Occupational therapy students Grace Gillett, Jessica Robertson and Maddelin Hammet's are testing a new approach for measuring how effectively clubs welcome those from culturally diverse backgrounds.
"Every club has a unique culture. And the people who know the most about a club's culture are the club members. So our approach uses surveys and focus groups to help club managers make evidence based decisions about embracing diversity," Ms Gillett said.
Ms Robertson said that in many small towns and regional centres, social inclusion begins on the sports field.
"So it's vital that people of different genders, sexualities, ethnicities, religions and personal abilities feel safe and welcome at local clubs.
"Our approach allows us to see how culture shapes a club's values, diversity, social connectedness, and community relationships. We can even use it to get a sense of how potential members view the club."
AFL Central Victoria General Manager Paul Hamilton said local clubs recognise that by fostering safe, welcoming atmospheres, they will maintain the respect and loyalty both of club members and the wider community.
"Clubs work hard to create safe and welcoming spaces. This will help them identify what's working and what needs to be improved. And they want to share successful ideas with other clubs across the League."
Mr Hamilton said the project came at an important time for the League.
"Bendigo's in the middle of a major population boom. As more people settle in our region, we want to introduce new resources and building culturally appropriate facilities.
"A previous La Trobe study recognised the positive value that local football netball clubs create towards social, health and community outcomes. With this is mind we are trying to provide community leadership in these areas and this tool could prove to be invaluable into the future."
Ms Hammet said the students had begun piloting the tool with the South Bendigo Football and Netball Club earlier in the week.
"We are currently conducting focus groups with South Bendigo members to see what works and what doesn't. Once we've collated all their feedback, AFL Central Victoria will introduce the tool to other BFNL clubs. Hopefully that will be completed soon after the September finals," she said.
La Trobe University is a major partner of AFL Central Vic Academy and the Bendigo Junior Football League. The partnership provides opportunities for student studying occupational therapy, exercise physiology and sport management to undertake placements, internships and research projects.
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Image by Chris Brown