As you enter the Bayswater Bowling and Recreation Club on a Saturday afternoon a mixture of sounds fills your ears: the blaring of music through speakers, people laughing or in deep conversation, the collision of sticks and skates skidding over the concrete. The unmistakable smell of a sausage sizzle fills the air. The beer is flowing and the ground is sticky from a spilled drink or two. Brightly coloured guernseys are scattered throughout the boisterous crowd.
There are no restrictions here, people can come and go as they please. It’s a place where you can be yourself in a relaxing environment. Anyone and everyone is welcome, and the Perth Street Roller Hockey League has made the Bayswater venue their home.
The term ‘street sport’, described as having a street or grungy feel, is played in locations such as a car park and involves a DIY element. The costs to run street sports are minimal, and their structure is often more free-flowing than club or social sports. Street sports have the ability to bring together a group of people and give them the opportunity to connect with others and be active in a social, relaxed environment. However, street sport is now also being used as a tool to engage with young people- a vehicle for introducing them to people in services that can help them deal with modern life.
Shooting hoops keeping kids off the street
‘Night Hoops’ is a program that does this, using basketball to connect with often troubled young people and reduce antisocial behaviour occurring on our streets. This initiative changes the way we think about street sport, and the connotations that often go along with it.
“It’s really for kids who would otherwise be on the street. It’s an opportunity for them to do something positive on a Saturday night,” Night Hoops managing director Griffin Longley says.
“It’s really different to a social competition, it’s more of an engagement and intervention program.”
The Night Hoops program runs in six-week blocks in a tournament structure. Longley says it was established to provide young people with a weekend evening activity.
“There is a real lack of opportunities for people who are under 18 to do things on a weekend night when typically the most trouble happens,” he says.
“We know that boredom is the single biggest driver of misbehaviour, so by giving them something positive to do we are helping them channel their energies into something positive. The aim of the program is really just to provide an opportunity for them to have a safe and fun environment and it also teaches them some life skills along the way.”
A range of kids aged 12 to 18, some known as prolific priority offenders, others just regular kids from good supportive backgrounds, and indigenous kids (making up about 90 per cent of attendees) participate in the tournaments.
“We will normally have between 60 and 80 young people register,” Longley says.
“On a typical night we’ll have about 40 young people taking part.”
As we are speaking, Longley makes sure to emphasise another important aspect of the program. Not the sport component, but rather the way they engage with the children involved.
“We have youth workers and cultural mentors and we run life skill-based workshops every night. The basketball is a lure to get the young people there, but what they get out of being there is much, much more than just shooting some baskets,” he says.
“It provides an opportunity for those young people and those volunteers to get to know each other and form an understanding and a friendship ultimately- that connection between them is a really important part of what the program’s about and what a healthy community looks like.”
According to Longley, a tournament held last year had a very positive outcome on the Northam community. On the Saturday nights the program was run there was a 100 per cent reduction in the numbers of interactions young people had with the police. The town had less crime as a result of this.
“It’s having a positive impact on their lives and removing the potential for there to be poor behaviour in the neighbourhood. On that level we know it’s a success,” Longley says.
“The long term impact it has on those kids’ lives is almost impossible to measure but we certainly see real strides forward in the kids who are involved over a long period of time.”
Kicking crime to the curb
Football West is also running an initiative using street sport to engage with young people in the community. However, instead of basketball they are using soccer.
“We take a community engagement program with a fairly informal structure to places that are potentially at risk and we run basically a small game for between two and three hours,” Football West’s Gordon Duus says.
“We saw a gap in the provision of services and opportunities in the community.”
Working alongside the WA Police Force and other organisations such as Headspace, the program identifies local government areas where they want more kids to be active. Their target demographic is young people aged between 12 and 18, and Duus says they have had a very culturally diverse group of people involved in the program.
“We are reaching the right demographic of kids by putting a program into the right areas to help WA Police engage with these kids,” he says.
“We’ve had the WA Police talking about making the right decisions in life and looking for help. It also gives them the opportunity to talk to friendly police officers if they run into trouble or have a major issue in their life.
“It’s not just the sport side, we strategically talk to them about opportunities in the local area and encourage them to make friendships. They communicate quite regularly with new teammates they are assigned on the day and their social skills improve.”
