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.

ALL ABOUT MIDNIGHT BASKETBALL

Everything you want to know about Midnight Basketball Australia and our Late Night Tournament Model.
Who we are, what it is and why it is so engaging and fun - and how it can benefit your community.

We are finalising the action packed year in which we visited communities, talked about what teenagers want need and are excited about.  We are in the final stages of feeding all this wisdom, reflection, experience, advice and common sense in to our New Midnight Basketball Tournament Model 2020.

Thank you to everyone who has been involved. We can't wait to get started again.

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.

 

How does each Tournament night run?

Every night of each 5-8 week Tournament includes: 

A Midnight Basketball Tournament Night

Volunteers - recommended community sectors

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 developing brand.
To ensure maximum benefit for the teenager participants and sustainability of Midnight Basketball in your community, the following sectors are important to engage.

The sectors below should be represented on your Midnight Basketball Volunteer Management Committee and encouraged to volunteer on tournament nights along with other support. People from these sectors should also be invited to the initial Midnight Basketball Launch and other events, such as Grand Final nights.

KEY SECTORS EXAMPLES WHY ENGAGE
Business

Chamber of Commerce, local industry & businesses and individual business people

Community networks and fundraising, volunteering and mentoring.

Community Service Rotary, Church groups, Indigenous groups, culturally & linguistically diverse (CALD) groups, Parents & Friends Associations

Networks with community.

To assist with the recruitment of volunteers for the program.

Provide resources and practical mentoring for participants.

Council

Councils and Related Services

Facilitate community networks, service providers, possible funding. Strategic view and knowledge of community and needs.

 

Also includes State and Federal Government Departments including Housing, Health, Community, Family Services, Sport & Recreation and many others

Networks, existing support and opportunities, training of volunteers, workshops, knowledge of existing and pathway services and programs for teenagers (applies to many of these categories).

Education

Schools

To assist with knowledge of local teen issues for mentoring session topics and facilitators, and targeting and recruitment of participants.

  TAFE, Universities and other tertiary groups Mentoring, volunteering, course work experience (eg, youth work, catering, sports management) facilitators for mentoring sessions.
 Employment Services

Local employment organisations and companies

Community networks and workshops, work experience, traineeships and employment opportunities for our teenage participants, volunteers (including 18-25’s) and contractors.

Health

 Local health services Community networks and workshops.

To assist with the recruitment of volunteers for the program.

Policing & Justice

Local police (including youth, school & Indigenous liaison officers), juvenile justice and related services To assist with the identification of marginalised teenagers for the program.

Knowledge of local issues.

Sport

Local basketball association and other sporting clubs typically football (various codes), netball, swimming – all are a great opportunities and pathways for the teenage participants

Referees, team managers and coaches for the tournament.

To assist with the recruitment of volunteers for the program.

Pathways for teenage participants (local sporting clubs).

Youth & Family Services

Youth related groups in the community.

To assist with the identification of teenage participants.

To identify pathways and other programs to support participants.

Other individuals

Other groups and also Individuals and local residents

Large range of other relevant groups and individuals.



We are a very proud national charity supporting extraordinary communities, approved to help teenagers achieve a great life. We believe everyone can and should live a great life.

Vision

All Australian teenagers feeling welcomed to participating and enjoying life while growing up in their local community, passionately contributing to and learning within an inclusionary society.

Mission

To provide an inclusive activity, centred around the inclusive Game of Basketball, that provides a common sense environment open to every Australian teenager to build the skills, self esteem, gratitude and a sense of worthiness to be able to identify and embrace positive opportunities in their lives, community and society.
We do this through activities to teach life skills and identify steps to sport, education, training, employment and social inclusion.

We want all teenagers to ENJOY THEIR TEENAGE YEARS,  proactively transition to independent living, have a rewarding career, participate and contribute to our incredible civic society in Australia, be happy and LIVE A GREAT LIFE.

A Great Life

We define a great life based on the evidence-based construct of a good life according to the Australian Research Alliance for Children and Youth’s Framework for measuring wellbeing among children and youth, using the following Key Result Areas, which contribute to ‘a good life’: SEE ARACY CHART.

Organisational Purpose

Midnight Basketball Australia is a national organisation whose primary purpose is to train and support approved communities to run Midnight Basketball Tournaments.

Key Aims

We believe there is a need for more positive pro-social activities provided for all teenagers, particularly to fill a gap on Friday and Saturday nights.

We aim to fill this gap with the Midnight Basketball competition. 

Other long term aims:
  • Early age entry in to club sport - communities are encouraged to support ALL children to participate from ENTRY AGE (ie, ages 5-6) into club sport. The earlier children participate in sport, the more it will become a normative part of everyday life, 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 participation in more mainstream activities, resulting in more engagement within their local community and all the learning and benefits this brings.
  • Children supported to continue playing basketball and other association or club sport - communities are encouraged to support all children to continue in club sport from early age to the end of their teen years. 

