Role Models and Sport

Role Models and Sport

Prepared by : Greg Blood, Emeritus Researcher, Australian Institute of Sport (AIS). Updated by: Christine May, Senior Research Consultant, Clearinghouse for Sport
Last updated : 12 May 2020
Content disclaimer : See Clearinghouse for Sport disclaimer
Role Models and Sport
Sport Australia

Introduction

A role model is a person whose behaviour, example, or success is or can be emulated by others, especially by younger people. (Dictionary.com)

A common phrase, used in many spheres, is 'you can't be what you can't see'. The value of role models and role model programs is generally seen as their ability to demonstrate diversity, inclusion and to encourage preferred behaviours. Role model programs in sport and physical activity are often targeted towards children and groups with lower physical activity/sport participation including females, Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CaLD), indigenous, and persons with disability in order to increase physical activity participation and address other broader community objectives (such as health, community development, crime, domestic violence reduction, etc.).  

Key areas of research

Elite and/or high profile athletes are often identified as role models, and both positive and negative behaviours come under intense scrutiny. However, despite this common focus on elite athletes as role models, research suggests that people in our direct circle of family and relationships—including teachers and coaches—can have more positive and long-term impact. Parents in particular are generally the strongest role models for their children’s participation in organised sport. When both parents are active, their children are much more likely to be active. 

Coaches at all levels exert great influence on their players/athletes. Their philosophy and method of coaching can shape attitudes, motivation, and impact upon participants wellbeing. Quality coaching not only delivers optimal physiological, technical, and tactical aspects of a sport, it provides experiences that hook participants (and their family) into a sport by providing appropriate contexts, activities, encouragement, and motivation in a safe and fun environment.


ReadingReading

  • 4 steps to becoming a role model coach. Jim Grove, Active for Life, (15 September 2016). When you become a community coach for kids, you become a role model. Part Don Cherry, part Dalai Lama. You may believe that you are simply coaching to develop young athletes, but you are also shaping the attitudes and beliefs of the citizens of tomorrow.
  • Be A Role Model. The Impact of The Coach On Junior Athletes, Christopher Paish, Medium, (26 April 2017). Athletic coaches have an impact on junior athletes that stretches far beyond teaching the fundamentals of technique.
  • Coaches Should Be Role Models: Opportunity and responsibility for having a long-term impact, Michael W. Austin, Psychology Today, (1 November 2017). A recent study concluded that coaches have more impact on the lives of young athletes than parents, teachers, peers, school, and religion. I'm a little skeptical about this claim, but it is beyond dispute that coaches have a significant influence on the young athletes that they coach.
  • Here’s to coaches, unsung heroes and role models for social change, Andrew Bennie, Director Health and Physical Education, Western Sydney University and Nicholas Apoifis, Lecturer Politics & International Relations, UNSW, The Conversation (22 August 2016). Olympic athletes play an important role within this sport-for-development agenda, promoting the Olympic ideals of fairness and social equality and encouraging wider sports participation across the community. But despite these lofty goals, huge investment in elite sport has done little to overcome the social inequality that impacts the life expectancy, health, and social outcomes of people in many communities across the globe.
  • The Most Important Aspect of Coaching & Leadership - Being a Good Role Model, Jeff Haefner, Breakthrough Basketball, (2009). The legendary coach John Wooden says, "A leader's most powerful ally is his or her own example."

Research iconResearch 

  • The impact of coaching on participants, Hopkinson M, Sports Coach UK (2014). This report presents the findings from the first year of a four-year study of the impact of coaching (and coaches) upon sports participation. The current results provide evidence to support the belief that quality coaching can help bring people into sport, enhance their enjoyment, and increase how often they play and the likelihood of them staying involved. Key results from the survey identify how important quality coaching is. The report suggests that both adults and young people will have more positive playing experiences the higher the quality of their coach. The survey aimed to gather views from both people who are coached in their chosen sport, and those who play but do not receive coaching.
  • Increasing participation in sport: The role of the coach, North J, Sports Coach UK (2007). This briefing paper provides an overview of the evidence and arguments on increasing sport participation with particular regard to the role of coaches. It reviews information from a number of disciplines including the sport and exercise adherence literature and coaching science. 
  • Role models, sporting success and participation: a review of sports coaching's ancillary roles. Lyle, John, International Journal of Coaching Science, Volume 7(2), p.25, (2013). Appropriate role models such as coaches are essential elements in a high quality sporting environment: these will contribute, along with many other factors, to the perception of sport as an attractive, attainable and rewarding experience. This review suggests that coaches should emphasise qualities of determination, hard work, coping and moral behaviour. However, coaches should also take care when using other athletes as inspirational examples or models of appropriate behaviour, and bear in mind their own status as role models to younger impressionable athletes.  

ReadingReading

  • Are Athletes Good Role Models? Frank Smoll, Psychology Today, (20 April 2015). What are the qualities that make an athlete a good role model?
  • Athletes as Role Models, JD Bergman, Paul Fuller, Ohio State University, (accessed 5 May 2020). While athletes are naturally put under a microscope and up on a pedestal by the culture, that doesn’t guarantee an athlete’s behavior is worthy of being a role model.  It just guarantees that you have the opportunity to be one.
  • Athletes of influence? The role model refrain in sport, Daryl Adair, Associate Professor of Sport Management, University of Technology Sydney, The Conversation, (19 December 2015). It has become a truism that professional athletes, whether they like it or not, “are” role models for others. Talented sportspeople hardly win every time, and sometimes they do not exemplify fair play. But many athletes convey attributes about performance, character and resilience that draw admiration from fans.
  • Australian Paralympic Team : our most-loved representatives, Greg Blood, The Roar, (22 June 2016). So what values are Australians looking for in their national teams so that they are ‘loved’ and be the ‘most loved’? These values may include striving to win but not at any cost, inclusiveness, selflessness, good behaviour, teamwork, loyalty and national pride.
  • Champion netballers join the Rethink Role Models campaignDaily Telegraph, (2 June 2016). Anyone can gain celebrity in the social media age and become a role model for young, impressionable people. That doesn’t mean they’ll make good ones. That’s where a new strategy comes in to play.
  • Ian Thorpe says not all champions can be role models, Reuters, ABC News, (21 June 2016). Although Olympic champions can make great role models, sports officials can't expect all athletes to be angels in their pursuit of results, according to Australian swimming great Ian Thorpe.
  • Morals clauses in player contracts 'too broad', Lesley Parker, UTS Business School, (23 February 2015). Contracts covering professional athletes' personal behaviour are too broad, potentially breaching their rights as individuals and as employees, three academics argue in a newly published paper.
  • Paralympian role models: media hype, political rhetoric or the real deal? Louise McCuaig, Senior Lecturer Health and Physical Education in Schools, University of Queensland, The Conversation, (16 September 2016). In my profession of health, sport and physical education, you hear the term “role model” bandied around often. Sports stars, physical education teachers and coaches – along with Olympic athletes – all attract equal amounts of praise and criticism regarding their status as role models to young Australians.
  • Sit on hands or take a stand: why athletes have always been political players. Daryl Adair, Associate Professor of Sport Management, University of Technology Sydney, The Conversation, (17 January 2017). Sport is variously part of government policy, international relations, commercial interests, integrity issues, gender dynamics, and so on. Sport has never been, and never will be, a cocoon within which wider societal issues are unrelated.
  • To be or not to be: sports role models, Lesley Parker, UTS Business School, (21 May 2015). The pressure on elite athletes to never slip up, on or off the field, is an inevitable – but in some ways regrettable – aspect of commercialisation, a breakfast seminar on role models in sport, hosted by UTS Business School, has heard.
  • Why are athletes alone held to higher standards?, Paul Jonson, op-ed, The Drum, (24 February 2015). Professional athletes are required to meet standards of personal behaviour that are both higher than other professions and less precisely evaluated. This is neither fair nor reasonable, writes Paul Jonson.

