December 2022

Swimming NSW created a Youth Advisory Panel (YAP) consisting of approximately 15 teenage members in 2016 with the support of grant funding. We wanted to understand why kids drop out of sport, particularly in their mid-teens, and what could we do to keep them swimming. What better way to find the answers than to ask the kids themselves?

Each year we host a Youth Leadership Camp for 50 Swimming NSW members, with swimmers self-nominating before they’re selected to attend. Participants are given information and leadership skills that they can take back to their club to benefit the wider membership base, particularly their peers. There are multiple group bonding activities and education sessions held, including public speaking, time management, technical official and coaching information, and social event planning for their club. New members of the YAP are selected from the Camp graduates.

The YAP meets throughout the year via Zoom, working on various projects, and offering feedback and advice to Swimming NSW, Swimming Australia and other organisations (e.g., Office of Sport) about their programs and policies. Swimming NSW also utilises the YAP members at events and functions which gives them valuable hands-on work experience.

From the outset the Board of Swimming NSW committed to implementing ideas generated by the Panel. This has developed a trusting working relationship where the young people feel valued and appreciated and the Board knows they have a reliable insight into their member base.

Standard 2 of the Child Safe Standards is “children participate in decisions affecting them and are taken seriously.” There are so many simple ways to meet this Standard in your organisation:

  • Why not set up a youth group or junior committee and involve them in planning and decisions that affect them? They could send a report to the main committee meeting each month – e.g., their ideas are invaluable when it comes to designing ribbons, certificates, new logos, uniforms, or how to make training more fun (hint: they love music!)
  • Ensure you have nominated Club Captains (elected by the kids as well as the parents!)
  • Ask the young members (and in fact all members) what they like or don’t like via surveys, focus groups, or anonymous suggestion boxes
  • Older teenagers or young adults are highly capable with social media and if given the responsibility can really lift your club’s social media presence and make it appropriate to the right audience
  • Having teenagers support and assist with younger members is another great way to encourage leadership and responsibility and give those older teen members a real sense of purpose.

The most important thing to remember when involving young people in decision making is that you must be prepared to act on their ideas. Maybe not all their suggestions, but at least some of the achievable ones. By doing this, you will build up trust and they will realise they are important to your club and can make a positive difference.

Young people are the future of sport. Just ask them and listen to them! You will not regret it.

Written by Sarah Koen, Sport Development and Participation Manager, Swimming NSW