THE POWER OF BANTER  - THE  BASKETBALL GAME THAT’S SPARKING A MOVEMENT 

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There's something wildly powerful about the Aussie art of banter. On the surface, like our rambling landscape, it’s made up of subtle tones. And, in the celebrated version of what Aussies are renowned for worldwide, it’s understated, self-deprecating. But in its best form, it contains enough dry humour to carve space for a cattle station in a desert-scape, enough “fair-go-ness” to keep the pressure on for minority rights, wrapped in with a solid dose of lightheartedness to deal with whatever the day serves up. Aussie girls love our banter too. But we’re more likely to actively curate spaces for hard conversations ― "coffee/wine?" - message sent. Simple.

We don't need to read the swag full of research to tell us guys don't find talking it out as simple as patting out a few letters on a screen-encased platform. The soul-crumpling stats around male mental health in this country are well documented. And so it is from simple office banter that a new movement to help smooth the barriers to more helpful convos is currently being incubated in Melbourne’s lululemon HQ.

Like many-a-male-passion, it all started with water-cooler conversation, and a love for a game involving a bouncy sphere. In this case, basketball. And the fact that sometimes, a guy just needs a "brah".

 

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Introducing The Support Brahs, a space for guys to connect, sweat, have some brain-space where all they need to think about is them, the team... and the next crazy fundraising concept to raise for male mental health. In the first of our Support Brah stories, we’re taking you back to lululemon’s loft-style Melbourne HQ, the SSC (Store Support Centre), where it all began. First up, allow me to introduce you to Dan.

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“I’m all good.” lululemon Creative Brand Manager Daniel Shinners agrees this is the usual humdrum reply to a “how-are-ya” from blokes strapped into an average desk-bound office ecosystem. But in lululemon’s predominantly-female Melbourne office, a culture that unlatches its staff to explore ideas for cultural change ― combined with a rich mix of colourful male characters ― created the perfect hothouse for growing connections with deeper roots. When he first joined the lululemon team, Dan found there wasn’t quite enough calendar space to forge deeper friendships with men he didn’t work with directly. “When you start, you tend to just click with a couple of guys you work with regularly,” he says. But a few light-hearted conversations juiced into margins between meetings were about to trigger a change.

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“Because there weren’t many of us guys, one day we started joking about starting a basketball team.” “Not all of us could play, but most decided they were willing to have a crack.” But, like most banter, there was a subtler undercurrent swelling, which washed out far beyond the desire to get some sweet, team-branded uniforms. “Our male staff includes people from a range of backgrounds ― from Dads, to singles ― negotiating the challenges that come with these chapters,” Dan says. “At the same time as talking about basketball, it was clear mental health was also something many of us were interested in,” says Dan. “Despite the success of movements like Beyond Blue, we touched on the lingering stigma, particularly for guys,” says Dan. 

 

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And somewhere ― in the still largely unmapped space between sport and the need to encourage mental health support for guys ― The Support Brahs was born. Read: a Tuesday night game of basketball, as part of a local corporate games series, made up of a motley crew of lululemon dudes with talents spanning ‘got skillz’ to… well, showing up. The game quickly became a weekly highlight; with some serious notes weaving their way around the wing amid the friendly jibes. “It ended up not just being a basketball team, but a space to encourage conversation ― because you need to feel connected to someone first as a way to facilitate those bigger conversations,” Dan says. “We wanted it to just evolve organically, see where it led and not force it.” But, as Dan shares, the impact of the Brahs started to gain traction swifter than you could say strewth.

“After Tuesdays, for the rest of the week, we found we’d talk about the game, joke about the “fine system” we had in place (ed: think, not wearing the team socks), and we even started a wrap up email.” “Especially with guys you wouldn’t normally work with ― it created a common point of connection.” “From there it became so much easier to open up about work, relationships and stuff you might be going through.” And with this year’s Support Brahs funding going to The Movember Foundation, there is a bigger picture reason to get around the court ― with the off-court members of lululemon Melbourne’s team, front and centre, cheering the loudest. “It fires us up, the other night we had a really tight game, it got pretty heated, and having that support from the office really brought home how much this has become part of our team culture.” “We are also dealing more and more with athletes at lululemon, and mental health being so topical across the sports now,” he says.

“The Support Brahs another icebreaker and point of connection when chatting with them.” And you can be sure the girls are matching the boys’ efforts ― the formation of the Brah-lettes followed quickly on the heels of the Brahs’ inception. 

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Dan says having witnessed the rapid-fire ripple effect across their office, the team wants The Support Brahs’ success to encourage other businesses to think about ways they could start creating new spaces to connect, offline. “It doesn’t have to be basketball, it could be any activity with a similar intention,” he says. “We’ve had so much feedback from friends and people in our network working in other businesses who’ve watched the cultural impact this has had from the sidelines, now wanting to try something like the Support Brahs.” “It’s an organic way to open a conversation.

You don’t have to tell everyone how you feel right away, but having that common ground gives a starting point for trust.” “And once you’ve built that you feel comfortable to open up that little bit more.” 

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Dan and the team are encouraging any businesses interested in supporting the movement or starting their own Support Brahs. You’ll have to think of your own clever name though, because banter aside, brah, this one is firmly taken. If you would like to get involved, you can donate to

The Support Brahs’ Movember team, attend one of the Brah-B-Qs, and follow the fun (and probably witness the nurturing of some seriously rude mo’s come November ) on The Support Brahs Instagram.

 

Finally, stay tuned for more in this storytelling series from The Support Brahs on The Sweatlife

 

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Sarah Thompson is an Australian Communications Strategist, passionate about helping change-making organisations tell their stories with power and impact - and running trails on the weekends. You can find out more about her work here, or follow her on blog community or follow her on instagram.