Coach changing the game for Aboriginal athletes

Ricky Baldwin is using sport to help change the lives of young Aboriginal athletes.

Getting involved in sport can be a life-changing experience.

Just ask Ricky Baldwin.

A proud Gunaikurnai man, past elite basketballer and a prominent sports coach and mentor, Ricky has experienced the transformative power of sport first-hand.

'My whole family on my mum's side were Stolen Generation,' said Ricky.

'We're from Lake Tyers Mission. It's a pretty horrific story.'

Thinking back to his difficult family history, Ricky is certain that sports helped him forge a different path.

'I had a traumatic childhood, and if I didn't have sport, I would have been continuing that cycle,' said Ricky.

A Knox Raiders hall of famer, Ricky's talents had him travelling the world as a young man, learning from such sporting greats as Boomers Head Coach Barry Barnes OAM.

It was from Barry that Ricky learned the core of his coaching philosophy - invest in the human first, the athlete second, bond with your players, and the victories will come.

'Barry had a huge impact on me because off the court I was getting into trouble,' said Ricky.

'He was, in a way, a second father and he taught me life skills that I wasn't getting elsewhere,' he added.

Skills like discipline, teamwork, and respect for others and self were high on the list.

It’s this coaching philosophy that has resulted in Ricky being one of four finalists for the Gallagher Community Coach of the Year award at the 2022 Victorian Sport Awards.

The nomination reflects the time Ricky has dedicated to passing along sport and life lessons to the next generation of young Aboriginal sportspeople, through his not-for-profit Koorie Academy Basketball organisation.

While he has had success along the way, Ricky notes that the journey is not without its struggles.

'Getting our kids into mainstream sport programs can be very hard,' said Ricky.

'A lot of them are coming from low socio-economic backgrounds and the cost of participating in grassroots sport can be prohibitive.'

'And that's a big issue because, for me, sports should be inclusive for all kids,' he added.

Ricky says support from initiatives like the Victorian Government’s Aboriginal Sport Participation Grant Program can make an incredible difference.

The program provides grants to assist Aboriginal Victorians to participate in Aboriginal sporting carnivals, buy sports uniforms and equipment, as well as funding for travel and accommodation expenses for athletes to compete in state and national competitions.

'That funding program is life-changing,' said Ricky.

'It helps kids travel all over Victoria for competitions, so they get experience playing teams across the state,’ said Ricky.

Beyond the basketball court, Ricky uses sport engagement as a pathway to teach athletes about cultural history.

'We're the oldest living culture on the planet, and we need to teach that culture to keep it alive,' said Ricky.

'You can see how much these programs mean to these kids, you can see them develop that sense of pride and belonging.'

Ricky is confident that sport participation can serve a cultural ambassadorship role and, by extension, play a role in Australia’s ongoing journey towards reconciliation.

'Our kids are very talented, and they deserve recognition and a place competing in mainstream sporting tournaments,' he said.

'Not only that, but sport participation gives us the opportunity to start breaking down those barriers of racism that are still out there.'

'Sport brings people together, and then we can start to educate people. That leads to empathy, which leads to understanding. With understanding, we can start to have reconciliation,' he added.

'And that's the kind of world I want our kids to live in.'

Learn more about the Aboriginal Sport Participation Grant Program and other funding programs and initiatives.