Report iconReports

  • Culture, Media and Sport - Seventh Report. Chapter 4: Role Models in Sport, UK House of Commons, (12 July 2004). This report details submissions and evidence received from various sports organisations about the role of sport in creating/promoting role models in various areas including: influence of sporting heroes; appropriate demands on athletes (to be role models/heroes); promoting sport and physical activity; promoting wider objectives; education; sport and social exclusion; and setting examples. It concludes that sporting role models, and sport more generally, can promote highly laudable examples and values in terms of elite sporting achievement, the general benefits of sporting participation and other personal development goals. The Government has allocated expenditure to initiatives exploiting these links and many sports—football in particular—have given evidence of significant investments, and the meeting of considerable demands, from resources of their own. We believe that recently-retired sportsmen and -women—with good track records and high public profiles—represent a pool of talent with particular potential for meeting the demands of new 'role-modelling' initiatives.
  • Sports star endorsement works a treat on junk food packagingVictorian Health Promotion Foundation, (28 May 2013). A study undertaken by the Centre for Behavioural Research in Cancer (CBRC) at Cancer Council Victoria surveyed 1,300 children around 11 years of age and found that young boys were most influenced by celebrity endorsements from male athletes. The likelihood of boys choosing an unhealthy food was 65 per cent higher when it featured a sports celebrity endorsement.

