TIC TALK Podcasts

Exploring personal experiences of inclusion

TIC TALK 15: Kerry Tavrou and Alison Lyons

A podcast with Kerry Tavrou and Alison Lyons
October 2014
Kerry Tavrou and Alison Lyons

Kerry Tavrou and Alison Lyons

Gymnastics Victoria

Kerry and Alison work for Gymnastics Victoria in Australia. They are the driving forces behind one of the leading inclusive sport programs in the country – called Gymnastics for Everybody. Listen to how they do it and why Kerry is known as the ‘Mary Poppins of Inclusion!

Transcript TIC TALK with Kerry Tavrou and Alison Lyons

Peter:

Welcome to Tic Talks. Today I have in front of my Kerry Tavrou and Allison Lyons, here from Gymnastics Victoria. Hi, Kerry, Allison, how are you?

Allison:

Hello.

Kerry:

Very good.

Peter:

Now, just tell, I think with Gymnastics Victoria, Kerry in particular is just described as the Mary Poppins of inclusion for gymnastics. Kerry, can you explain your role with gymnastics?

Kerry:

Sure, so my position is the inclusion coordinator where I look at imbedding inclusion into Gymnastics Victoria’s culture. So I work with each team, so each department, so we’ve got our events department, our business department, board, technical committees, development team and our education team, to ensure inclusion is considered across all of those areas, as well as clubs. So inclusion is just a part of everyday business and it’s just an on-going operational system that people consider in everyday life.

Peter:

I also want to explain to the listeners as well that Gymnastics Victoria is a state association with Gymnastics Australia and Gymnastics Victoria is a very large state, so, what’s the population of Victoria?

Kerry:

Would be—

Peter:

That’s a question isn’t it?

Allison:

Yeah.

Peter:

Would be three or four million? Or more, five million.

Kerry:

Yeah.

Allison:

Yeah.

Peter:

But quite a lot, the state, but you are a state association, Gymnastics Australia. Allison, what’s your role?

Allison:

I’m the gymnastics development manager, so my role is to help clubs develop their, I guess club environment, to ensure they have opportunities for people to participate to grow their business, to look at different facilities, to educate their workforce, so all of that business side I guess of gymnastics. So a part of that is inclusion and ensuring that our clubs are taking inclusive approach to their development.

Peter:

This is sort of a leading question, Kerry, but how important is peer and organizational support to your role? So you are not a lone ranger for the field of inclusion, what support do you have from the organization of people like Allison?

Kerry:

It’s vital. Because if there isn’t other people taking on inclusion, as soon as I move on, inclusion goes with me. So that’s why I try to embed it in everybody’s roles, and it is a part of everyday core business. Because if it isn’t in people’s roles and goals for the year, and CPIs then it’s just not going to happen. I think there’s a common saying that inclusion is just a part of what we do, where organizations believe that inclusion is in their work, but unfortunately if it’s not actually focused on, and if there aren’t inclusive goals, it can be absolutely lost in organizations.

So it’s important that people consider inclusion and that they actually take it on.

Peter:

What are the practical ways you do that? Cause it’s quite a skill, I think to be able to do that. Is it part of—is it skill, it knowledge, is it understanding, is it personality? Where do you think are the key things that help that happen?

Kerry:

I think initially it’s a belief. It’s understanding and believing the importance of being an inclusive organization. I think it’s understand the benefits both for the participants and for the organization as well, separately, and then I guess it’s about ensuring other people know and believe it as well. Unless it’s built into people’s belief systems, people aren’t going to take it on. So it’s about having those hallway conversations and bringing inclusion up during meetings where people constantly consider it and understand where it fits in and how it works. So, when I do—when I’m not there at a meeting, they are the ones asking the questions, they are the ones bringing it up.

So, yeah, I think it’s instilling the belief of inclusion in others. I think that’s the key.

Peter:

Nice, and Allison from your point of view, do you think that has worked in other people outside of this room?

Allison:

Absolutely, yeah, and I think it’s Kerry’s ability to not only educate the staff and the team here on what is best practice, but it’s that constant reminder that, hey let’s consider this. Is what we’re doing going to be inclusive? Is it the best approach that we can take, and always encouraging to think outside the square. And I would say his personality comes a long way with delegation of tasks, that he does hand out.

He’s a likeable guy, you can’t say no.

Kerry:

I think, as Allison just pointed out, people are taking it on. And it’s, for me I know I’m doing my job when people come up to me and say, hey, inclusion should be fit in this area, what do you think? And I’m like, yeah, exactly you’re on the right track, and even for example, clothing, we’re talking about attire for work. And even some of the comments in the work attire, Allison brought up, is hang on, that may not be inclusive for everybody. So it’s about seeing inclusion not just for disability, but for all groups across all areas of the organization.

So I think it’s a mindset that can be taught. And it’s just about continually discussing it and bringing it up that actually people start to believe it.