Established in 2013 by Eamonn Lourey, the Perth SRHL has developed into a popular street sport for people of all ages. Street Roller Hockey player James Versluis has been involved since the sports inception.
He says the idea was inspired by the American comedy The Mighty Ducks and originated when Lourey spent time in America and discovered the roller hockey scene. Fast-forward five years and this fun, fast-paced and inventive sport is flourishing in our city, with more than 660 players separated into more than 100 teams.
“Eamonn went to an op shop and bought heaps of roller hockey gear and convinced five or six of his mates to come down to a tennis court and play against each other,” Versluis says.
Speaking to a variety of different people who play street roller hockey, there is a consensus the best thing about the sport is its social aspect:
Versluis also agrees that since he started playing street roller hockey he has formed many friendships with other people involved.
“My social circle has got enormous now, way bigger than if I hadn’t have played,” he says.
Despite their growth, the group has had to face its fair share of adversity. Complaints about the nature of the sport and venues restricting alcohol, have been just some of the problems they have had to overcome in the past.
“People see roller blades and sticks and think it’s dangerous and that’s where a lot of the kickback has come from,” he says.
“In recent times, primary schools and high schools didn’t exactly like a bunch of 25 year olds rocking up and drinking beers and things like that.”
Another participant in the league, Ben Thomas, has been playing street roller hockey for three years. He agrees with Versluis that the league has had to overcome some challenges since it was created.
“There’s a few places we’ve been kicked out of,” Thomas says.
“We’ve gone to Shelley Oval, played there for a while, and the netball club got angry at us because we scratched their courts.”
As well as these issues, 2016 proved to be a difficult year for the SRHL when their Bayswater venue began struggling financially, and they also began to receive noise complaints from angry residents.
“We got rid of everything that was noisy and we had people come here and assess what was causing the noise, so we could get rid of it,” Thomas says.
“We actually cause less noise than the soccer players, as we don’t have any whistles or anything and the main noise is the sticks hitting each other.”
Since the controversy surrounding the SRHL playing at the Bayswater Bowling and Recreation Club, it has now become a community social hub for people of all ages. What was once a decrepit bowling green is now a thriving purpose-built street roller hockey rink, the very first of its kind in Australia.
When asked about the best part about being involved in the street roller hockey scene, Thomas answers without hesitation.
“The thing that I like about it is that when you’re playing you’re kind of in this trance-y, Zen kind of mood and all your other worries just dissipate,” he says.
“I’ve found the people that play roller hockey, it’s just like a conglomeration of people that have all come from different parts, and haven’t been able to find a group activity that really fits what kind of people they are. If you have a group of friends, you can just join. It’s not like anyone would tell you that you can’t play. If you have a team you can play.”
From his response it’s clear that playing street roller hockey isn’t just a great way to make new friends and keep fit. It also can have an effect on an individual’s mental health and wellbeing. Like the other programs mentioned in this story, Thomas says the league has had a positive impact on crime rates in our society.
“We play in Bentley, it used to be really lower socio-economic and run down and there was a lot of crime in the area, especially at the Bentley library,” he says.
“Since we started playing there, we’ve kind of activated the area and so there isn’t any crime anymore, cause we’re always around.”
Street sport conquering mental health
UWA Exercise, Health and Sport Psychology lecturer James Dimmock says he supports programs utilising street sport as a means of connecting with young people.
“There’s lots of evidence to indicate that exercise is good for mental health, and there’s a substantial body of evidence to show that social interactions and relationships are good for mental health as well,” he says.
“Social sport – which incorporates both exercise and social bonds – offers mental health benefits via both facets.”
Friendship, freedom and fun. Street sport gives individuals the opportunity to experience all of these things.
Longley praises the Night Hoop programs for being able to connect young people with adults.
“If you have a disconnect between the young people and the adults in that community, who aren’t their family, you have a situation where there can be mistrust and bad behaviour,” he says.
“I would really encourage anyone reading this story to go to the Night Hoops website and to register to volunteer. It’s a fantastic night and you’ll form connections into parts of the community that you wouldn’t otherwise have the chance to.”