Aside from bringing together the collective experience of over 250 Tournaments around the country over 10 years, we help wherever we can with elements that it makes sense to support nationally.

From enterprise technology, to fantastic Tournament and Marketing kits, we want to get the program off to a great start by providing communities with a heap of support. To do this, Midnight Basketball Australia provides communities with the following items, subject to available resources:

  • Professional Kit: team singlets/bags, display banners, volunteer lanyards, player awards and trophies.
  • Mentoring Session support.
  • MBAustralia staff visit each community during the initial two year period and ongoing as required, for initial community meetings, Committee and Tournament Night Manager Training and as otherwise required for the purposes of assessing and supporting program outcomes and effectiveness, including telephone and email support before, during and after each Tournament as required.
  • A dynamic web-based online Tournament Management System providing an out of the box solution which includes:
    • manuals / guidelines and all relevant systems, forms, materials and templates;
    • local website with automated Tournament information, media and supporters, online registration for players and volunteers, Leaderboard results, local contacts and more;
    • automated Tournament administration system including automatic rostering, scheduling, collection and management of data;
    • automated online reporting including graphical spatial data management; and
    • checklists and other portfolio support for Committee to manage their individual portfolios.
  • Media and public relations support, including Media Pack (to support media and photo shoots) as well as web portal with checklists, templates, and other support for generating local media.
  • Program evaluation - every Tournament is formally evaluated through a Program Review completed by each Midnight Basketball Volunteer Management Committee and Midnight Basketball Australia.

Midnight Basketball Australia's brand is inclusive, providing a social competition where participation is not just open to, but actively supported for all teenagers, all backgrounds.

This section provides an overview of our brand and how to use it - we are all very proud of our brand and we aim to utilise its power and magnetism for good. Read this section with:

  • About > WHAT IS MIDNIGHT BASKETBALL
  • About > THE ESSENCE OF MIDNIGHT BASKETBALL

which all explain how we can optimise our brand as a best-practice mechanism to create positive changes in young lives.

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. We are truly excited to have a brand that is so focussed on promoting inclusivity.

Our great strength is that we are a well-known and trusted brand, with highly ethical and established organisational structures in place, and clear values and expertise in the market. We also have a great model that is based on sport and uplift and the inclusive and fun Game of Basketball.

To fulfil this inclusiveness and achieve equality, Midnight Basketball Australia wants to celebrate the incredible work by Midnight Basketball communities shown through images or stories that show communities creating social cohesion by helping ALL children and teenagers getting support and mentoring, and celebrating the fun of participating as well as the wins - of which we have no shortage.

An important part of our essence and branding is to be the kind of organisation that reflects the strength and resilience of Australian Society to support teenagers an dbeing open about the challenges that are part of growing up and how we can help support teenagers to address them and become stronger in the process.

We are creating a social competition that not only attracts teenagers, but also the engagement of those great people within the community who can support their personal growth and development.

It takes a village.

To enhance the life skills of teenagers and promote inclusiveness and opportunity through the game of basketball.

Goal

To experience an authentic and fulfilling life.

Strategy

To journey, seek and experience new things.

Values

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 teenagers 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 Empowerment Opportunity Development Discovery
And Fun

Inclusion

Midnight Basketball is basketball that embraces the teenage spirit, while providing the support and guidance to help teenagers 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 teenagers within communities, Midnight Basketball Australia is creating true inclusivity.

The core of Midnight Basketball is to give teenagers 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 creates a modern social experience for teenagers through the game of basketball. It is a safe place, where everyone’s equal.

Midnight Basketball is a place where teenagers of all backgrounds come together and hang out socially while playing basketball. This is an experience, a teenage 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.

Legal Structure

  • Midnight Basketball Australia Ltd is a company, limited by guarantee with an independent Board.
  • ABN: 40108259749.
  • Midnight Basketball Australia oversees the delivery of the Midnight Basketball Tournament Model nationally and provides training and support.
  • Approved local Midnight Basketball Community Committees run the local 5-8 week programs within their communities, with our support.
  • We have run over 250 tournaments across Australia with over 105,000 attendances by Midnight Basketball 12-18 year old participants.

Board of Directors

The Board members of Midnight Basketball Australia generally provide their time, expertise and wisdom and have a substantial track record in implementing community and commercial projects: Steve Mark, Cathy McBride, Chris Wade, Jonathon Wolfe

Midnight Basketball Australia Management Team

  • Tess White, Chief Executive Officer
  • Vacant, General Manager Communities
  • Amber Holliday, Communities Support Manager
  • Susan Grant, Finance and Administration 
  • Other team members (contractors and pro bono supporters) include Marketing and Communications, IT Services, Research and Evaluation and other professional services

Local Community Governance Structure

All approved Midnight Basketball communties or locations have the following Midnight Basketball governance structure:

  • Local Program Participant (Contracted Program Auspicing Body - Council)
  • Volunteer Management Committee comprising local Committee members
  • Tournament Night Volunteers - (approximately 20 per night) Friday OR Saturday nights from 7pm to around Midnight depending on the role). Some roles require a license, accreditation or certificate, such as Referees, Bus Drivers licence, etc. All roles require Working With Children.

