It’s game on for Sally Prickett as she gears up to coach Victoria’s only all-female Community Street Soccer team. Sara Coen spoke to the ACU student about a team that’s more like a family.
There’s a buzz in the air at North Melbourne Community Centre – where women of all ages wearing caps on backward laugh and chat about their week. But when the whistle blows, they are all business.
ACU exercise science student Sally Prickett has been involved with the Community Street Soccer Program – an initiative of The Big Issue Australia – for the past two years.
The 22-year-old started out as a volunteer – linking her involvement to the community engagement component of her degree, and is now employed as assistant coach for the North Melbourne team.
The Community Street Soccer Program uses team sport to promote social inclusion and personal change, and is run at 25 sites around Australia.
Players range from 18 to 70 years old and come from all walks of life. Many have been marginalised in some way and experienced obstacles such as long-term unemployment, mental illness, homelessness, refugee status, drug and alcohol dependency or physical disability.
Sally said that while none of the women are obligated to turn up for the weekly training session, there is a group who attend regularly because they love it.
“One of our players has only missed one session in three years – and that was for her mother’s funeral,” she said.
“Consistency is important for building relationships and trust. The fact that they show up every week despite what’s going on in their lives is a real testament to their loyalty and commitment to the program.
“There’s something special about soccer and I have always thought that. It’s a game that really brings people together – and the skills and attitudes developed somehow translate to life.
“I have seen so many girls improve their self-esteem and confidence just from being part of the team - it’s a joy to watch.”
The North Melbourne team is one of nine across Victoria with weekly training sessions held rain, hail or shine.
A longitudinal study has shown practical outcomes for participants include reduced symptoms in those experiencing mental illness, reductions in smoking, drug and alcohol abuse, and improved housing situations.
“It’s so much more than a game, it’s like a family,” Sally said. “The girls work as a team, learning about respect, effective communication, fairness and how to support each other. They are striving for a common goal and try to be the best players they can be. They draw on their strengths and work together to build skills and achieve goals.”
“Swearing, tackling and aggressive behaviour are not tolerated in Street Soccer and this code of behaviour is held in high regard among the girls. Along with the rules of the game, these guidelines provide a concrete structure and everyone knows where they stand. If they break the code they are not permitted to play – it’s that simple.
“Besides a bit of swearing here and there, we hardly ever have any problems. Players might be asked to sit out and cool off if they ever get upset but that’s pretty rare.”
Joined by support staff from The Big Issue, Sally works closely with players linking them to services that address their individual issues and needs.
“We don’t provide counselling as we’re not trained professionals in that area, but we often provide referrals and point women in the right direction and give support through organising workshops, guest speakers and activities that focus on nutrition and health,” she said.
“I recently introduced the Health and Fitness Challenge – a six week competition designed to promote daily exercise and healthy eating. This was a great way for the team to kick start healthy habits and break old patterns.
The North Melbourne team also attend an annual state camp with more than 50 selected players from other Victorian teams.
“It’s a great way for all the teams to get to know each other and basically have a blast,” Sally said. “I went this year and it was probably one of the most amazing weekends of my life. The energy was just incredible.”
“It’s awesome to see state finalists have a chance to compete in the Homeless World Cup – an annual tournament where Street Soccer players from teams around the country are selected to join the Australian team, Street Socceroos.
The Homeless World Cup is an annual international soccer tournament run by the The Homeless World Cup Foundation. Supporting grass roots football programmes and social enterprise development, the foundation aims to bring awareness of homelessness and help participants overcome challenges in their lives.
“Last year the tournament took place in Paris and this year the Street Socceroos may have the opportunity to play again in the 10th annual Homeless World Cup in Mexico City,” said Sally.
“Regardless of whether the North Melbourne girls play in Mexico this year or not, it’s important to have a bigger picture and know that we are part of something universal.
“Street Soccer is truly transformational. The team have said I am part of their family – and this says it all. I am blessed to be involved.”