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‘At risk’ youth skating to a better future

Local

It’s not the most popular sport, but ice hockey is proving a real winner in helping to reshape the lives of ‘at risk’ youth in Adelaide.

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Since its establishment in 2005, thousands of secondary students have participated in the Ice Factor program run at the Ice Arena in Thebarton, learning the art of skating – while also holding a hockey stick and hitting a small puck – as well as skills that may help change their future outlook on life.

For some, the program provides a real turning point by taking them off the pathway of homelessness, drug addiction and crime to one of having self-esteem and setting goals for the future.

“One of the reasons why ice hockey is so good for these young people is because, let’s face it, when they all start they are really bad at the sport! They might have footy, cricket, soccer as a background and some can do those things better than others, but here they start from the bottom and they are all at the same level,” said program coordinator Sami Mantere, a former national ice hockey player in Finland who has called Australia home for the past decade.

“We have two hours with each team each week and use the first 20 minutes for a conversation on ‘life skills’ before they kit up and hit the ice for an hour. At the end of the session we do a brief recap on what they have learned that day.

“In the first term we look at good character traits, respect, determination, reliability and goal setting. We have a discussion on how they relate these skills and attributes to being in a team, and for a lot of these guys this is the first time they have been in a team.

“I know it sounds like a cliché from the movies, but a lot of these players call the team a ‘family’, which is great.”

The program, the only one of its kind operating in Australia, was the brainchild of local lawyer and philanthropist, Marie Shaw QC.

Born into a devout Catholic family, her father was one of 12 children (and brother to the late Father Luke Roberts) and his education did not proceed beyond Year 7 because the family couldn’t afford it. Ms Shaw said she has always appreciated the gift that education is and is dedicated to providing the opportunity her father didn’t have, to ‘at risk’ and disadvantaged high school students.

When her daughter Justine was diagnosed with dyslexia, Ms Shaw saw firsthand the positive impact ice hockey had on her. She found other parents who were also using the sport as a way of helping their children cope with dyslexia or ADD.

Ms Shaw thought it might also be beneficial for youth from troubled or disadvantaged family backgrounds who were having difficulty fitting into mainstream school.

From small beginnings in 2005 when just 15 students participated in an eight-week pilot program, Ice Factor now has 18 teams with around 200 students involved each year.

Run in association with SA Ice Sports Federation, the Ice Factor Foundation is a registered charity and donations are tax deductible. For more information go to www.icefactor.net

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