History of Lifeball
Lifeball has been evolving for over 14 years and is a game that truly enables people of all ages and capabilities to play together in the spirit of fun whilst improving their well-being. Lifeball was developed in Australia by the Greater Murray Area Health Service (GMAHS) NSW Health, NSW Department of Sport and Recreation, Healthy Lifestyle Health Promotions Services, and The Positive Ageing Foundation Ltd. (Western Australia).
The name “Lifeball” was chosen because it is a game that can be played throughout life, and it can be played by school children, men and women at all fitness levels, as well as people in wheelchairs, use walking frames, or have any other challenge to mobility.
Lifeball is a team game (six players per team) and teams can be comprised of either sex, the old and the young, a mixture of cultures, and a mixture of mobility levels. The game is played on a netball sized court, divided into three zones, with the object of the game being to get the ball to a position where a goal can be scored.
Lifeball is designed to utilise very basic skills - walking pace, ball passing by handing or throwing to a teammate, catching a ball, and shooting for goal. Because Lifeball is a walking game, it allows all team members to be equally involved, and can be adapted for all fitness levels.
It is a walking pace, all-encompassing, non-contact game for people who like to think on their feet, to out-manoeuvre their opponents, and to score more goals than the opposition. There are special rules designed to keep the game safe. For example, no throw can be above shoulder height. This is to minimize the risk of losing balance when trying to catch the ball.
Lifeball can improve the physical, emotional, and social health of the individual and the community. Many games have finished with nobody remembering the score, but everybody agreeing that it was fun.
In August 2001 a general survey of Lifeball players was conducted. The survey went to 261 players with 125 responses for a 48% response rate. The results showed that players ages ranged from 50 to 85 yrs. Some 65 participants (52%) played once a week and 44 (35%) played twice a week. Interestingly, the main reasons for starting playing were to improve physical health, look for new interests, meet new people, enjoy an inexpensive social activity, and to avoid loneliness.
Various health conditions were reported including stroke, angina, high blood pressure, lower back pain, shoulder injury, osteoporosis, joint replacement, shortness of breath, triple bypass, and breast cancer.
The benefits noted by all those who participated in the survey included:
- “fewer physical complaints”,
- “felt better than I have in years”,
- “increased mobility”,
- “more alert”,
- “have fewer aches and pains”,
- “sleep better”,
- “improved blood pressure”,
- “general well-being”,
- “increased confidence”,
- “increased flexibility and balance”.
Since Lifeball was launched, many evaluations and surveys have been conducted on the game with positive results reported, including social interaction, mental health benefits, better balance and coordination, and motivation to continue to be involved in the game on a regular basis.
One other benefit is that once the game has been established for approximately 6 months in a new centre, it is generally taken over by the players to allow for continued sustainability of the activity.
The GMAHS NSW continued to support the role out of this program from 2001 through to 2005 and in that time produced a manual, rule book, promotional video, posters, and flyers. As well as developing resources, the unit ran many “How to Establish Lifeball” days, “Come ’n’ Try” days and “Umpire Training” days, in over 40 locations.
During this time, the unit also won many awards, including the National Kellogg’s Heart Foundation Award. In 2002, the GMAHS launched the game at the National Health Promotion Conference and went on to present at many conferences, including The World Congress on Physical Activity and Ageing in Canada in 2004.
The Lifeball National Steering Committee also sat on the NSW Rural Falls Injury Network and NSW Physical Activity Network, so that the game became available to all the Area Health Services as part of the Rural Falls Project.
In 2005 the game Lifeball, and all the administration and resources were handed over to Healthy Lifestyle Health Promotion Services (HLHPS), which administered the project for two years. In 2007 Community Fitness Australia agreed to support HLHPS by taking on the administrative control of Lifeball to allow it to continue its growth across Australia.
There are now over 70 Lifeball groups (towns) involved in the game of Lifeball and over 1200 active members of Lifeball, with over 30 Incorporated Organizations acting as Umbrella Organizations (covering the Public Liability and Professional Indemnity insurance).
Lifeball is also supported by the existing players who manage their own groups by way of administration, organization, becoming Ambassadors, running “Fun and Friendship” days and coordinating the weekly running of the game, including umpiring and coaching.
Growth and Expansion
Lifeball has expanded rapidly since 2007, particularly in Victoria. This has been made possible with funding from a Victorian Government “Senior Victorian Grant”. For Lifeball to continue to expand into other Australian states, it was decided, by the Lifeball Steering Committee and the Master Trainers, to run the first “Train the Facilitator” course in 2008.
This allowed Lifeball to expand into incorporated organizations in a “not-for-profit” way. These organizations are required to work closely with the existing National Master Trainers on all aspects of the growth of the game.
Lifeball “Fun and Friendship”days continue to be incredibly popular, particularly across southern NSW and northern Victoria, with some “clubs” running one every year. There have been a host of “Fun and Friendship” days held to mark ten year anniversaries of Lifeball groups.
In the project of introducing Lifeball to all states of Australia HLHPS adheres to the philosophy of community empowerment, whereby the ownership of healthy lifestyle programs and leisure activities remains with the participants at all times. What communities deemed to be important in terms of needs and wishes were, and are still, included in the development, implementation, and progress of this project.
This recreation and leisure project promotes healthy living for older adults by encouraging them to voluntarily participate in active leisure pursuits thereby giving them greater responsibility for their own health care. As the ageing population increases, projects such as this improve older adults’ quality of life and their ability to ‘age in place’. In the long term, healthy lifestyle programs can reduce chronic illnesses which contribute to the escalating high costs of health care.
Older adult groups within a community enjoy the sense of freedom they have in making decisions, however, in most circumstances, for these groups to remain sustainable, they do require an “anchor” organisation or person to assist them with the planning and direction of their programs. Having the link to an anchor will help to alleviate any feelings of being overburdened or not being recognised for their worth.
For recreation and leisure programs to remain sustainable within a community volunteer structure, the following concerns need to be addressed and regularly reviewed:
- Groups or organisations that are running programs require support and direction to maintain the sustainability of their project;
- Volunteers within these structures need to feel nurtured, supported, and valued. This support system can come from many sources, including government
- agencies, other volunteer groups, university and TAFE institutions, etc.;
- Mechanisms need to be put in place to help support these community programs. (e.g., training, resources, promotion, further networking);
- The programs need to be updated and reviewed to maintain safety and to update administration systems; and
- New players need to be recruited continuously to keep membership numbers viable.
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