Tennis – a sport or much, much more?

Right now we are in the middle of the Australian Open Grand Slam Tennis tournament – and what fun it is. I spent 3 days on Rod Laver Arena last week and enjoyed myself immensely. It brought back two interesting questions that I was asked – one of them I still get asked from time to time.

As many of you will know, I am an Englishman who moved to Australia 12 years ago and one of the reTennisgular (still occasional) questions I was asked is :”What is the difference between youth work in England and in Australia?” My response was that the issues young people face seem very similar – what to do in their future, relationships, self esteem, parents etc. Although Australian youth face an additional issue – sport!

I will explain by recounting a conversation I had with a 15 year old guy in Victoria (I will call him Mike). He was upset and angry and jealous of his younger brother (I will call Justin). Mike was a muso (a guitar playing singer for my non-aussie readers) and his brother was a footy player. Justin was taller than his older brother, Mike wasn’t as far down the puberty track as his ‘little’ brother; and Justin was the one with the girls.

But that is just the background to Mike’s main issue – he felt that he didn’t fit in to a social group, an outsider in his own school, inferior and unwanted.

In Australia sports rule. In England (and no doubt other parts of the world) Mike would have happily fit into the muso’s group and found his purpose, acceptance and love that he (and we all) need. But here, if and when those groups even exist, they aren’t considered as cool as the sporty group.

Why is that? What’s with the fascination, the need, the competitive edge that Australia take so very seriously?

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