebrand. Aware that there is a need to change, and fearlessly going about doing what it needs to improve.
Explorer brands are consistent, strong, and willing to tackle anything.
This is why Midnight Basketball Australia is the Freedom Explorer.
Speaking with the teenagers, not for them.
Teenagers often see themselves as adults. They long to be heard and valued. Every communication we craft aims to make them feel valued, respected and engaged.
Communications for the teenagers will be simple, warm and direct - fun, high energy and easy to engage with.
‘Build a community’, ‘better yourself’ are the kind of expressions that are important for whole of community solutions alignment and a feeling of security, safety and inclusion.
Your community is supporting you.
Midnight Basketball is an experience; it’s an opportunity to hang out. To play fun basketball with friends while listening to music over the loudspeakers. Finish school on a Friday, and then go to Midnight Basketball. It is the thing that kids are waiting around all week for. The night is theirs at Midnight Basketball.
There are underage clubs and festivals that have become very popular over the past decade because kids love going to places which they feel are created just for them. Places where they feel they are part of the action. It makes them feel like the night is theirs. Midnight Basketball has the same appeal.
The tone of voice will address the youth primarily and ensure the corporate elements do not detract from this or seem like adults telling young people what to do.
This rebrand is about a shift to ‘young people taking the opportunity and empowering themselves’. This excitement and optimism will be captured in the voice of Midnight Basketball. Every communication should embrace a sense of positive momentum, optimism and authenticity - together we can create a social competition where youth feel respected and want to share and celebrate that respect with the supporters who help make it possible.
Given the strong alignment between basketball, creativity, strong values, building friendships and a sense of belonging as well as being vocal about social justice, with hip-hop culture, as well as youth culture more broadly, and associative elements like American NBA and the NBL in Australia, the culture of hip hop and the clothes they wear, the huge range of social influencers and the magnetism of the basketball game they love, and the diverse range of people and music .... it makes sense to embrace the positive elements of these basketball cultures, which increases our brand’s appeal and will helps to engage teenagers and build their desire to get involved.
Midnight. Basketball. Welcomes. Everyone.
Midnight. Basketball. Welcomes. Everyone.
The new Midnight Basketball will be seen as basketball that embraces the teenage spirit, while providing the support and guidance to help young people realise their potential.
Through the inclusivity of sport, divisive barriers can be overcome, and a teenager is free to build life skills, like team work, respect, overcoming defeat, maintaining the disciplines of playing by the rules and learning how to cope when things don’t go your way.
Midnight Basketball is ‘their place’ to go and make friends and learn life skills that will help their future. Midnight Basketball is their night of the week.
Midnight Basketball has always sought to create equality. After years of creating opportunities for many youth within communities, Midnight Basketball Australia now wishes to take things to the next level and create true inclusivity.
The core of Midnight Basketball is to give young people opportunities to play, to grow, to work together.
Basketball has this history of nights at the local centre. More so than any sport, local pick-up games have always put people on a court together. Midnight Basketball will create a modern social experience for young people through the game of basketball. It will be a safe place, where everyone’s equal.
Midnight Basketball should become a place where young people of all backgrounds come together and hang out socially while playing basketball. This is an experience, a youth culture that sustains itself.
It’s organised sports with an edge. It’s less about the game of basketball than it is about getting together and meeting new people. This is your night of the week.
Through a combination of basketball tournaments and life skills workshops, we aim to offer an intervention that:
In meeting these aims Midnight Basketball Australia believes it will make a positive contribution to:
Every eight week tournament is formally evaluated through a Program Review completed by each Midnight Basketball Volunteer Management Committee, and the teen participants, showing:
To engage teenagers in a structured social inclusion program, that builds individual and community capacity by both filling a gap and providing:
A late night social basketball competition that can be utilised as a positive, fun, pro-social, safe and healthy activity for all teenagers to engage in on weekend (Friday and Saturday) nights.
It is based on an enhanced version of the existing Midnight Basketball® 8 week program for all teenagers in communities, as a 5-8 week competition, repeated as often as communities choose.
Working with local Baskeball Associations:
social sports-based events are not standard Basketball Association offerings – this is an additional event run externally by a range of community members but supported by and carefully aligned to the local Basketball Association.
