Helping sports incentives kick goals for disadvantaged kids

Helping sports incentives kick goals for disadvantaged kids

Children reap enormous rewards from participating in organised sport or physical activities. These include physical and social benefits, and assistance building emotional control, resilience and self-esteem – while providing a healthy outlet from life’s daily pressures.


Every Australian state has its version of an incentive program that focuses on getting more children participating in organised physical activities.

In South Australia, the State Government’s Sports Vouchers program has disbursed more than $48 million since it launched in 2015, helping ease the cost of sports participation for families.  However, data reveals that children from disadvantaged areas are less likely to use Sports Voucher, when compared to children from advantaged areas.

Now, a team from the University of South Australia is delving into the reasons behind the low take-up rate by families who need it the most and developing a strategy to overcome the barriers.

Funded by a National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) 2023 Partnerships Projects grant and a Channel 7 Children’s Research Foundation Enabling Grant, the project is led by UniSA researchers Professor Carol Maher, Dr Rachel Curtis, and Catherine Simpson.

Team lead, Prof Maher, says “Sports and other active pursuits like dance are excellent for children – keeping them fit and healthy, and teaching them the value of practice and discipline. Physical activity is a great outlet from a mental health perspective, plus it’s fun and social.

“The SA Government’s $100 Sports Voucher scheme aims to help children participate in sports, dance, learn to swim, scouts or guides. However, looking at the claims data, we know that disadvantaged children, who could benefit the most, are the least likely to access it.

“In this project we’ll work with a range of stakeholders, community leaders and service providers to roll out a community-wide strategy to increase Sports Voucher uptake and sports participation.

“We are starting with a trial across the whole of the City of Salisbury. In the future, it could potentially be scaled up in other communities across SA and nationally.”

There are multiple reasons for the low use of Sports Vouchers, so the team will work with many partners to develop a multi-faceted solution.

While additional costs involved with playing a sport are cited by families as the number one barrier, there are other hurdles. These include transportation requirements, the impacts of challenging personal circumstances, and low awareness of the Sports Voucher program.

Dr Curtis says awareness of the Sports Voucher program is particularly low amongst parents from non-English speaking backgrounds.

“This is highly relevant to culturally diverse areas like Salisbury, where over 40% of families with children are English-as-a-second-language households,” Dr Curtis says. “So, one of our goals will be to raise awareness of the program, working with schools and partnering on community events.”

The team will also work with sport providers to encourage more to accept the voucher.

Simpson says there are many activity providers in the city of Salisbury who currently do not accept the vouchers, so we will be working with them to understand why and what approaches might encourage greater uptake.

“We’ll partner with more organisations to ensure an affordable, welcoming experience for children who are thinking about joining all kinds of clubs,” Simpson says. “We also want to help families tap into other existing resources that help address the barriers to sports. For example, Play It On provides second-hand sports equipment and top-up financial support for families that need it.”

National and State partners on the project include the Channel 7 Children’s Research Foundation, South Australian Office for Recreation, Sport and Racing; Preventive Health SA; City of Salisbury; Alcohol and Drug Foundation; Play It On; Australian Sports Commission; Department for Education; Department for Human Services.




Media contact: Megan Andrews M: +61 434 819 275 E:

Researcher: Professor Carol Maher E:

Dr Rachel Curtis E:

Ms Catherine Simpson E: