Wednesday 25 September 2018
Hansard of the Legislative Council

Tasmanian Little Athletics

[11.26 a.m.]
Mr FINCH (Rosevears) - Mr President, as usual the Chamber empties when I start to speak.  We are often told that young people these days are too sedentary - watching too much television, playing too many games on their mobile phones and what have you.

Ms Rattray - Some.

Mr FINCH - Some, yes - I am going to get to that.  This lifestyle, though, is a growing problem along with the growing obesity among children, which is often referred to these days.  It is not like the good old days when we were pretty active.  The good old days, remember those?  Some good things are happening that are bucking that trend, and I am going to talk about one of those today:  Little Athletics.  It is a uniquely Australian activity program, mainly for children from five to 16 years. 
As the name suggests, it is based on the sport of track and field athletics and includes a wide range of events from running, jumping and throwing to walking.  They are all very enthusiastically pursued.  The program creates opportunities for kids to find their niche, to develop their individual talent, whether it is endurance, speed, power or school-based events.  This builds up their confidence and knowledge.  It leads to their maturity at a young age.  It is a great foundation, too, for any sport where all the components of fitness are developed through participation in events every weekend for about five months of the year.

Little Athletics evolved in 1963, through the mind and the conscience of a Victorian, Trevor Billingham.  He recognised the need and then introduced this concept to meet that need.  He noted that many young people wanted to compete in athletics but they were thought to be too young.  He started Saturday morning competitions in Geelong on the first Saturday of October 1964.  Three years later the Victorian Little Athletics Association was formed.  That concept was introduced to Tasmania in Launceston in 1973.  There are now more than 2500 registered members in Tasmania, competing at 21 centres.

Our family did 10 years at Little Athletics.  I am still the patron of the Launceston Little Athletics Centre.  Every year I give six prizes called the Endeavour Award.  They do not necessarily go to good athletes, but to those who have matured and are good citizens.

Ms Rattray - Doing PBs?

Mr FINCH - Doing PBs.  The clubs assess children for Endeavour Awards based on the way they attend training and deal with younger people and older people and how they conduct themselves with their parents, other people's parents and also themselves onsite.  It is not just about being good at athletics.

Apart from giving young people the chance to be more physically fit, there are other benefits, and not just for competitors.  There are opportunities for community bonding, which is also important for parents.  Competitors and their parents can interact with others they might not normally meet.  Parents can develop as administrators, or as judges or coaches.  There is something in it for everybody.

Children meet students from a wide range of backgrounds and from all over Tasmania when they compete in regional and state events.  If they are lucky they get to travel interstate to represent Tasmania.  There are coaching camps for under-12s and under-13s in January each year.  They are so popular that next year's camps are already sold out.  All Little Athletics athletes of the appropriate age are welcome to attend regardless of ability.  The camps are fully catered for - all meals and accommodation are included - with 36 boys and 36 girls attending each camp.  It is a tremendous opportunity for social interaction.  Many bonds are formed in Little Athletics that last a lifetime.

Our community is littered with sports people who have become successful having started in Little Athletics.  Sam Lonergan went on to Exeter High School to Essendon then to Richmond, then back here; now he is coaching and playing for the Launceston Football Club.  Another example is Milly Clark, or Amelia as we knew her when she was competing.  She was the fastest Australian female marathon runner at the Rio Olympics in 2016.  She believes that Little Athletics had a great impact on her running career.  She still keeps in touch with many of her Little Athletics colleagues from South Launceston.  Some of them continue to be active.  As we speak, she is training on my exercise bike at Greens Beach this morning.

Ms Rattray - Look out when you get back.

Mr FINCH - It is not worn out.  She is training for the Tokyo Olympics.  Little Athletics Tasmania attracts a wide range of sponsors.  The state Government has a hand in this, as does the RACT.  If Little Athletics were not already such a strong part of our community, we would have to urgently invent it.