Midnight Basketball will always consult closely with local Basketball Associations to ensure that it enhances their offerings and does not to overlap with Basketball Club competitions - for example, if Club comps are run on Friday nights, Midnight Basketball will aim to fill a remaining gap on Saturday nights.
promote strong alignment with club basketball by ensuring that the Midnight Basketball teenage participants are continuously encouraged to join the local Basketball Association and get involved in Club competitions, and all the benefits that flow from this.
Midnight Basketball is packaged and branded by Midnight Basketball Australia so communities can provide the activity effectively and sustainably.
By providing an alternative, it will prevent local teenagers being diverted to negative activities as a result of having nothing else to do (a gap that will be filled by something), boredom or other influences (mechanisms of incapacitation).
There is an acknowledged, huge need for more positive activities for teenagers on weekend nights in Australia to help form positive behaviours and habits, leading to better outcomes of health, behaviour, peer association and life skills.
A particular focus is to provide mechanisms to change the culture of binge drinking on weekend nights, a nationwide problem that has its formation in the teen years due to a lack of alternative activities. Sport is thereby being used as a very simple and straightforward, tested mechanism for diversion to healthy pro-social activities.
It also engages teenagers with a diverse range of local volunteers and mentors, improving their life skills, confidence and readiness for work, and increasing the confidence of local community members to engage with all local teenagers and encourage new social norms for both participants and volunteers.
To improve community engagement, programs that involve all teenagers from the local community is preferable to programs that can separate disadvantaged teenagers into separate activities (there are exceptions such as specifically designed programs to address specific issues).
These activities will specifically also target socially excluded teenagers to ensure they are encouraged and supported to participate. Midnight.Basketball.Welcomes.Everyone.
By engaging in professionally-run mainstream activities, teenagers will build confidence, skills, enthusiasm, motivation and life skills know-how, allowing greater participation in other mainstream activities.
The inclusion of a nutritious dinner, life skills motivational mentoring sessions, fun physical activity and supervised bus rides safely home at the end of the night improves the quality of the deliverable.
Targeted mentoring sessions supporting wellbeing, work readiness and other life skills to meaningfully participate in society are valuable learning experiences which include relevant information and advice on important teen issues, showcasing examples and an environment that models healthy alternatives.
The more sophisticated idea is that over the span of a 5-8 week Tournament(s) - when run professionally and demonstrating a commitment to high expectations in every aspect - teenagers will rise to meet the high expectation atmosphere. This will improve their self-esteem and increase their confidence and willingness to engage with other relevant and useful personal and community activities including educational opportunities.
As community members observe our teenagers developing through participating voluntarily, respectfully and comfortably in a professionally run social basketball tournament, this will generate improved community attitudes about the capacity of previously-excluded teenagers to participate in mainstream community activities, breaking down stereotypes that can act as a major barrier to social inclusion.
This in turn makes it easier for these teenagers to participate in community activities outside Midnight Basketball® (a stereotype-breaking and social inclusion mechanism) .... another reason why we are so resolute about running to a high standard and ensuring that community members across sectors get involved to observe, engage and be impressed. Positive.Perception.Building. Community members reshaping their stereotype and conceptions of teenagers.
Concurrently, they develop relationships with a broader social spectrum of local teenagers as well as positive role models, the adult volunteers, who demonstrate a variety of interesting and responsible life choices to which teenagers might aspire (a capacity building and mentoring mechanism).
We know many other factors affect longer term outcomes and the extent of participation in education and employment, such as family circumstances and community attitudes.
But as a result of Midnight Basketball® we hope that these immediate and end-of-tournament outcomes are sufficient to ensure these teenagers are more engaged with their community and have improved wellbeing, life skills and habits, allowing them to grow and build their confidence, self-esteem, be active at school, learn and be confident about future educational and employment opportunities as they build work readiness competencies .... increasing the opportunity to meaningfully participate in society and ultimately live a good happy life.
Doing everything we all can to help local teenagers uplift.
To get the program off to a great start Midnight Basketball Australia provides communities with the following items, subject to available resources:
national structure graphic
After 250 tournaments around the country in regional, remote and metropolitan communities and over ten years of successful growth and operation, we have proven many things about opportunity and stepping up.
Making change is challenging and requires a commitment to continued process evaluation and dedication to transparent evaluation of what works and what doesn’t work in changing the world for the better.
We have observed over 100,000 youth attendances of some of the most disengaged yet highly adaptable youth in the country, how they fit in, willingly participate and kept successfully meeting the bars we set in a highly structured environment that patterns mainstream sport and school.
