Why Australia’s Indigenous Athletes Are So Brilliant

In the aftermath of the resounding victory of the Indigenous All-Stars in this week’s NRL match, one may ask, why are Australia’s Indigenous Athletes so Brilliant?  Only three percent of Australia’s population are indigenous, yet they make up to 30% of participants in some Australian sporting teams.  Why?  They are more closely connected to their hunting and gathering roots with a capacity to read the natural environment, to move through time and space efficiently, work in groups and stay connected to community, all important characteristics for building of a healthy brain and human survival.

To aid survival the human brain evolved by rewarding movement with feel good neurochemicals and guess what, these neurochemicals also make you happy.  All human beings are a summary of their evolutionary genes, but Western society is only just beginning to understand how important it is not to lose that connection.   When Cathy Freeman was interviewed this week on “Julia Zemerio’s Home Delivery”, the Olympic gold medallist said that running simply made her “happy”.  Yep, it is that simple, exercise stimulates feel good hormones and contributes to happiness.  

Athletes are wired to be in a physically active world and indigenous athletes know this better than anyone.   Evolution is brilliant, human happiness is hardwired to biology.  As long as you keep moving, spend time in nature, eat well and stay connected to community, happiness isn’t far behind.    

Some may think an immersion in technology is the future, but if individuals lose connection with their evolutionary roots both physical and mental health will deteriorate.  One doesn’t need science to know that individuals who cannot tear their eyes away from computer screens, aren’t happy. 

Indigenous Australian Athletes play sport more intelligently.  They remain immersed in an activity that helps the brain generate new brain cells with the capacity to process millions of pieces of information at any given point in time, chunking it into useable information to make the quick decisions needed on the rugby field.  You only have to watch a Jonathon Thurston to see how broad his vision is, how ingenious are the plays he sets up and how quickly they are executed.  Thurston is not a physically big player, but he is a highly intelligent player.  Scanning, thinking, creating and coordinating plays requires a large brain.  A gift from evolution, but if not used it will wither and deteriorate. 

We love watching our indigenous athletes.  They intuitively know spending time in nature, playing sport, eating well and remaining connected to community feels good.  It has taken until most recently however, for the research to be produced for some Western sceptics to be convinced of the benefits of exercise and time in nature for the mind, something out indigenous Australians have always known.  

Gayelene Clews is a Performance Psychologist and author of “Wired to Play: The Metacognitive Athlete”.  The former World Number One Triathlete has worked with many of the very best athletes and sporting teams in the world including Olympic and World Champions.  Clews applies the science of sport to her successful “Wired for Success” business workshops for emotionally intelligent organisations.  Her work has been widely reviewed by The Australian, Financial Review, Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, Canberra Times, ABC Lateline, COMPASS, ABC radio and many others.  Contact Gayelene via info@wiredtoplay.com.  To purchase her book www.wiredtoplay.com.