Research iconResearch

  • Alcohol consumption in sport: The influence of sporting idols, friends and normative drinking practices. O'Brien KS, Kolt GS, Webber A, Hunter JA, Drug and Alcohol Review, Volume 29(6), pp.676-83, (2010). High profile athletes are often touted as negative role models when it comes to drinking. Contrary to expectations high-profile sportspeople were not perceived to be heavy drinkers and their perceived drinking was not predictive of others drinking. Friends' and normative drinking practices were predictors of drinking.
  • Athletes as heroes and role models: an ancient model, Heather Reid, Sport, Ethics and Philosophy, Volume 11(1), pp.40-51, (2017). In this essay the author constructs an argument for the social and educational value of sport built upon the relationship between athletes, heroes, and the song culture that celebrated them in ancient Greece. On this model, athletes are neither heroes nor role models in the conventional sense. Rather, athletes, athletics, and the poets who extolled them were part of a cultural conspiracy to celebrate and inspire virtue (aretē) by connecting a community with its heroic past. In this way, athletes, athletics, and the media that celebrated them played important social and educational roles. Insofar as modern sport performs a similar service, its association with heroism and with moral education may ultimately be justified.
  • Australian athletes' health behaviours and perceptions of role modelling and marketing of unhealthy products (PDF  - 93 KB). Grunseit A, MacNiven R, Orr R, Grassmayr M, Kelly B, Davies D, Colagiuri S, Bauman AE, Health Promotion Journal of Australia, Volume 23(1), pp.63-9, (2012). Most athletes surveyed supported a role for athletes in promoting physical activity and obesity prevention, and disagreed that athletes should promote unhealthy foods and alcohol (73.9%). 
  • Bend it like Beckham: the influence of sports celebrities on young adult consumers, Dix, S., Phau, I. and Pougnet, S., Young Consumers, Volume 11(1), pp.36-46, (2010). This research provides useful insight into the influence of athlete endorsers on young adults and suggests athletes have a positive influence on young adults' behavioural intentions in switching products, generating word‐of‐mouth and establishing brand loyalty. More importantly, this study is a significant step towards providing useful information about how young consumers respond to the use of sports celebrities in advertising.
  • Changing lives? Critical evaluation of a school-based athlete role model intervention, Kathleen Armour & Rebecca Duncombe, Sport, Education and Society, Volume 17(3), pp.381-403, (2012). This paper reports an evaluation of the changingLIVES ‘athlete mentor’ programme in the UK. This was a school-based programme using successful sports people to deliver a series of motivational activities to young people who were identified as being disengaged or disaffected in some way. Evaluation data suggested that although the teachers and young people did report an immediate positive reaction to the activities, there was limited evidence of a wider impact on young people's behaviour, school attendance or self-esteem. It is argued that there should be greater conceptual clarity and a stronger evidence base supporting the design and delivery of interventions in schools that seek to use sports people as role models (or mentors) for young people.
  • The contractual and ethical duty for a professional athlete to be an exemplary role model: bringing the sport and sportsperson into unreasonable and unfair disrepute. Jonson, PT, Lynch, S and Adair,D., Australian and New Zealand Sports Law Journal, Volume 8(1), pp.55-88, (2013). Elite athletes are generally assigned as being a role model by virtue of moral clauses in their employment contracts. The authors argue that athlete contracts are often vague or broad regarding role model expectations. It recommends moral clauses in contracts should be reframed  and athletes should be assisted in understanding and appreciating the nature of moral clauses. In addition, there should be public discussion on the designation and expectation of the athlete as a role model to ensure reasonableness and propriety of treatment for our athletes. The article utilises Australian cases and athlete contracts to discuss this issue.
  • Drunken Role Models: Rescuing Our Sporting Exemplars. Jones C, Sport, Ethics & Philosophy, Volume 5(4), (2011),. The author argues that although bad role models are grabbing the headlines in relation to problematic drinking practices, there are good role models in sport who should be lauded as exemplars of good character living a worthwhile sporting life. Such characters can show those inside and outside the practice community a more responsible and considerate approach to alcohol.
  • Elite footballers as role models: promoting young women’s football participation. Dunn, C. Soccer and Society, Volume 17(6), pp.843-856, (2016). Sportspeople are constantly urged to maintain the highest levels of conduct because of their position as ‘role models’ to children. This article reports from a study in progress which explores the experiences of elite female athletes in Britain, and focuses on qualitative interview responses of elite female footballers, all of whom were currently playing at top-flight domestic and international levels and took part in the 2012 Olympics. It explores what they perceive the position as ‘role model’ to mean, how it impinges on their sport performance, and how they work with gifted young footballers to promote sporting excellence as well as community cohesion through grass-roots outreach work. It discusses their thoughts on how role models are currently and can best be used to encourage young women’s football participation from elite down to grass-roots levels, and highlights the amount of responsibility they feel to do this.
  • Good Athlete - Bad Athlete? on the 'Role-Model Argument' for Banning Performance-Enhancing Drugs, Petersen, T.S. Sport, Ethics & Philosophy, Volume 4(3), pp.332-340, (2010). The paper critically discusses a role-model argument (RMA) in favour of banning performance-enhancing drugs in sport because if they are allowed they will encourage, or cause, young people who look up to them to use drugs in a way that would be harmful.
  • The inspirational effect of sporting achievements and potential role models in football: a gender-specific analysis. Wicker, P., Frick, B. Managing Sport & Leisure, Volume 21(5), pp.265-282, (2016). This study examines the trickle-down effect of potential role models and sporting achievements, respectively. Specifically, it examined the inspirational effect of same-sex and opposite-sex role models on male and female participation in German amateur football. Longitudinal data on German football club memberships and amateur teams were collected for 21 regional football associations over a 15-year-period. The results found that sporting success does not automatically lead to the development of positive role models and inspirational effects.
  • The inspirational function of role models for sport participation and development (PDF  - 52 KB). De Croock S, De Bosscher V, van Bottenburg M, European Association of Sport Management Congress 2012 Abstract Book, (2012). This research shows that only 10% of elite athletes have been inspired by other elite athletes in order to start with their current sport. Mostly they were encouraged by their parents (59%) and friends (28%) to practice their current sport.
  • Professional Athletes and their Duty to be Role Models. Lynch, S., Adair, D., Jonson, P. Achieving Ethical Excellence (research in Ethical Issues in Organizations), pp.75 - 90, (2014). The chapter considers understandings of sport, play and athleticism from an ethical perspective and examines their relationship to professionalism to determine the extent to which ethical imperatives can logically be upheld or undermined within the professional context. The chapter calls for recognition of the complexity of ethical decision-making in the context of professional sport and recommends that the training of professional athletes should prepare them to deal with this complexity. 
  • Role models in sports – Can success in professional sports increase the demand for amateur sport participation? Mutter, F., Pawlowskib, T. Sport Management Review, Volume 17(3), pp.324-336, (2014). This article examines whether the success of professional athletes can spill over on the demand for amateur sport participation. It reviews the empirical evidence of sporting role models and their motivational effect on sport participation. It finds the effects of professional sports on sport participation is not conclusive.
  • “She is where I’d want to be in my career”: Youth athletes’ role models and their implications for career and identity construction, Noora J. Ronkainen, Tatiana V. Ryba, Harri Selänne, Psychology of Sport and Exercise, Volume 45, (November 2019). Finnish youth athletes are inspired by athlete role models whose lives are not completely constituted by performance narratives of elite sport. From an applied perspective, role models could be incorporated into career counselling with athletes to support identity development and exploration of future selves.
  • Sports role models and their impact on participation in physical activity: a literature review (PDF  - 232 KB). Payne W, Reynolds M, Brown S, Flemming A, for VicHealth, (2003). This extensive review of 95 peer-reviewed articles examined the extent of evidence for the hypotheses that: (i) sports people act as role models and have a positive impact on individuals and the broader community; (ii) there is a link between sporting success and wider health improvements. The conclusions included: (i) Role model programmes should be seen as a continuum from a single exposure to a long term mentoring approach. (ii) There is ample theoretical evidence to support the idea for conducting role model programs. (iii) Role model programmes should encompass parents, teachers and other significant adults, as well as celebrities and sports people. (iv) Role models are not always positive; they can be seen to promote negative social images, beliefs and behaviours. (v) There are significant gender differences in the way athletes are viewed as role models, with males being more likely to identify with successful athletes while females tend to identify with parents. (vi) The most effective role model programmes are those that focus on developing a long term, mentor relationship, particularly for individuals from socially disadvantaged and "at risk" groups.
  • Sport Teams as Promoters of Pro-Environmental Behavior: An Empirical Study, Yuhei Inoue and Aubrey Kent, Journal of Sport Management, Volume 26(5), pp.417-432, (2012). The purpose of this study was to explain the process of how a sport team could induce consumers to engage in proenvironmental behavior. Building on Kelman’s (1958, 1961, 2006) internalization perspective, this study demonstrated that positive environmental practices by a team increased consumer internalization of the team’s values. In turn, this increased internalization mediated the relationship between environmental practices and proenvironmental behavior measured by two behavioral intentions: intention to support the team’s environmental initiative and intention to engage in proenvironmental behavior in daily life. The results of this study contribute to the literature by highlighting the significant role of internalization. This research further provides a significant insight into the social impacts of sport organizations.
  • Why do governments invest in elite sport? A polemic, Grix J and Carmichael F, International Journal of Sport Policy and Politics, Volume 4(1), (2012). This paper examines the reasons generally given by advanced capitalist countries for investing in elite sport. While the focus of this paper is on the United Kingdom’s sport policy, other capitalist nations are discussed, including Australia and Canada. The authors focus on the proposition put forward by these governments that, “elite sport success promotes participation among the population”. Given the nature of certain assumptions, the discussion around the link between elite sporting success and grassroots participation is often controversial and circular arguments ensue. Although significant research supports the link between sport participation and personal health and wellbeing; extending this logic to sport policy and population outcomes is problematic. The proposed rationale is termed the ‘double pyramid theory’ – that is, if a high percentage of the population participate in sport there are bound to be more Olympic champions; and conversely, the existence of champion role models encourages grassroots participation. The authors conclude that, based on evidence from existing research, this position cannot be substantiated.

Video iconVideos

Report iconReports

  • Culture, Media and Sport - Seventh Report. Chapter 4: Role Models in Sport, UK House of Commons, (12 July 2004). This report details submissions and evidence received from various sports organisations about the role of sport in creating/promoting role models in various areas including: influence of sporting heroes; appropriate demands on athletes (to be role models/heroes); promoting sport and physical activity; promoting wider objectives; education; sport and social exclusion; and setting examples. It concludes that sporting role models, and sport more generally, can promote highly laudable examples and values in terms of elite sporting achievement, the general benefits of sporting participation and other personal development goals. The Government has allocated expenditure to initiatives exploiting these links and many sports—football in particular—have given evidence of significant investments, and the meeting of considerable demands, from resources of their own. We believe that recently-retired sportsmen and -women—with good track records and high public profiles—represent a pool of talent with particular potential for meeting the demands of new 'role-modelling' initiatives.
  • The Future of Sport in Australia report (Crawford Report) (PDF  - 14.0 MB), Independent Sport Panel, Australian Government, (2009). The report made several statements regarding role models including: "Australia prides itself on our sportspeople delivering superior performances on the world stage. These athletes are continually put forward as role models for budding athletes and our nation" (p.110); "There seems to be a general view among sporting organisations and governments that role models are important in attracting young people to sport. This can be seen in the efforts of major professional sports to work with their athletes to address binge drinking, illicit drug use, and other societal issues. However, the extent that role model behaviour does or does not impact on the decisions of parents and children to participate in a given sport is not well understood" (p.86); and, "Sport provides inspirational role models who can engender community pride and help strengthen the social fabric of divided communities, regions or countries" (p.117). However, it also observed that the commonly held perception of the influence of role models needs to be unequivocally resolved. 