The Midnight Basketball® Program Model is a collaboration of all these Tournaments, tested and trialled for over a decade, learning and iterating at every step. The collective wisdom of this effort by tens of thousands of community volunteers and other stakeholders is the backbone of the experience we want to now build upon.
During 2018 and 2019 we are reviewing the Midnight Basketball® Program Model nationally, which includes an extensive consultation process with communities and individuals from diverse backgrounds across the country, to determine what works, what doesn’t work and what can be improved. We have identified profound and important enhancements that we can make based on what we have observed, learnt and proven through our community-run model to be possible.
We have found team-based sport to be a valuable and engaging (non-threatening) social inclusion tool for teaching life, pro-social and community engagement skills to engage youth in mainstream to help them build the skills and confidence to be able to identify and benefit from opportunities in mainstream community life.
We also have been reminded of the importance of evidence-based early years intervention showing the earlier children are engaged with these activities the greater the longer-term outcomes possible, that is, when introduced at a younger age (ages 5-6) or at the start of primary school rather than high school years. We have discovered that this is a large gap and about which we aim to do a lot more.
This work is continuing through 2019.
Midnight Basketball® has refuted much conventional thinking. It has proven that you can engage, motivate, and positively impact young people deemed to be disengaged, unapproachable and difficult, if not previously thought impossible to engage and work with. We have successfully proven time and time again the ability of our youth to successfully participate in this type of pro-social, sports based structured activity.
Examples of this ‘myth busting’ include evidence that disengaged kids can and will behave, accept and honour a Code of Conduct and Rules, be on time and respectful to program staff and volunteers, including Association-qualified referees. We have had astounding success with the youth participants successfully participating in a program emulating local Club Basketball competitions, including the use of qualified Association Referees and structured competitions.
We have ongoing feedback that the youth participants prefer quality team basketball with experienced, fair, qualified referees umpiring their games as this delivers an authentic and quality program (good basketball) that they will enjoy, respond to, get more out of and attend more regularly. An authentic program will therefore triumph over a dumbed-down activity offering the kids shortcuts, ‘free stuff’ and a less demanding attitude to participation and behaviour.
Our experience is that when they understand the reason and value of these structures and rules, their attitude and approach changes to the positive, greater benefits are apparent and they step up admirably.
The Midnight Basketball® Program Model is a ‘standalone’ program, so relies heavily on engaging and training local partners/supporters to set up and drive the program with hands-on participation. By modelling so closely on Club Basketball and Association sport, we have been able to showcase our youth successfully participating in this type of program, thus start to implement our longer-term objective of migrating the youth participants to Club or mainstream sport, and for the program to be much more closely aligned with local Clubs; ensuring more sustainable community engagement opportunities.
If we accept that there is an opportunity to bring Midnight Basketball® to more youth in more locales across Australia under the current model, it will involve a series of organisational issues such as resourcing, funding and other implementation issues to replicate Association sport so closely.
We believe we have found a different solution aligned to migrating the social inclusion activity closer to Association sport, and that involves working with our youth participants to support them into mainstream sport more directly, and particularly from a young age, rather than creating a separated, mirror program. This provides an exciting opportunity and allows us to focus our resources on the support and social inclusion objectives that are often a barrier in Club sport.
For example, we have found that many of the functions of the current Midnight Basketball® program, which is a large program to run and oversee, overlap and use the resources of many of the functions of local Basketball Clubs including the competition structure, resources like referees and team coaches, scorers and many others.
Successfully resourcing and filling roles with the right calibre of people is always a challenge and we believe that again, rather than mirroring these resources, we can use our highly innovative volunteer recruitment strategies to bring more children, youth and volunteers into the Club sport space. Once these new volunteers realise how useful they are and how their practical skills can be applied, they can be effectively utilised by providing extra support to disadvantaged children and youth to play Club sport.
This combination of reducing skills overlap with local Basketball Club volunteers, while bringing in new volunteers to help, including people with professional experience, understanding and skills to address social disadvantage, is not only efficient but will make the program more sustainable.
The Midnight Basketball® Program Model has always included people from a diverse range of backgrounds and sectors within a community, some who had not been exposed to team sport, some who had not worked with disengaged youth and some who had not been exposed to either.
We have commonly seen people to be confronted by change and the idea of disadvantaged youth and uplift. People commonly worried that we were taking our youth participants out of their comfort zone and this might not be ‘fair’.