Peter:

Nice, nice. I was going to pursue that later, but I will pursue that now. We’re talking now, your background is in the disability area in particular, and the gymnastics work in the disability area which has been great. But now you are looking at inclusion more broadly and to include people with different cultural backgrounds, indigenous, female, different groups into gymnastics.

What has been your—what have your been your challenges in trying to do that, to try and step back from a particular targeted area and look at inclusion more broadly?

Kerry:

I think it comes down to an awareness. So coming from the disability sector, I felt confident and aware by working with individuals with a disability that I understood their barriers and enablers to inclusion. And I guess I look at people from indigenous backgrounds and people who are nearly migrants, not having the experience of working with them is probably, I guess I have a lack of awareness of how they can be best included.

But I think the principles are what I learned from including people with disabilities, is exactly the same and that’s just a person centered approach. So I don’t think that I could, for example, if we talked about people with indigenous backgrounds, I don’t think there is a blanket approach for working with people from indigenous backgrounds, it’s about working with a specific community and asking what they would like.

So I think it’s, when you work with any type of inclusion, it’s not about blanket statements, it’s not about putting people in boxes, it’s really about working with local people and finding out what they’re interested in. How they want to engage in sport and taking that approach.

So I think that for me, is the inclusive philosophy.

Peter:

It is very person centered rather than being too broad, so each context is different. The similarities about inclusion are across the board, but at the end of the day, it’s about people, is that what you’re saying? It’s about individuals and their context.

Kerry:

That’s right. Yeah, absolutely. And I think if I was to work with newly arrived migrants, it would be about understanding their cultures, understanding their language, understanding their leaders to see how we could approach that situation. Potentially it could be just getting a group of kids involved in an activity or could be taking time to train up a leader from the community to become a coach and then using that leader from that community as a coach to get people from their community engaged.

So I think it’s very much an individual approach.

Peter:

From a business kind of sense, is it a hard sell?

Allison:

In terms of encouraging—no, not really. No. Because I think when you look at the opportunities of making your club more inclusive, it not only is for specific target groups for example, but just for the general population. Like if you think about access and your facility in widening your bathroom doors or your actual entry doors for wheelchair access, how much more convenient is that for a parent with a prim?

It’s not just about this specific target group, but the overall benefits for everyone in the population, I think that’s where the clubs see the opportunities as well. And then also, again if you encourage people from different backgrounds, people with disability, newly arrived migrants, etc. of joining in an activity, or become involved in the club community, they have friends, they have family that they want to bring into the environment as well. So if you can—cause word of mouth is our greatest tool in terms of marketing, so if we can encourage more people to come through our doors, then everyone will—

Peter:

That kind of makes a very good business sense. Because you have the warm and fluffy feeling around inclusion isn’t going to cut it. It’s a business sense around this.

Allison:

That’s right, cause we have both not for profit and commercial clubs, and for example, if you are a commercial club and you are going to invest your money, you need to say, it has to have a far reaching affect for me to be able to invest my money in this. So if I am going to change something within my club, I need to get a greater outcome. So yeah, I think that’s where the benefits are.

Peter:

It’s a benefit for them, the commercial versus non-profit sport, cause you have your commercial centers, you have your not for profit which is your core. But it has to make sense in a commercial sense, but these days, it does.

Allison:

It does, yeah, absolutely it does.

Kerry:

Definitely, I mean you look at gymnastic clubs where they are quiet between the hours of 1-3 PM, there could be services that there are interesting activities for or mums looking for an activity to do where you can have both a kid in a gym class going with their kids and they could be participating in a class as well.

So, I think it’s about clubs thinking creatively to get a broader range of their community in their clubs, and they can employ a full time staff, they have that opportunity.

Peter:

Do you think as an outsider to gymnastics, a kind of stereotype that might be it’s a very regulated sport? You have your rules and regulations and everything else. You mention creativity, that’s what sparked my thinking. How creative, I am thinking it’s very creative, how creative is gymnastics for your ability in helping inclusion? How does creativity, is it sometimes a key for inclusion, and the detail for inclusion to happen. Is gymnastics that creative?

Kerry:

I think naturally, and Allison is better than answering this than me, but naturally coaches are automatically taught to progress skills up and down and work creatively with each participant. So I’ve been incredibly impressed as a sport as a whole, and find, it doesn’t matter what age the coach is, they can be 14, 15 years old, or they could be 60 years old, the creatively, I’m so impressed by. And the way they approach different scenarios which we put to them, inclusion awareness training, is always impressive.

So I think as far as a sport goes, it’s one of the most creative sports I’ve seen.

Peter:

That’s interesting.

Allison:

I think on that as well, general view of gymnastics is what we see on the television where we see Olympic and competitive gymnastics, the reality is though, is the majority of our members is in a recreational class, so they only come once a week for one hour, and they do a range of different movements. It’s not just the specific skillset you may see at the Olympics.