Research iconResearch

  • Recruitment and Retention of Referees in Nonprofit Sport Organizations: The Trickle-Down Effect of Role Models, Pamela Wicker & Bernd Frick, VOLUNTAS: International Journal of Voluntary and Nonprofit Organizations, Volume 27, pp.1304–1322, (2016). The recruitment and retention of voluntary referees is challenging for nonprofit sport organizations. This study examines the trickle-down effect of role models on the retention of already active referees and the recruitment of new referees in German football (soccer). Secondary panel data on the number of referees and role models (i.e., referees promoted to the status of a Bundesliga or FIFA referee) were collected for the 21 regional football associations. The regression results show that the presence of role models has a statistically significant and positive effect on the number of existing referees. The number of new referees is positively affected by referees who were promoted to the status of a first Bundesliga referee, but not by those promoted to the status of a FIFA referee. The findings suggest that nonprofit sport organizations should capitalize on the effect of role models to a greater extent.

Video iconVideos

ReadingReading

  • Australian kids need active, sporty parents (PDF  - 438 KB), Factsheet, Australian Sports Commission AusPlay Survey, (2017). Research from the Australian Sports Commission (ASC) shows active parents are more likely to have active kids.
  • How can we use role models to help inspire our sporting children? Gordon MacLelland, Working with Parents in Sport, (17 May 2019). Role models can act as a tremendous source of inspiration for all individuals.  None more so than for our children who look up to so many different people during their formative years, as they form their own personal identity and beliefs. 
  • Parents Making Youth Sports a Positive Experience: Role Models, Daniel Francis Perkins, PennState Extension, (20 October 2017). The atmosphere set by organizations, parents, and coaches is a major factor in determining whether or not youth will have a positive experience in a sports program. This bulletin is written to assist parents in fostering a positive climate that enables children and youth involved in sports to enjoy them-selves and reach their full potential. It focuses on the benefits and risks of youth sports, discusses parents as role models, and provides practical tips for parents. 
  • Engaging Parents in Sport, Clearinghouse for Sport topic, (accessed 6 May 2020). 

Report iconReports

  • Culture, Media and Sport - Seventh Report. Chapter 4: Role Models in Sport, UK House of Commons, (12 July 2004). This report details submissions and evidence received from various sports organisations about the role of sport in creating/promoting role models in various areas including: influence of sporting heroes; appropriate demands on athletes (to be role models/heroes); promoting sport and physical activity; promoting wider objectives; education; sport and social exclusion; and setting examples. It concludes that sporting role models, and sport more generally, can promote highly laudable examples and values in terms of elite sporting achievement, the general benefits of sporting participation and other personal development goals. The Government has allocated expenditure to initiatives exploiting these links and many sports—football in particular—have given evidence of significant investments, and the meeting of considerable demands, from resources of their own. We believe that recently-retired sportsmen and -women—with good track records and high public profiles—represent a pool of talent with particular potential for meeting the demands of new 'role-modelling' initiatives.
  • The Future of Sport in Australia report (Crawford Report) (PDF  - 14.0 MB), Independent Sport Panel, Australian Government, (2009). The report made several statements regarding role models including: "Australia prides itself on our sportspeople delivering superior performances on the world stage. These athletes are continually put forward as role models for budding athletes and our nation" (p.110); "There seems to be a general view among sporting organisations and governments that role models are important in attracting young people to sport. This can be seen in the efforts of major professional sports to work with their athletes to address binge drinking, illicit drug use, and other societal issues. However, the extent that role model behaviour does or does not impact on the decisions of parents and children to participate in a given sport is not well understood" (p.86); and, "Sport provides inspirational role models who can engender community pride and help strengthen the social fabric of divided communities, regions or countries" (p.117). However, it also observed that the commonly held perception of the influence of role models needs to be unequivocally resolved. 
  • Role models for young people: What makes an effective role model program, MacCallum, J. Beltman, S. Australian Clearinghouse for Youth Studies, (2002). The “What makes an effective role model program?” research project was commissioned by the National Youth Affairs Research Scheme (NYARS) to explore the extent and use of role model programs and their effectiveness, and to inform the development of role model programs for young people. The report provides a good understanding of who are role models and the features that contribute to the effectiveness of role model programs.
  • Sporting success, role models and participation: a policy related review, Lyle J, Sport Scotland, Research Report Number 101, (2009). This extensive review found that the impact of sporting role models on participation has not been robustly proved.

Research iconResearch

  • Changing associations of Australian parents’ physical activity with their children’s sport participation: 1985 to 2004, Dollman J, Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health, Volume 34(6), (2010). In 1985 a group 179 girls and 211 boys, aged 9-15 years were surveyed on their sports participation, with attention to the perceptions and participation of their parents. A similar group of children from the same school were surveyed in 2004. In 1985, there were no differences in sport participation between those with both, either or neither parent active. In 2004, sport participation was highest among boys and girls with both parents active. These results underscore the current role of parents as socialising agents for physical activity.
  • Parental influences on different types and intensities of physical activity in youth: A systematic review, Charlotte L. Edwardson, Trish Gorely, Psychology of Sport and Exercise, Volume 11(6), pp.522-535, (November 2010). Cross-sectional research demonstrated that parental influence can be important for different types/intensities of PA in young people. In children parents played an important role in moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (MVPA), overall PA and leisure-time PA through direct involvement and being active role models and in organised PA through a combination of methods such as modelling, transport and encouragement. For adolescents however, parental influence was less clear but research suggested that parents’ PA level, attitudes towards PA, transport and encouragement were important for them to be physically active. Longitudinal data, although limited in number, demonstrated that overall support predicted children’s organised PA over time and fathers’ PA predicted adolescents’ overall PA.
  • Role model, hero or champion? Children's views concerning role models. Bricheno, P. & Thornton, M.E., Educational Research, Volume 49(4), pp.383-396, (2007). This study asked children, aged from 10 to 16 years, from four English schools in different socio-economic environments, about their role models, and about what they regarded as important attributes for a role model. The responses indicated that both girls and boys named relatives as most important role models more often than they named anyone else. In second ranking, girls named friends and boys named footballers. Overall, 31.7% of pupils chose one or both parents as their most important role model.
  • Sports role models and their impact on participation in physical activity: a literature review (PDF  - 232 KB). Payne W, Reynolds M, Brown S, Flemming A, for VicHealth, (2003). This extensive review of 95 peer-reviewed articles examined the extent of evidence for the hypotheses that: (i) sports people act as role models and have a positive impact on individuals and the broader community; (ii) there is a link between sporting success and wider health improvements. The conclusions included: (i) Role model programmes should be seen as a continuum from a single exposure to a long term mentoring approach. (ii) There is ample theoretical evidence to support the idea for conducting role model programs. (iii) Role model programmes should encompass parents, teachers and other significant adults, as well as celebrities and sports people. (iv) Role models are not always positive; they can be seen to promote negative social images, beliefs and behaviours. (v) There are significant gender differences in the way athletes are viewed as role models, with males being more likely to identify with successful athletes while females tend to identify with parents. (vi) The most effective role model programmes are those that focus on developing a long term, mentor relationship, particularly for individuals from socially disadvantaged and "at risk" groups.
  • Student responses to physically literate adult role models, G. Conlin, Science & Sports, Volume 29, Supplement, p.S17, (October 2014). The objective of this study was to identify who adolescents recognize as a physically active adult role model that might provide the motivation and added confidence needed to become physically literate themselves. Parents, family members, friends, coaches and physical education teachers were identified as active role models. There were fewer instances of coaches and physical education teachers as active role models than the others during all three phases. There were more instances of physical education teachers as an active role model after the active phase than the spectator phase or at baseline.