The result can inadvertently be that rather than finding and embracing opportunities and overcoming social justice and social inclusion issues, perceived barriers could be thrown up which limited the very opportunities we sought for the youth participants.
A specific example we have studied carefully is the migration from successfully participating in Midnight Basketball® to registering in Club sport. We know our Midnight Basketballers display the attributes and skills to do it and we also know it provides many pro-social and other benefits, yet this was often portrayed as a very challenging idea and was not happening on a scale to have meaningful benefit to the youth involved.
Our local Midnight Basketball® Management Committee, volunteer and supporter roles were often filled by extraordinary individuals and organisations from the not for profit (NFP) and service delivery sectors. While the support is profound and brings knowledge and wisdom of the backgrounds and issues our youth face every day, this can become yet another burden to their workload (another program to support) and could create another disproportionate bias of over-representation from these sectors.
The adage ‘It takes a village’ became a mantra and our most successful programs always had a diversity of sectors involved which became a strength and one of which we aim to build upon. Engaging other sectors, such as sport, business, education and civic volunteering groups like Rotary, Lions and many others, meant these more mainstream sectors learnt a lot from the people who worked in support service sectors and vice versa these new sectors brought a new frame, often questioning why so many barriers exist.
The whole village concept is profound and is also valid and important for its diversity and taught us to have confidence to objectively look at the opportunities that youth have in Australian communities and how authentically and genuinely we are working to engage them with those opportunities.
When the program itself becomes a potential barrier, we must recognise this, call it out, and pivot to ensure we are re-optimising the outcome for the youth participants to ‘live a good life’ and all this involves.
Another great learning was, that by its very nature of being a program, Midnight Basketball® can be identified as “for the poor kids” meaning potentially the participants are unfairly branded, reinforcing stigmatisation and negative perceptions. They are youth who are engaging, turn up on Friday and Saturday nights to a highly structured program with no drugs, no alcohol, tons of rules, work well together in teams and display all the characteristics of youth who we believe would participate successfully in a mainstream basketball environment. And more.
We will talk more about the issue of stigmatisation, societal perceptions and negative Tagging.
We believe that by aligning more closely with mainstream basketball Clubs, and introducing more children and teenagers to club basketball, provides an exciting opportunity for all youth in Australia.
Evidence-based interventions show that children’s behaviour patterns, expectations and attitudes are formed at early ages. This provides another exciting opportunity to make greater long-term impact as Midnight Basketball® is currently a program for 12-18-year-olds. We will introduce and support the idea that ALL children start sport at a younger age to assist in the more formative years.
We believe that sport can play an important role in the developmental years and the earlier that all children are engaged, the more benefit they will receive and the more likely they are to continue into other forms of community activities. Research also supports the proposition that people adopt and retain healthy and positive lifestyle habits the earlier they initiate them.
Midnight Basketball Australia is currently participating in a national research program, initiated by the Federal Government, which aims to leverage existing community resources and enhance community resilience and cohesion, and includes a literature review of the best evidence available of the benefits of sport in the developmental years. We will release this when complete in line with our evidence-based approach.
This leaves the Friday and Saturday night Midnight Basketball® program we currently run and have had so much success with.
Again, after deep review of the issues and extensive input from community consultations, our gap analysis has identified there is an identified need for more pro-social positive activities with no drugs or alcohol on Friday and Saturday nights. And there is a need for all youth in the country, not just disadvantaged youth.
That is, the need for Social Basketball Competitions - to fill a cavernous gap in Australia, a country with a strong culture of binge drinking and negative patterns of behaviour on weekend nights. This has been confirmed with communities in all States and Territories.
Broadening the program to include all youth, not just disadvantaged youth, has additional benefits of less stigma around the program being only for disadvantaged youth and greater engagement with other youth in their communities. Everyone playing together. It actually becomes more inclusive.
We will continue to ensure that disadvantaged youth are made welcome and supported. Refer Section 184.108.40.206 Basketball Association / Club Offerings which shows the opportunities for children to engage with Club sport from an early age and continue in to domestic competition in key activities that Clubs typically provide and a new column for social basketball to fill a gap of weekend nights.
While the current program was deemed successful, and time and time again people were surprised at the change in the youth, we do not believe we need to continue being surprised.
We have proven it.
Our youth have proven it.
Put simply, we do not believe we need a separate program for these youth participants. All modern thinking and literature points to inclusion not separating into separate programs. Now we can define how to move forward in an enhanced model with greater long-term outcomes.