Legal Charity Status

  • A not-for-profit charitable organisation.
  • Midnight Basketball Australia is listed on the Register of Harm Prevention Charitable Institutions under Subdivision 30-289B of the Income Tax Assessment Act 1997.
  • Midnight Basketball Australia is a national not-for-profit charitable organisation with Deductible Gift Recipient Status. This means that donations are tax deductible and we will provide you with a tax deductible receipt for donations. Note: they must be made out to: "Midnight Basketball Fund" (see below).

Australian Charities and Not For Profits Commission Endorsed Charity TickMidnight Basketball Australia is an Endorsed ACNC Charity
Midnight Basketball Australia ACNC listing

 

Fund Structure (for Donations)

Donations are contributed through the Midnight Basketball Fund, overseen by our Fund's Management Committee. For information and links to donate, please visit our Donate page.

Fundraising Guidelines

Midnight Basketball Australia is a not for profit dependent on fundraising for financial viability. The organisation takes a broad based approach to fundraising, working with all tiers of Government, Corporates and individuals to develop relationships of mutual benefit.

The following principles guide our approach to partnerships and fundraising and assist us in avoiding conflicts of interest or intent.

Midnight Basketball Australia:

  • Seeks to develop long term, mutually beneficial relationships with its funding partners.
  • Is committed to the highest ethical standards in the way it solicits funds, keeps a record of donations and engages with donors or potential donors.
  • Will accurately describe the objectives and activities of Midnight Basketball and the intended use of donated funds.
  • Will act truthfully & fairly in all its communications, dealings and appeals for funds.
  • Will only partner and accept support from organisations or individuals which support the philosophy and objectives of Midnight Basketball and specifically will not partner or accept support from organisations or individuals where that partnership or support would promote products detrimental to individual and community health or social structure, including the promotion of the use of alcohol, tobacco products or illegal or illicit substances.
  • Reserves the right to refuse donations from organisations and individuals with practices inconsistent with the objectives of Midnight Basketball and the philosophy of community capacity building.
  • Will respect the dignity and privacy of those who benefit from Midnight Basketball’s activities and will not exploit those it seeks to help through its approach to fundraising.
  • Will protect the public identification of a person making an untied donation and who requires that the donation remains anonymous.
  • Will under no circumstances exchange, rent, or otherwise share its fundraising list with other organisations.

Please click here to read the Midnight Basketball Australia Privacy Collection Statement and the Privacy Policy.

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 teenage attendances of some of the most disengaged yet highly adaptable teenagers 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 teenagers 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 teenagers 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 teenagers 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 teenage 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 our 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.

Addressing the issue of scalability

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 teenage participants successfully participating in this type of program, thus start to implement our longer-term objective of migrating the participants to Club or mainstream sport, and for the program to be much more closely aligned with local Clubs; ensuring more sustainable and deeper community engagement opportunities.

If we accept that there is an opportunity to bring Midnight Basketball® to more teenagers 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.

A different solution: channelling teenagers into Club sport

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 teenage 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, teenagers 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 teenagers 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 teenagers and some who had not been exposed to either.

We have commonly seen people to be confronted by change and the idea of disadvantaged teenagers and uplift. People commonly worried that we were taking our teenage 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 teenage 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 teenage 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 teenagers 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 teenagers 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 teenage 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 teenage 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 teenage 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 teenage in Australia.

The early years gap

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.

The future of the Friday and Saturday Night Midnight Basketball® program

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 teenagers in the country, not just disadvantaged teenagers.

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 teenagers, not just disadvantaged teenagers, has additional benefits of less stigma around the program being only for disadvantaged teenagers and greater engagement with other teenagers in their communities. Everyone playing together. It actually becomes more inclusive.

We will continue to ensure that disadvantaged teenagers are made welcome and supported. Refer Section 3.2.2.2 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 teenagers, we do not believe we need to continue being surprised.

We have proven it.

Our Midnight Basketball teenage participants have proven it.

Put simply, we do not believe we need a separate program for these teenage 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 teenage 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.

Societal perceptions and tagging

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 teenagers 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 teenagers 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’.

How do we know this?

We call it tagging. When teenagers are continually labelled by their disadvantage, they can become defined by it. When we create programs for disadvantaged teenagers (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….]

‘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 teenagers. 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 teenagers 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.

What can we do to change it?

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 teenagers 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.

Why?

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 teenagers 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.

How do we lift those who are falling, up?

We give all teenagers 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.

Campaigning for Change

Every day we will remind ourselves that we live in a country where opportunity exists.

We have had the honour and joy of working with and supporting wonderful young Australian teenagers. 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 teenagers 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.

And please have a read of our FAQ page for answers to a huge range of questions people have asked us.