Video iconVideos

ReadingReading

  • Barty, Kerr and the importance of indigenous role models, Tash Gunawardana, The Women's Game, (8 May 2020). [Ashleigh Barty] is one of many prominent Indigenous female athletes including Sam Kerr and Kyah Simon in football and Ashleigh Gardner for the cricket national team. The wave of Indigenous talent couldn't come soon enough - in the latest available data, only 23% of Indigenous women were considered regularly 'physically active', as opposed to 66% of non-Indigenous women. 
  • Indigenous role models make a world of difference, Andrew Ramsay, Cricket Australia News (25 December 2015). It is difficult to oversell the impact of having highly visible Indigenous role models involved in the game at the highest level. 
  • Sit on hands or take a stand: why athletes have always been political players. Daryl Adair, Associate Professor of Sport Management, University of Technology Sydney, The Conversation (17 January 2017). Sport is variously part of government policy, international relations, commercial interests, integrity issues, gender dynamics, and so on. Sport has never been, and never will be, a cocoon within which wider societal issues are unrelated.
  • Why are so few professional sport coaches from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities? Andrew Bennie, Director of Program, Health and Physical Education, Western Sydney University; Demelza Marlin, Learning Advisor, UNSW; and, Nicholas Apoifis, Lecturer in Politics & International Relations, UNSW, The Conversation, (13 June 2016). Sport has certainly provided inspirational athletic role models for young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples. Only recently, meanwhile, have commentators considered the role of coaches as mentors, community leaders, and educators who can change lives.
  • Indigenous Australians and Sport, Clearinghouse for Sport topic, (accessed 6 May 2020). 

Research iconResearch

  • Kwementyaye (Charles) Perkins: Indigenous Soccer Player and Australian Political Activist. Daryl Adair and Megan Stronach, The International Journal of the History of Sport, Volume 31(7), pp.778–794, (2014). This paper takes a biographical approach, pinpointing key experiences and influences in Perkins’ life and his journey in sport, education and politics. There is an emphasis on how sport shaped his thinking about society, and, particularly in his later years, his assertion that sport should not simply reflect the status quo, it should be used by those on the margins to agitate for change. 
  • ‘Sistas’ and aunties: sport, physical activity and indigenous Australian women, Stronach, M., Maxwell, H. & Taylor, T. Annals of Leisure Research, Volume 16(1), (2016). Indigenous women have alarmingly low rates of participation in organized sport and physical activity (PA) in contemporary Australian society. To gain a better contextual and cultural understanding of the issues involved, we discussed the life experiences and the place of sport and PA with 22 Indigenous women. The research was guided by a culturally appropriate interpretative qualitative methodology. A complex amalgamation of cultural beliefs and traditions, history, gendered factors, and geography are presented in the women’s stories. Sport and PA were highly regarded, providing the women with opportunities to maintain strong communities, preserve culture, and develop distinct identities as ‘enablers’. The women called for culturally safe spaces in which to engage in PA and noted the need for Indigenous females to act as role models. The study provides preliminary understandings that can be used to facilitate greater sport and PA inclusion, and implications for future research are presented.

resources iconResources

  • Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Sports Coaching Forum, Western Sydney University, Sports Unlimited, (May 2016). In May 2016, Western Sydney University held a forum that explored factors that have influenced sport participation and sport-coaching roles for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Facilitated by Dr Andrew Bennie, Director of the Health and Physical Education Program, the forum included an interactive panel discussion featuring five Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander sport coaches from community and high performance sport settings. Expanding on conversations with researchers from Western Sydney University's School of Science and Health in 2015, the forum brought to the fore Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander perspectives about facilitators and barriers to coaching pathways. In doing so, the forum aimed to collaboratively produce initial recommendations that may enhance opportunities in sport coaching roles for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.   
While many researchers and commentators highlight the positive outcomes of using athlete role models to promote sport participation for people with disability some disability advocates question the way in which Paralympic athletes are portrayed in the media and particularly the focus on what they have overcome (i.e. ‘disability’), rather than who they are or what they accomplish. Several terms have been coined to describe this phenomenon including ‘super-crip’ (i.e. the ‘super’ cripple) or 'inspiration porn'. These advocates argue that the media construction of a sporting ‘role model’ may be disingenuous and potentially harmful to both the athletes and the broader disability community.


ReadingReading

  • Australian Paralympic Team : our most-loved representatives, Greg Blood, The Roar, (22 June 2016). what values are Australians looking for in their national teams so that they are ‘loved’ and be the ‘most loved’? These values may include striving to win but not at any cost, inclusiveness, selflessness, good behaviour, teamwork, loyalty and national pride.
  • Paralympian role models: media hype, political rhetoric or the real deal? Louise McCuaig, Senior Lecturer Health and Physical Education in Schools, University of Queensland, The Conversation, (16 September 2016). Provides an overview of how the success of role models is often dependent on how 'relevant' they are to those observing them and how 'attainable' their achievements appear and provides anecdote to demonstrate how a Paralympic athlete has been so to a young boy.  
  • The Paralympics and ‘Inspiration Porn’. Rupert Clark, Student Newspaper, (September 2016). Short article which provides a broad overview of some of the concerns around the media tendency to 'fetishize' Paralympic athletes. 
  • Rio Paralympics 2016: Athletes find role-model status a tricky balance. Marc Lancaster, Sporting News/Yahoo Sports, (7 September 2016). Short article which includes several Rio Paralympic athletes discussing the balance between being a role model and just themselves. 
  • Persons with Disability and Sport, Clearinghouse for Sport topic, (accessed 6 May 2020). 

