Indigenous athletes learn sports industry ropes at track and field academy

Pole vaulter Paige James
Gymnast turned pole vaulter Paige James hopes to study zoology or sports science. Photo: Nadia Boyce

Thirty-eight Indigenous high school students are in Melbourne this week to learn the secrets of combining high-performance sport and academic success.

The Raise the Bar Academy – a joint University of Melbourne and Athletics Australia program now in its third year – will see the students develop new skills in athletics coaching, sports media training and community sports event management.

They will be mentored by elite student-athletes and sports professionals, including student-athlete University Games captain Isabelle Napier and Australian long jumper Robbie Crowther.

Program founder Carl Junot said previous programs had resulted in three Raise the Bar alumni going on to study at undergraduate level at the University of Melbourne.

“Excelling in both elite sport and academic success is tough, so the chance to work alongside people who’ve achieved that, and learn about how they handled the challenges, is potentially life-changing,” Mr Junot said.

“Elite sport isn’t just about talent and performance on the field — it’s about motivating yourself and others, and leadership and strategy, which is why Raise the Bar participants get big hit of professional coaching, academic mentoring and positive psychology training.”

The five-day program culminates on Thursday at a dinner and Q and A session with physiotherapist and Griffith University academic Blayne Arnold, distance runner Bianca Graham, the first Indigenous Australian woman to run the New York Marathon and Olympian hurdler Kyle Vander Kuyp.

Raise the Bar is part of Athletics Australia’s Athletics for the Outback program, supporting Indigenous students in years 10 to 12 who are interested in pursuing a tertiary education and a career in the sports industry.

The University of Melbourne is committed to achieving population parity for Indigenous student numbers by 2050 and eliminating barriers to participation through bursaries scholarships and grants.