For example, we might do a crossover of rhythmic gymnastics, and women’s artistic gymnastics. So those two sports are happening within that recreational class. And for us, gymnastics is basic movement, where gymnastics is life skill in that we need to know how to move and move our body to the best of our ability and to be confident in our movement. So a lot of what happens in the gym is creative because the coaches are thinking of more fun ways of different ways of instilling movement opportunities for everybody. So that might include using music, it might include using different type of handheld apparatus like a pool noodle.

They are definitely very creative and that’s one of the things that we can help with, that inclusion can help us with is I guess promoting that to the general public to say, gymnastics isn’t always that elite level that you see every 4 years at the Olympics.

Peter:

Yeah, I guess that is what I was kind of getting at. Jump around a little bit, Kerry, you have an interesting story how you got involved in this area. What was your first involvement?

Kerry:

I used to coach a variety of different sports including soccer, swimming and I was a gym instructor and personal trainer and ballroom dancing teacher. And I had a chance to coach a young guy with a disability and I was pretty nervous at the start. But I said, yeah, I’ll give it a go, and met the guy who was 25 years old. He had been in a motorbike accident in Greece and had an acquired brain injury that affected his body as well. So, at the start, yeah, we became friends over time. He could hardly swim at the start, but at the end he swam a full lap and actually dove into the pool.

And I saw him up in the gym one day, exercising and he was doing his exercises wrong and had a look around at the other gym instructors at the club, or in the gym and thought, what gym instructor would go up to him and say, hey mate you’re doing things wrong because of the fear factor I had initially and that’s why I got into the industry, cause I thought, I don’t know how many people would have that awareness, it’s important that everybody is included and exercises safely.

Peter:

That was a catalyst for your—how long ago was that?

Kerry:

That would have been 7 years ago, 8 years ago. 8 years ago.

Peter:

Good. And Allison, as well, when did you start, not just with gymnastics, but this whole area of inclusion, cause I’m guessing you came into it relatively recently. But have a really good philosophy and approach.

Allison:

I guess for me, it’s more of that, I guess, the cultural awareness side of inclusion. I’ve traveled quite a lot in my time and I actually spent two years living in Kuwaiti in the Middle East, and for me to be a minority in a different country, was a real eye opening experience for myself. And to think, when I got back to Australia of people trying to get access to our country and wanting to experience life here and wanting to come into our country and I guess the public’s perception and I guess racism that I experienced seeing the different population expressed through the media and things like that, is something that encouraged me to think more broadly. Because I had been that person living in a different place.

Peter:

I hear it often, but obviously I didn’t know your story. I heard Kerry’s a little bit this morning, but didn’t know your story. Often it’s a personal experience, that triggers something an awareness, a commitment, whatever it might be, it’s a kind of personal story, and I hear that so often, but you have a very interesting one, that sort of cultural perceptive.

Allison:

And I think for, Kerry and I have had these discussions regularly. If we gave the newly arrived migrants coming into our country the opportunity to participate in our sports, it would make it so much easier for them for them to feel like they were a part of our community, because Australia is such a sports focused place. We champion our footballers and our cricketers so if we gave the opportunity for children and for parents to learn these sports in the detention centers and places like that when they do have the opportunity to be part of our community, it’s easier for them to walk into a club because they have some knowledge of what we’re—and it breaks down those barriers, that if I can communicate and talk to you in the language of sport, then I can get start to get to know you and see you as a person as well.

Kerry:

Sport has no language and I think you look at soccer for example being a world game, getting a group of people together not only to speak the same language, to understand how the game works, and it’s a great way to bring people together and come to a common ground and have a common interest to start those other conversations, to be integrated into society and to learn about health benefits and sport is the perfect medium for inclusion.

Peter:

That’s a perfect point to try to wind this up, because often said sport is the perfect medium to highlight inclusion because you can actually see it. Physically see it as well and it has a commonality across boundaries and things like that.

I did want to mention before we close, about the inclusive club guide lines, there. Cause it’s a really interesting model and approach that you have to the inclusive club guides, can you give us a quick summary how that you think is going to impact on gymnastics here.

Kerry:

Sure, we developed some inclusive club guidelines to have a pathway for clubs to become best practice in inclusion. So, we go out to clubs and we take them through a range of guidelines, which focus on a variety of different inclusive areas such as policies and procedures, communication, programs and participation and we encourage clubs to meet all the requirements and once they do meet all those requirements, we consider them an inclusive club and actually act as a hub an inclusive club, as a mentor to other clubs around and say if we have, for example, a club out in (22:30) Victoria interested in becoming more inclusive, they will have a local inclusive club they can go down to and watch programs, ask questions and get support from.

In that way, again, it’s about embedding inclusion into the sport, so clubs can support other clubs because they know inclusion at a club level better than they did.

Peter:

Well, wish you all the best with it. I am sure you will continue to lead the field in Australia in this area, so thanks very much Kerry and Allison for joining us on Tick Talks. Thanks very much and good luck.

Kerry:

Thanks very much.

Allison:

Thank you.