Research iconResearch

  • 2012 Paralympic Games - Are they Superhuman? The Inclusion Club, Episode 31, (2012). This article looks at the perspective given to elite Paralympic athletes – should they be seen as ‘super hero’ (inspirational) or ‘super human’ (freaky)?
  • Cyborg and Supercrip: The Paralympics Technology and the (Dis)empowerment of Disabled Athletes, Howe, D.P, Sociology, Volume 45(5), pp.868-882, (2011). Technology has created a divide between different impairment groups with the Paralympic movement and also amongst ‘developed’ and ‘developing’ nations. This article questions whether the advances in technology are actually empowering disabled athletes.  
  • Empower, inspire, achieve: (dis)empowerment and the Paralympic Games, David Purdue & P. David Howe, Disability & Society, (December 2012). Through interviewing past and current Paralympians and other disability stakeholders the authors findings suggest Paralympians are most likely to gain empowerment from the Paralympic Games, yet their specific impairment, athletic lifestyles and failure to identify as ‘disabled’ were identified as potentially limiting the ability of the Paralympic Games to empower others.
  • Using Role Models to Help Celebrate Paralympic Sport. Mastro J,  Ahrens C,  Statton N, The Journal of Physical Education, Recreation and Dance, Volume 83(4), (2012). The article discusses ways in which role models from disability sports can be implemented into a Paralympic physical education unit. According to the article, these role models can be used in a variety of ways including as speakers, demonstrating Paralympic sports, and helping teach the sport to students.

ReadingReading

  • 20x20: If she can't see it, she can't be itFederation of Irish Sport, (accessed 6 May 2020). 20×20 is about creating a cultural shift in our perception of girls and women in sport. By increasing visibility of women’s sport it will become a greater part of who we are and what we follow.
  • Australian kids need active, sporty parents (PDF  - 438 KB), Factsheet, Australian Sports Commission AusPlay Survey, (2017). Recent AusPlay results confirm a high correlation between a parent’s engagement in sport and that of their child, indicating that active parents can be a positive influence on their children. Nearly 90 per cent of kids with at least one parent who plays and volunteers in sport are active in organised sport or physical activity outside of school. 
  • Champion netballers join the Rethink Role Models campaignDaily Telegraph (2 June 2016). Anyone can gain celebrity in the social media age and become a role model for young, impressionable people. That doesn’t mean they’ll make good ones. That’s where a new strategy comes in to play.
  • Female sporting role models are more visible than ever, and it's making a difference, Richard Hinds,op-ed, ABC Offsiders, (17 February 2020). Outside the mostly individual achievements of tennis stars or Olympic athletes, there has never been a time when so many high profile female sports have made sports editors at least think twice before defaulting to the regular male back page stories plucked from pre-season AFL and NFL training sessions.
  • #FITSPO a flop at inspiring women to get active: New This Girl Can campaign focuses on the feeling not the scalesVicHealth media release, (1 March 2020). While it might be popular on Instagram, new research from health promotion foundation VicHealth has found most Victorian women are turned off exercise by images of taut and toned #FITSPO influencers. Key findings from a survey of over 1000 Victorian women found that: Around two-thirds of women (66%) aren’t motivated by #FITSPO images of women on Instagram; Over three-quarters of women find seeing women of all different body shapes getting active motivating; A third of women feel bad or inadequate about their own bodies and fitness when they see #FITSPO images on Instagram; and, Almost 80% of women want to see more women with a range of body shapes included in physical activity advertising.
  • The Power of Role ModelsFootball Federation Australia, from the Women's Football Development Guide, p.36, (May 2016). If a girl has never seen women participating in sport, it will be virtually impossible for her to imagine playing herself. What can you do to raise awareness of female role models? 
  • Proud to run like a girl: The influence of Role Models in Sport, Chloe De Schryver, 2CV London, (February 2015). Three insights from behavioural science can be used to supercharge role models' influence in shaping a culture of change around young women and sport. 
  • We need more female role models in sport to inspire the next generation, Dr Kristy Howells, Dr Laura Gubby, Dr Katie Dray and Dr Hayley Mills, Canterbury Christ Church University, (26 June 2018). Academics from Childhood and Education Sciences and Sport and Exercise Science explain why the visibility of women in sport at all levels is essential to inspire females to continue with physical activity.
  • Why do girls need athletic role models? SIRC Blog, (10 June 2015). When role models are mentioned in sport, the first thing that comes to mind are high profile celebrities. While positive role models can be found in amateur and professional sports, it's the people they see every day that make the biggest difference.
  • Women in Sport, Clearinghouse for Sport topic, (accessed 6 May 2020). 

Report iconReports

  • About time! Women in sport and recreation in Australia, report from the Inquiry into women in sport and recreation in AustraliaSenate Standing Committees on Environment, Communications and the Arts, Commonwealth of Australia, (2006). Report highlights the importance, and lack, of female role models in sport. The issue is highlighted in relation to individual participation as well as for participation as coaches, officials, administrators, etc. and for specific populations including persons with disability, culturally diverse. Chapter 4: Elite athletes provides further information on the submissions relating to the role and value of female role models. The Committee recommended that a concerted effort be made by governments, sporting organisations and the media to promote sportswomen as role models to girls and women and to the wider community. This recommendation aims to motivate girls and women to pursue a career in sport and to motivate them to commence or continue participation in sport and recreation. 
  • Case Study: Measuring the impact of the FA player appearances programme 2015-2016, Women in Sport, (2017). This report looks at the impact of elite sport stars on girls. The Football Association (FA) runs an established ambassador programme, enabling female football players to share their stories and inspire at a local level, with female players visiting schools and community groups for a number of years. Key findings reported are that player appearances provide a really positive experience for girls in school and community settings. Additionally, the four key impacts reported were: Re-enthusing and validating girls’ participation in football; Actively and meaningfully getting across positive life lessons; Inspiring girls to believe they can achieve in football; Driving interest in the women’s elite game. 