The myth busting described above has been profound and we feel honoured to have received so much heartfelt, intelligent and insightful input from people from so many different backgrounds. We feel enlightened to build upon this experience to enhance the opportunities for all our youth participants who we know are willing and able to embrace change and brighter futures.
This is what we are aiming to do now – address inclusionary issues to enable us to pivot more closely to Club sport.
The problem to be addressed is that marginalised Australian children face general barriers to learning positive behaviours, entering mainstream society and future vocational paths, as well as gaining opportunities that would break the cycle of disadvantage and social exclusion.
The longer their exclusion from mainstream activities exists, the more entrenched, and harder to change.
Additionally, Australia has a binge-drinking heritage and Australian communities do not typically provide activities or services on the higher risk Friday and Saturday nights.
When teenagers are socially excluded and vulnerable and living within this culture, the temptation to participate in harmful and anti-social behaviour is strongest to themselves and others, providing increased risk on these two periods of the week. There is, therefore, benefit in providing a positive activity like a high energy sporting activity that facilitates learning, friendship and safety with no alcohol or drugs running late night to Midnight on Friday or Saturday nights.
What we have found and aim to test, is a potentially straightforward yet profound opportunity to make impactful change. Additionally, by leveraging the accessible, magnetic and fun elements of the team sport of basketball to engage teenagers during this high-risk period, we divert them from crime, alcohol and drug abuse, and other anti-social behaviours that can perpetuate social exclusion.
If there is one area where we have investigated the issues, problems to be addressed, and possible solutions deeply over the last ten years, it is the role perceptions play in social inclusion. And we have learnt a lot.
Midnight Basketball Australia has, for many years, given teenagers who face the hardest of circumstances the opportunity to participate in sport. Through a special basketball league, disadvantaged teens were provided with a place to play basketball - from the jerseys they wore, to the life skills workshops, to a hot meal before the game - these community-run competitions helped the disenfranchised and isolated find belonging.
The Midnight Basketball® Tournaments helped them to have a place where they were not just welcome to play, but were given all the tools, food, training and education needed to take part.
Through this participation, modelled very intentionally on mainstream sporting and education institutions and theories such as mainstream Club sport, mainstream school and the like, we showcased the capacity of our youth to successful participate in this kind of activity. It also provided an opportunity for the wider mainstream community - volunteers, other professional roles including qualified referees, workshop facilitators, those who were or became friends and mentors - to appreciate the adaptability of our youth when given this opportunity - in essence, the opportunity that is provided to other local kids in communities through these very institutions.
For 10 years, it’s proved to be a great success. But that success has come at a cost to the very participants themselves. Instead of making disadvantage disappear, as the success of the competition grew, it actually created a more visible and problematic marker for these kids.
Despite this inclusionary opportunity and all the very best intentions, when you separate those who have from those who have not, you create a system that reinforces the negative stereotypes and connotations of disadvantage and disengagement, rather than one that breaks it.
As Midnight Basketball® became more successful - more visible - its participants have worn more than a jersey - a smart, professional and colourful team jerseys they have worn with pride … they’ve also worn a marker with negative unintended consequences, identifying them as disadvantaged, and stigmatising them as ‘other’.
We call it tagging. When young people from disadvantage are continually labelled by their disadvantage, they become defined by it. When we create programs for disadvantaged youth (this does not refer to interventions that are specifically set up to address specific needs) there is always this possibility.
No matter how well-intentioned, the Midnight Basketball® brand was potentially an identifier, labelling its participants as being ‘poor’; and unfortunately, the wonderful and uplifting success stories or conversation that surround its participants too often include negative themes – themes that would never be mentioned in a story about local Club Basketball.
Sometimes it’s not what is said, but what is implied, that does the damage.
‘‘Midnight Basketball keeps kids off the streets,’ [potential inference ’so they can’t be committing crimes…]
‘Midnight Basketball kids getting to know the local police in a friendly game of ball’ [potential inference … because these kids need to respect the police and authority more….]
‘Midnight Basketball teaches kids life skills,’ [potential inference ’because otherwise these kids wouldn’t have a hope….]
‘Youth participants of Midnight Basketball go home exhausted and happy and go to sleep. This is a benefit to all.’ [potential inference ‘because if they are worn out, they won’t be out taking drugs, drinking and causing trouble.]
