The Australian Institute of Sport’s Share a Yarn initiative is giving Indigenous athletes and their counterparts a platform to share their experiences and break down barriers in sport.

The initiative is an opportunity for athletes to share their personal stories and build meaningful connections between sport and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures.

This year’s ambassadors include 14 athletes spanning 11 different sports.

Both First Nations and non-Indigenous athletes are chosen as ambassadors, undertaking cultural training and activities together and supporting each other to promote Reconciliation and improve cultural competency.

Proud Noongar man Alex Winwood qualified this year for his Olympic boxing debut at the 2021 Tokyo Games.

His yarn reflects on his relationship with his grandfather and his expression of culture through dance.

“My pop owned an Indigenous art gallery so I’ve done a lot of traditional dance and things like that,” he said.

“But living in Perth is different from how others live in the country and stories have been lost.”

“I’m more than proud to represent Australia and myIndigenous heritage, there shouldn’t be a divide between the two. We should make each other stronger.”

Winwood said he was passionate about the Share a Yarn program because he enjoyed sharing his story and making connections with the people around him.

“A lot of our practices as Indigenous people have been taken away from us, but growing up we did as much as we could to keep the knowledge we had as much as possible, through my pop and his art gallery, we did a lot through that,” he said.

“Storytelling is a part of my identity, it’s something I want to stay connected with.

“It’s nice to be able to share my experience and hear other people’s stories and hear about their lives and their cultures.”

Winwood added that Share a Yarn is a great opportunity to break down barriers and open up conversations about race and culture.

“There are plenty of people that want to learn and have questions but may be embarrassed or not know how to ask,” he said.

“It’s quite scary to just walkup to someone and ask a question, let alone ask about their background or their experiences.

“Opportunities like this create a deeper understanding and can answer some of those questions without the hesitance or it being awkward.”

Wiradjuri woman Gabrielle Coffey plays netball for the Victorian Fury.

She recalls accompanying her mother to remote Aboriginal communities around Mparntwe/AliceSprings to teach basic health prevention.

“My fondest memories as a kid were when my mum, who was a nurse, would take me and my little sister out to the communities,” Coffey said.

Coffey spoke of living off Country and moving to Victoria to pursue her netball career.

She said the Share a Yarn program was an exciting opportunity to learn from others and share her own story as someone who grew up in remote communities.

“I am a Wiradjuri woman, born in Darwin and grew up in Mpartnwe/Alice Springs in the Northern Territory,” she said.

“We lived throughout the Northern Territory because of my dad’s work, and I went to boarding school in Victoria to pursue my netball career.

“I joined the Share a Yarn program because I thought it’d be an incredible chance to learn about people’s cultures and share my story, as well as being surrounded by incredible athletes. It was also really important to me to open up a conversation, improving the mental health of young Indigenous Australians, network and use this platform to get people talking.

“Sharing your story can be really empowering.”

Australian Institute of Sport people development and wellbeing director MattiClements said Share a Yarn aimed to increase inclusivity.

“It’s about building trust, fostering accountability and providing a safe place to listen and learn,” he said.

By Darby Ingram