Research iconResearch 

  • ‘David or Mia? The influence of gender on adolescent girls' choice of sport role models’ (PDF  - 95 KB). Adriaanse, J, Crosswhite, J, Women's Studies International Forum, Volume 31(5), pp.383-389, (2008). This study of Australian adolescent girls (n=357) found girls overwhelmingly choose a female role model. However, when questioned about role models from the sports environment, the percentage of female role models decreased.
  • Elite footballers as role models: promoting young women’s football participation. Dunn, C. Soccer & Society, Volume 17(6), pp.843-856, (2016). Reports the experiences and thoughts of elite female footballers in Great Britain in relation to role models. In particular, it discusses their views on how to encourage young women’s football participation from elite down to grass-roots levels.
  • Esther Phiri and the Moutawakel effect in Zambia: an analysis of the use of female role models in sport-for-development. Marianne Meier & Martha Saavedra, Sport in Society, Volume 12(9), pp.1158-1176, (2009). In the field of sport and development, ‘role models’ have been invoked as an important element to increase participation. Based on a case study of Zambian women's sports and the boxer, Esther Phiri, this essay examines the discourse around the use of ‘role models’ and begins to elaborate a theory around their use specifically in the experience of sport-in-development projects and programs which have gender-specific outcomes.
  • Female Sports Celebrities Targeting Female Teenagers: A Content Analysis Of Magazine Advertising, Melissa St. James, Journal of Business and Economics Research, Volume 8(1), (2010). This study examined the usage of female sports celebrities as endorsers in magazines targeting female teenagers. Female sports figures act as role models for female teenagers and studies have shown they have a positive impact on self-image and self-identification. 
  • Formative research to develop a school-based, community-linked physical activity role model programme for girls: CHoosing Active Role Models to INspire Girls (CHARMING), Kelly Morgan, Jordan Van Godwin, Kirsty Darwent & Alison Fildes, BMC Public Health, Volume 19(Article #437), (2019).  The purpose of the current research was to gather views from preadolescent girls, parents, teachers and stakeholders in order to co-produce a multi-component school-based, community linked PA intervention programme. Girls reported that fun taster sessions delivered by role models would encourage them to participate in a school-based role model programme, with tailored taster sessions each week to enhance continued PA participation.
  • The Importance of role models in making adolescent girls more active: A review of literature. Kirby J, Child and Adolescent Health Research Unit, University of Edinburgh, (2009). A review of the literature was carried out in order to help inform the sport and recreation sectors of the importance of role models in getting adolescent girls to be more active. A presentation was given to the Teenactive Research Group, October 2009, download presentation (PPT  - 1.1 MB).
  • The inspirational effect of sporting achievements and potential role models in football: a gender-specific analysis. Wicker, P., Frick, B. Managing Sport & Leisure, Volume 21(5), pp.265-282, (2016). This study examines the trickle-down effect of potential role models and sporting achievements, respectively. Specifically, it examined the inspirational effect of same-sex and opposite-sex role models on male and female participation in German amateur football. Longitudinal data on German football club memberships and amateur teams were collected for 21 regional football associations over a 15-year-period. The results found that sporting success does not automatically lead to the development of positive role models and inspirational effects.
  • Profiling sport role models to enhance initiatives for adolescent girls in physical education and sport, Vescio J, Wilde K, and Crosswhite J, European Physical Education Review, Volume 11, pp.153-170, (June 2005). This study involved the investigation of sport role models for adolescent girls in Australia. Results showed that a relatively small percentage of girls (8.4 percent) perceived a sports person to be their role model, with a large percentage of girls nominating a role model from the family (mother), peer or entertainment domains. The majority of girls with a sport role model described the model as female, under 40 years of age with a similar sporting background to themselves who display essential masculine and feminine qualities.
  • The Relevance of sporting role models in the lives of adolescent girls (PDF  - 88 KB). Vescio J, Crosswhite J, Wilde K, Paper submitted to the ACHPER Healthy Lifestyles Journal, (Revised November 2003). This paper challenges the idea that elite athletes are relevant role models for all teenage girls. Results showed that a relatively small percentage of girls perceived a sports person to be their role model, with a large percentage of girls nominating a family member or friend as their role model.
  • Role models of Australian female adolescents: A longitudinal study to inform programmes designed to increase physical activity and sport participation. Young, J.  et. al., European Physical Education Review, Volume 21(4), pp.451-466, (2015). This study examined role models of adolescent girls and their influence on physical activity by surveying 732 girls in Years 7 and 11 from metropolitan and non-metropolitan regions of Victoria, Australia. Survey questions included whether they had a role model and if they did, the gender, age, type and sporting background of that individual. Survey found the majority of participants nominated a family member, peer or celebrity sportsperson as their role model who was female, played sport and was less than 50 years of age. Non-metropolitan-based adolescent girls, and Year 11 adolescent girls, were more likely to select a role model who they knew played sport than metropolitan-based adolescent girls and Year 7 girls respectively.  This study highlighted that family members, peers and sports people should be included as role models in programmes designed to increase physical activity.
  • Sports role models and their impact on participation in physical activity: a literature review (PDF  - 232 KB). Payne W, Reynolds M, Brown S, Flemming A, for VicHealth, (2003). This extensive review of 95 peer-reviewed articles examined the extent of evidence for the hypotheses that: (i) sports people act as role models and have a positive impact on individuals and the broader community; (ii) there is a link between sporting success and wider health improvements. The conclusions included: (i) Role model programmes should be seen as a continuum from a single exposure to a long term mentoring approach. (ii) There is ample theoretical evidence to support the idea for conducting role model programs. (iii) Role model programmes should encompass parents, teachers and other significant adults, as well as celebrities and sports people. (iv) Role models are not always positive; they can be seen to promote negative social images, beliefs and behaviours. (v) There are significant gender differences in the way athletes are viewed as role models, with males being more likely to identify with successful athletes while females tend to identify with parents. (vi) The most effective role model programmes are those that focus on developing a long term, mentor relationship, particularly for individuals from socially disadvantaged and "at risk" groups.
  • The value of female sporting role models. Meiera, M. Sport in Society, Volume 18(8), pp.968-982, (2015). This article examines the evidence in relation to the value and functions of female sporting role models. Areas discussed included: participation, leadership, advocacy, gender stereotypes, inspiration, ethics, safeguarding and prevention, media and business and giving back to sport. The author argues that rather than just increasing female SRMs in numbers, attention should be dedicated to the selection variety that encompasses the functions of role models.

Video iconVideos

Role model programs

Most high profile Australian athletes accept that they are perceived as role models. Many Australian organisations and programs use high profile athletes, both during and after their sporting careers, to promote positive health and lifestyle messages. Most Australian professional sports clubs now require their athletes to attend sports camps, schools, and hospitals to engage with the community. Some programs that utilise athletes include:    
  • Bachar Houli Academy. Program designed to provide opportunities and a pathway for young Muslim men aspiring to play AFL football.
  • Racism: It Stops with Me. This Australian Human Rights Commission and Play by the Rules initiative is a national campaign to raise awareness of racism in society and has used high profile sportsmen and women such as Adam Goodes to promote key messages through multiple media channels.
  • Roosters Against Racism. Raises awareness of the importance of mutual respect and fair treatment of all people regardless of their cultural, racial or religious backgrounds. It will also promote the benefits of cultural diversity and social cohesion. The program is supported by the Australian Human Rights Commission, Play By The Rules, Community Migrant Resource Centre and Left-field Business Solutions. It involves a number of high profile players visiting local schools.
     
  • Athlete Appearances. Elite Australian athletes provide a range of services, from guests at award ceremonies, school appearances through to motivational speaking.
  • Bite Back. Current and former elite athletes engage with school-based communities to promote positive psychology strategies and improve wellbeing.
  • Gold Medal Alumni. An Australian Institute of Sport initiative. A group of Olympic champions, known as the Gold Medal Alumni, are showing their support to the next generation of athletes as part of the Gold Medal Ready program. Gold Medal Alumni are a part of the program to share their personal stories and knowledge, through experience, with other athletes.
 