Regardless of fact or perception, when you continually build a narrative around juvenile justice, policing, keeping kids off the streets, tiring them out - what is the real story you are telling about these teenagers? And, why then would we expect them to not be tarnished by it?
And our society seems to be polarising even further between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’. The growth in migration to Australia, especially through asylum seekers and refugees, and the continued struggles of many Indigenous people and systemically-labelled poor white families has created a large, visible underclass of young people. They are often demonised, unfairly. Witness the ‘African Gangs’ media led debate in Victoria which aims to highlight problems, look for solutions, and enhance the outcomes for all Victorians in those locales, but is so easily themed and referenced by negative tagging. So, ironically, any program that is identified with assisting disengaged and disadvantaged young people runs the real risk of reinforcing their situation and ‘tagging’ them forever as not mainstream.
This is a burden and barrier to intergenerational change and uplift we need to reduce not reinforce.
We know that social inclusion and subsequent equal opportunity is the only true form of equality and social justice. It’s why every child - no matter their social or economic circumstances - has a fundamental opportunity for education in this country.
Likewise, every child - no matter what resources they have available to them - in a country such as Australia, should have the opportunity to play sport.
But, rather than create a sports league for disadvantaged kids, to truly make disadvantage disappear, we need to provide the most vulnerable and at risk youth with the support services and tools to enable their participation in mainstream Club sport. And if we can support Clubs to become more socially inclusive, that is a societal win win.
By removing the barriers to participation, we can facilitate true inclusion and equality.
Because when you give children the tools, support and encouragement, you are giving them the chance to enjoy the same opportunities as their more advantaged peers.
And the younger you provide this support, the lower the risk of them being vulnerable to social risk.
Research shows that young people who do not finish Year 12 struggle to maintain stable employment and are at higher risk of substance abuse and criminal activity. Like education, participation in sport is also key to a child’s social inclusion and physical health.
We also know that the younger a child is given encouragement and opportunity, the less likely they are to experience the social isolation and negative impacts of disadvantage.
Evidence also tells us that we need to start young, so all kids start engaging in these kinds of activities at the same age and don’t have to play catchup throughout their developing years. A simple mechanism is to give ALL kids the support they need to be able to play Club sports - specifically in our intervention, basketball.
We can create a new model to support our core values - respect, inclusivity, compassion, integrity, honesty, collaboration, effectiveness, best practice, perseverance and generosity. Belief in uplift.
We give them the support they need to fill in the gaps in their life.
We encourage communities to give young children the chance to start in mainstream programs like Basketball Australia’s Aussie Hoops, an entry level basketball program for 5-6 year olds, by providing advice on how to break down barriers, and also by reaching out to provide a network of encouragement and other social support.
Together, by working with caring and motivated local communities, we can readily help these kids have all the clothing, sports gear, coaching and other needs like transport if needed, to help them participate and fit right in. We have witnessed it and know they can.
Through action and activity, we start an inspiring conversation on why taking part in mainstream Club sport is essential to setting the foundations for childhood wellbeing – and why it is so great to get all kids in a community involved.
By being pro-active in engaging all kids in sport - especially at an early age - we can ensure all kids are framed – and perceived - as willing participants and leave any negative tags and framing behind.
Importantly, this means that by the time these children develop into teenagers, Midnight Basketball® can be another means by which teenagers are supported, rather than a program intervention that is starting too late and required to achieve too much.
By using leading edge startup strategies, and research and evaluation methodologies, we have developed hypotheses and objectives, which we will trial and iterate within communities to optimise our value proposition to ultimately provide a scalable, replicable yet flexible offering for communities across Australia. By initially restricting its reach by limiting the number of communities in 2019, we can remain agile enough to test, adapt and optimise the intervention.
Every day we will remind ourselves that we live in a country where opportunity exists. We have the honour and joy of working with and supporting wonderful young Australians, who we have found to be adaptable, positive and inspiring when provided with opportunity. We aim to provide opportunities that resonate with these and more young people like them; their needs and dreams.
We have had extensive input on how to tell the story of this intervention through their eyes - the story of sport as a great equaliser in Australia. Like education, sport is key to developing a child’s social and behavioural skills. Sport teaches discipline, working together as a team, the resilience to handle loss, and the confidence to give things a go.
And a great opportunity to meet and get to know other children from the wider community. This is a well-trodden path for many who have recounted this story after success in not just sporting endeavours but many different avenues in life.
We aim to include as many children and teenagers in the program activities as we can, teaching them skills, mentoring them and learning from them.