Ten years on, thinking about desire paths

This month, I will have been away from the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) for a decade.

The years seem to have raced by. My decade anniversary coincides with another AIS re-organisation.

I have tried to stay connected with my colleagues at the AIS but have stopped visiting the Bruce campus. Earlier this year (July), I wrote in response to Wayne Goldsmith’s Facebook post about the AIS.

My decade of absence, Wayne’s first line (“It’s breaking my heart’) and a visit to Sport Ireland for their High Performance Knowledge Exchange Conference have sent me off thinking about the place of the AIS in national and international sport.

There has been a consultation process in 2017 in Australia for a National Sport Plan that will be a long-term strategy for the whole of sport that will have four key pillars: participation, performance, prevention through physical activity, and integrity.

The Intergenerational Review of Australian Sport (2017) proposes a vision with four sub-components, and seven game-changers for the Australian sport community over the next twenty years.

My rewording of the vision uses strike through text:

For Australia to be the most an active sporting nation, known for its celebration of playinclusivity, integrity, thriving sports organisations, continued exceptional international success competitiveness in international competitions sport events, and a world-leading vibrant sports industry. (My emphases)

I am perplexed that we are aspiring to improve “our Summer Olympic performance from 10th in Rio to a top 5 place by 2036”. I had hoped that a visionary document for the 21st century might have gone beyond the sportive expressionism of a nineteenth century nation-state model.

Perhaps we might talk about optimising performance (at all levels) instead.

I could not find mention of ‘climate’ in the document. (It was not identified as one of the six megatrends in Australian sport in 2012.)

My decade away from the AIS and life in a rural community since 2007 have encouraged me to think about bottom up approaches to playful activity enriched by inclusivity and integrity. This to me is the essential transformation of a system that de-emphasises international success, celebrates personal growth  and acknowledges that performance at quadrennial festivals is a very small part of a much bigger task.

This task for me is to offer opportunities for young people to engage in physical activity and create desire paths one of which might lead to high performance sport. We can do this by valuing effort, championing integrity and inclusivity, and accepting that we are not defined by medal outcomes.

I am hopeful that the National Sport Plan in 2018 will provide an organic, long-term plan for the flourishing of play, games and sport in mid-21st century Australia … replete with expressive joy.


I am using ‘desire paths’ in the way that Kate Bowles does:

is that it represents shared decision-making between separate users who don’t formally cooperate. So a desire path is both a coherent expression of collective effort, and completely unplanned — in fact, it’s the opposite of planning. Simply, each one puts her or his foot where it feels most sensible, and the result is a useful informal path that’s sensitive to gradient, destination, weather, terrain, and built through unspoken collaboration among strangers.

Photo Credits

No limits (Keith Lyons, CC BY 4.0)

The parsnip field home (Steve, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)