Growing Aboriginal children’s love for AFL

Improving Health and Wellbeing

A Deakin University collaboration with the AFL has improved Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children’s access to one of Australia’s key sports.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander primary school-aged children are now more likely to participate in NAB AFL Auskick, thanks to an innovative community initiative: AllPlay Footy.

Children in the Griffith area participated in an AllPlay AFL Community Day on November 17, with almost half of attendees participating in Auskick for the first time.

The free event was developed in close consultation with the local community as an extension of the AllPlay initiative – an ongoing program delivered as a result of the unique collaboration between the Deakin Child Study Centre’s Clinical Research team and the AFL.

AllPlay founder and Director of the Deakin Child Study Centre, Professor Nicole Rinehart, said all-inclusive events are an important addition to a community.

“Our research has shown that community events like the one in Griffith are an important stepping-stone for children of all abilities to engage in organised sport.”
Professor Nicole Rinehart Director of the Deakin Child Study Centre

“When we started the AllPlay program, our promise was to change the lives of the one in five children living with disability or developmental challenges through participation in organised sport, dance and education.”

“Two years into delivery of the program, we realised that we had not designed the research in a way that could give access to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children.”

Major partner Moose Toys contributed $1m to the initiative to ensure the program reached Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children.

The AllPlay Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Footy program is a national program that will be rolled out over the next four years.

AFL Indigenous and Social Policy Manager, Katriina Heikkanen, said the AFL was committed to making programs more accessible to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children across Australia, particularly in regional and remote areas.

“We want to give children a taste of Auskick, hopefully getting them excited to sign up and be a part of next year’s season,” she said.

For AllPlay, evidence-based strategies have been adapted to encourage participation of children who face difficulties that may prevent them from joining in with group activities. This includes children who might have differing emotional needs, disabilities and developmental delays such as autism and ADHD.

Not only is the AllPlay approach collaborative and culturally sensitive, it combines research, clinical expertise and technology to create evidence-based, accessible, innovative resources and state-of-the-art training that is underpinned by a global AllPlay research data hub.

AllPlay is staffed by clinical psychologists whose focus is on helping children manage their emotions, impulses and behaviours, which can affect development, social-emotional well-being and family health.

Participating in group physical activity such as Australian Rules Football has been demonstrated to deliver positive benefits for children, not just in terms of physical health, but also social development.

“Also, many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children with autism and ADHD are undiagnosed and therefore miss out on services. We want to bridge that gap through sport, because we know group physical activity can be a key positive driver in a child’s development,” Professor Rinehart said.

“We are very grateful to the local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community in Griffith who are so supportive of our research and we are working closely with community elders, and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health sector to develop our research programs. We look forward to expanding this partnership over the coming years.”

Published by Deakin Research on 13 December 2018


The Centre for Social and Early Emotional Development (SEED) conducts world-leading research on social development and its origins in early emotional life. The overall objective of SEED is to promote emotional health, from pregnancy through to adulthood and into the next generation. SEED hosts specialist research centres and programs in Wellbeing, Attachment, Addiction and Neurodevelopmental Disorders.