High profile indigenous athletes are used as role models by several Australian organisations and programs to promote positive health and lifestyle messages. Programs that utilise athletes include:

  • Racism: It Stops with Me. The national Australian Human Rights Commission and Play by the Rules campaign to raise awareness of racism in society has used high profile sportsmen and women such as Adam Goodes to promote key messages through multiple media channels.
  • Red Dust. A health promotion organisation that delivers innovative health promotion programs in partnership with remote communities. The Red Dust Role Models come from a variety of disciplines, including sport, art and music, but are also recognised for their mentoring and teaching capabilities.
  • Role Models and Leaders Australia. Role Models and Leaders Australia (RMLA) is a not-for-profit charitable organisation founded in 2004 by Olympian and champion basketball Ricky Grace. RMLA develops and empowers Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students through leadership training, mentoring, sport and extra-curricular education programs. Our goal is to support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander youth in overcoming the barriers that prevent them from completing their education.
  • Roosters Against Racism. Roosters Against Racism raises awareness of the importance of mutual respect and fair treatment of all people regardless of their cultural, racial, or religious backgrounds. It also promotes the benefits of cultural diversity and social cohesion. The program is supported by the Australian Human Rights Commission, Play By The Rules, Community Migrant Resource Centre and Left-field Business Solutions. It involves a number of high profile players visiting local schools. 
  • Wirrpanda Foundation. Founded in 2005, by former West Coast Eagles player David Wirrpanda, The Foundation aims to lead the provision of education and employment opportunities for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians. We influence and inspire the empowerment of our people through our diverse work force, which is led by our First Australian role models.
  • Share a Yarn. This initiative provides current and former Australian elite athletes with meaningful opportunities to connect with the Indigenous community, and learn more about the differing cultures, lands, history and people. The AIS will partner with organisations that are already delivering programs to youth in these communities, to open up channels for ongoing communication and learning between participants and athletes.
  • Lifeline Community Custodians. Initiated in 2019, the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) and Lifeline partnered to deliver the Lifeline Community Custodian program. The community engagement program utilises athletes to help increase awareness around suicide prevention and encourage anyone who needs support to reach out and ask for help. Twenty-two elite athletes and para-athletes from a range of National Sporting Organisations and the National Institute Network have been selected as Lifeline Community Custodians in 2020. The athletes share their own personal stories and get involved in community events supported by Lifeline around the country.
    • Lifeline Community Custodians: One year snapshot, AIS/Lifeline, (May 2020). In 2019, 22 athletes (15 Olympic; 6 Paralympic), across thirteen sports participated in 31 events, 49 individual athlete engagements and a total of 36,115 attendees. The program assisted in raising AU$2.068M. 

Community Custodian stories

  • Holding on to Hope podcast with Erik HorrieLifeline, (5 May 2020). Life says athlete Eric Horrie is full of if onlys, if only his mum had chosen a different partner. If only he'd driven through that intersection two seconds later. If only the hospital hadn't confused him with another patient. But along with the bad decisions that have shaped his life, there have been good ones from the moment he fell in love with partner Michelle, to the night a Lifeline volunteer recognized Eric was in crisis.
  • The phone call that saved Erik Horrie's life, Australian Institute of Sport media, (6 May 2020). Lifeline saved Erik Horrie. In its own, less dramatic, way, sport rescued him, too. YouTube video also available
  • iCare Paralympian Speakers Program. A partnership between the NSW Government and Paralympics Australia where Paralympians mentor young people seriously injured at work or on the road.
  • Paralympic Speakers Program. Paralympics Australia run the Paralympic Speakers Program where athletes with disabilities can tell their stories to corporate and school groups.
  • You Can Play (national campaign). Play by the Rules developed a national campaign to tackle the issue of homophobia in sport that features a number of high profile Australian athletes including Harry Kewell (football), Allesandro Del Piero (football), Libby Trickett (swimming), Mitchell Johnson (cricket), Ryan Harris (cricket), Paul Gallen (rugby league), Nate Myles (rugby league), Lauren Jackson (basketball), Kimberlee Green (netball), Sam Mitchell (AFL), David Pocock (rugby union) and Nathan Jones (AFL).
  • Women Sport Australia (WSA) Mentor Program. Mentoring is a proven and practical way to encourage the participation and advancement of women in the workforce. The creation of supportive ‘role-model’ based relationships allows a more experienced individual to guide, encourage and support the mentee as she strives to achieve identified aspirations and goals.
  • #RethinkRoleModels. The Australian Netball Diamonds have partnered with Samsung Electronics Australia to shine a light on positive role models; to celebrate the values of hard work, determination and passion that we see in our sport. The  Rethink Role Models campaign includes a mini-series showcasing how some of our Diamonds overcame adversity to represent Australia.

Athlete awards and recognition

Many current and former high profiles athletes are involved in community projects and foundations. Examples include:

List of charities established by Australian athletes (Wikipedia)

Several prominent Australian athletes have been recognised in the Australia Day Awards for their sporting achievements and community contribution and are often portrayed as positive role models in the media. 

Female Australia Day Award winners:Female Young Australian of the Year Award winners:
Male Australia Day Award winners:
Male Young Australian of the Year Award winners: 

The annual NAIDOC Awards, presented at the end of NAIDOC (National Aborigines and Islanders Day Observance Committee) week, recognise the outstanding contributions made by Indigenous Australians to improve the lives of Indigenous people in their communities and beyond, to promote Indigenous issues in the wider community, and demonstrated excellence shown in their chosen field. The awards recognise both a Person of the Year and Sportsperson of the Year as well various other categories. Patty Mills has won both the Sportsperson of the year award (2006) and Person of the Year award (2017). Other winners include: 

Sportsperson of the Year 

Recent winners of the award have included: Amanda Reid (Para-cycling); Jade North (Football); Ryan Morich (Wheelchair basketball); Jesse Williams (American football); Jonathan Thurston (Rugby league); Vanessa Wilson (Netball);  Joshua Robinson (Athletics/Rugby league); Preston Campbell (Rugby league); Rohanee Cox (Basketball); Andrew McLeod (Australian football); Stacey Porter (Softball); Robert Crowther (Athletics); Patty Mills (Basketball); Jack Peris (Athletics/AFL); and, Shantelle Thompson (Brazilian jiu-jitsu). 

Person of the Year

  • Patty Mills (Basketball, 2017)
  • David Wirrpanda (AFL, 2012)
  • Anthony Mundine (Boxing, 2000)

Sport Australia Hall of Fame in 1998 introduced 'The Don' Award', named after Sir Donald Bradman, to honour a current Australian athlete who, by their achievements and example over the previous 12 months, are considered to have had the capacity to most inspire the nation. Athletes that have won this award include: Alisa Camplin, Cadel Evans, Steve Hooker, Matthew Mitcham, Sally Pearson, Adam Scott, Jason Day, Petria Thomas, Jeff Horn, Kurt Fearnley, and Ashleigh Barty.

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