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Softball’s heartland

Nicky Bacon has arguably the hardest job in Australian Softball. As the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Softball NT, Bacon faces many challenges that other softball organisations do not.

“Softball in the NT is a glue for communities. It is a sport that people come to, they drop their fighting for, they go to school for. They turn up to softball,” Bacon said

“We need to use softball as a motivator and as an organised sport within communities to build wellness of the communities.”

On raw data, the member numbers for the sport in the Northern Territory is very low, therefore you wouldn’t think it is widely played. 

“At the moment, most of our players that are outside of Alice Springs, Katherine and Darwin, they basically play for free. The communities, the council, the government, all assist with the cost of playing. We’ve got a really tricky barrier when it comes to participation and meeting our membership requirements because it is free for the players in those remote areas,” the former USA College player said.

“What we are looking to do is convert them to a membership in one way or another. Members are people that pay to play. Whether that be charging them $10 or the full $80 to be a Softball NT member, the money we get would effectively feed back into that community and pay for things on the ground to run competitions.”

“If we could get that money coming in, minimal as it may be, to pay a local person to run competitions, we are now looking at employment on the ground. When we talk about wellness and building it in the community, we are looking to employ people and give them skillsets that they can transfer to pretty much anything in life; organising a competition, managing people, managing budgets. You can take those skillsets to another sport or even into business,” Bacon said.

“This is the stuff we are trying to do. The education side not only just in the sport but how we can help someone grow as a person, make them a leader.”

One of the biggest issues Softball NT faces though is money. The cost to run programs in remote communities, along with the struggle to get funding, severely hampers the progress Bacon and her staff can make.

“The only thing that is holding us back is funding. We have re-written our constitution; we have got our strategic plans in place. The way we are structuring our league is so that we can welcome communities to be actual teams in competitions going forward,” the CEO said.

“A standard program as a rough estimate, to fly from Darwin to Alice alone is $750 per person return, then there’s car hire, accommodation, a couple of coaches, meal allowances, equipment, petrol, a seven-day program on average starts at about $15,000.”

“The bulk of that is front and back end, to and from. The more days on the ground, effectively the cheaper per day it becomes. Where we can, we look at 10 days to two weeks on the ground because of the expense. The communities aren’t going to see us every week or every month, it is sometimes once a year, so there’s no point getting out there for a couple days. We would rather be out there for two weeks where we can introduce some good skillsets and be there over the weekend to run a competition day. Basically, what we do is teach them to be sustainable within themselves to run any competition or carnival day,” Bacon said.

Other state organisations have separate and specific Indigenous programs trying to drive participation numbers, but for Softball NT, this is their day to day.

“Where we are a little bit different is our Indigenous reach. Being in the NT and with a large Indigenous population, we are actually quite comfortable to say we are the sport of choice for women in remote areas of the Northern Territory.”

“For whatever reason, somewhere back in the day softball was introduced to the women in remote areas and they just picked it up and ran with it,” Bacon said.

“We go out to communities for accreditation, education programs and umpiring, often they pull us up on some of the rules.”

“In this beautiful way, it is a rite of passage for some in the communities. For some of the girls, they aren’t allowed to take the field until they are 14 years old, or you might see three or four generations on the field at the same time.”

“It’s this really crazy thing. You don’t see it in many other sports or many other states. Whatever it is, it is a wave, we are riding it and we will keep riding it,” Bacon said.

“From a talent level, while we have got some ridiculously amazing talent, to be able to fine tune that is a whole different other conversation. Rather than looking at making a pathway and trying to get them through the system to Australian level, we must have a different approach. We are completely community based.”

“My day to day is how I can build sport in the community for betterment of the community,” the CEO said.

“We’ve got the plans, but things are happening incredibly slowly. If we get the catalyst of money to kick us off, then look out world!”

Daniel Hill

WSA Digital Media

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