School of Public Health and Community Medicine

Sport for Social Change - Football United (FUn) Program

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Can soccer build social cohesion? Does sport have the power to bring communities together, promote racial harmony and lead to social integration? The School’s recent research on the long-running Football United program, suggests that sport can indeed achieve this and has the potential to positively influence the life trajectories of the people involved.

Running for over 13 years now, the Football United program (FUn) is the brainchild of Dr Anne Bunde-Birouste, a senior lecturer at the School of Population Health. It started with the aim of assisting young refugees in their integration to Australia by providing a supporting and enjoyable environment through a soccer development program. It sought to provide empowerment, leadership development, resilience building in young refugees through a series of youth-oriented youth soccer initiatives and also contribute to a body of research on youth resilience and cohesion in refugee immigrant communities. The program continues to work with young people from disadvantaged and diverse backgrounds, with the aim of positively influencing participants’ personal and social development.

While FUn has demonstrated short-term impacts such as positively influencing participants’ sense of self and social engagement, there was a need to understand whether it yielded such an impact on participants’ long-term development and life trajectories. Dr Anne Bunde-Birouste, Dr Patrick Rawstorne, Dr Sally Nathan and Rob Cunningham have recently published results of Rob’s doctoral research which examines the longer term impact of the program. It documents the experiences of a sample of FUn program participants, at a minimum six years after initial program engagement when they were still young adults and at the cusp of establishing their education and career trajectories.

Drawing on 20 interviews conducted in 2018 with a diverse sample of past participants of the program, the study finds that participants did perceive that the program had influenced their life trajectories in positively described ways. The relationships they formed through FUn had the greatest impact, in particular for participants who had experienced displacement and trauma as refugees prior to resettlement in Australia. Creating and sustaining bridging social capital, through relationships within and outside of their cultural and ethnic communities created a sense of belonging in Australia and longer-term connections for some participants.

“Staff, coaches and others involved in delivering FUn programs see the tremendous positive impact along the way, but that this research provides rigorous appraisal and feedback from the participants themselves”, says Dr Bunde-Birouste.

Findings suggest the mentoring relationships between participants and FUn program staff created linking social capital which set them on a path to pursuing their educational and career goals. The study also found that the FUn program influenced participants’ motivation to embrace a long-term commitment to ‘give back’ to their local cultural, ethnic, and geographical communities.

Doctoral Candidate Rob Cunningham added, “This is a starting point in filling a significant gap in the youth-focused SFSC field, some programs such as Football United have been operating for well over a decade, young participants have grown into adults, creating both a capacity and a need to examine longer-term impacts of these programs”. 

The findings are important for youth-focused SFSC programs. This study suggests these programs have the potential to positively influence the life trajectories of at least some participants. The findings of this study could be used to inform future long-term impact studies. It could also inform the implementation and design of youth-focused SFSC programs to include active strategies to enhance bridging and linking social capital, particularly for young people from disadvantaged and diverse backgrounds.

Creating Chances COVID-adapted programs

The Creating Chances program – a social enterprise borne out of the success of the FUn program – provides sports-inspired lifeskills for children and youth from years 5-6 up through the end of high school. Programs are diverse and delivered largely in a school-based setting. It offers the Creating Chances Youth Development Pathway which is designed to build confident, capable and future-ready young people. Using sports to explore personal development, community building, social change and post-school pathways, it allows children and young people to explore core skills in a fun and safe environment, and equips them with the tools required to achieve their goals in life. Thousands of students in over 100 schools and community organisations across Sydney, the Central Coast and the Illawarra have participated in these programs. The current pandemic required the program, which is usually delivered face to face, to be converted into online formats. Despite apprehensions about the effectiveness of online interactions, latest evaluation demonstrates significant positive results from the COVID-adapted programs. On average, participants reported greater hope, self-efficacy, resilience and optimism after completing the Creating Chances online programs in term 2 compared to before. Kylie Adams, Principal of Holroyd High School validated the results, saying, “It is great that you are able to support their social and emotional well-being when it is needed the most”.

>> See document on Creating Chances for you to build resilience and hope during COVID-19

Contact Name : 
Dr Anne Bunde-Birouste