Grievance Debate: Limestone Coast Regional Sporting Academy

Wednesday September 11, 2019

Mr BELL (Mount Gambier) (15:09): I rise today to talk about the Limestone Coast Regional Sporting Academy. Obviously sport plays a very strong part in Australia's culture and is ingrained into our psyche. Getting to the top, representing your state or even your country in a sport, is the dream for many young athletes. Being an elite athlete of course is hard work, but being an elite athlete in a regional centre is even harder—harder on them and harder on their families and the community. It is hard to get the coaches, the facilities, training and competition of a particular level and the motivation and support that is needed.

In capital cities, all of this is within reach, but if you live in a regional city or a small town you have to travel for anything up to a 10 to 15-hour round trip to a capital city and it becomes the norm. There are many people from the Limestone Coast who travel up every weekend to compete, and sometimes twice a week for training and competition.

The Limestone Coast Regional Sporting Academy began in 2017 and aims to close the gap between the facilities and opportunities offered to young athletes in the city and those living regionally. The program offers an intensive, year-long strength, conditioning and education program to athletes aged between 13 and 18. The athletes receive the education and skills required, including diet, sport, psychology, resilience and planning, all delivered by top-level coaches. Tony Elletson is the academy coordinator and he is incredibly passionate about giving young athletes equal opportunities no matter where they live.

The academy has four objectives: to identify regional talent, to educate and develop youth in the region, to provide pathways to state and national representation, and to develop the skills of regional coaches. It started with 12 athletes in the first year and this year they have 42. Next year, they aim to take that to 80 promising young athletes. This academy is kicking some major goals. You only have to look at their Facebook page to see the successes the current athletes are having. Every week, athletes are off competing in state and national competitions in hockey, motocross, athletics, AFL, swimming, tennis and cycling.

It is even a possibility that the academy will see its first Olympic chance. Mount Gambier's Jordan Freeman, depending on competition results next year, will qualify for the 2024 Olympics in taekwondo. Aside from successes on the sporting field, Tony says there are other benefits to the program as well. Parents are telling him that the sport psychology and time management skills taught through the academy are also having a major benefit at school, rather than taking the focus from education.

In New South Wales, regional academies like this have been operating for 30-plus years and Tony says you can actually see how they are having an impact in high-level competitions. At the 2016 Rio Olympics, nearly 14 per cent of the medals won by Australian athletes went to those who had been involved with a New South Wales regional academy. With the Limestone Coast academy doing so well after just three years, just imagine if they had been going for decades. The academy has formed multiple partnerships, including with the University of South Australia, Hockey SA, Athletics SA and the South Australian Sports Institute, to provide dedicated programs.

Next year, the academy will partner with local foundation Four Reasons Why to offer five scholarships to the academy for low socio-economic and at-risk young athletes. Currently, the program is jointly funded by the Limestone Coast Local Government Association and the state government, but these funding arrangements are in place only until the end of 2020, so the end of next year. For the program to grow and be sustainable they need additional funding and confidence going forward that that funding will be there.

Tony would also like to take this model to other regions across South Australia that would benefit from this access. The opportunities for this academy's growth are incredible, and an important program such as this deserves surety for the future.