• A supplied image obtained on Friday, July 7, 2017 of Rugby league great Alan Tongue who visited Darwin's Don Dale Detention Centre. (NATIONAL AUSTRALIA DAY COUNCIL)Source: NATIONAL AUSTRALIA DAY COUNCIL
There's many different Aboriginal languages spoken in the Northern Territory's youth prisons, but one common language they all understand is footy.
10 Jul 2017 - 12:02 PM  UPDATED 10 Jul 2017 - 12:02 PM

Rugby league great Alan Tongue believes passing the footy around can be a powerful tool for rehabilitating troubled youngsters and he's tapping into that connection to sport to get his message across.

The ACT Australian of the Year has been touring the NT this week and visited Darwin's notorious Don Dale Detention Centre, where boys were tear gassed in 2014, prompting a royal commission.

Tongue gave the inmates a taste of the mentoring program he's brought to Canberra's juvenile jails and high schools since retiring from the Raiders in 2011.

He believes disengaged kids can learn important life skills like honesty, accountability and discipline on the sporting field.

"They were really receptive to that. They don't want to sit down and be lectured at," he told AAP.

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"The challenge now is for those young men who absorbed that message to instil it in their lives. And we need to support them and encourage them."

The former Raiders skipper says there's a real need for his Aspire program, which focuses on prevention and early intervention, in the Territory.

His "eye opening" visit has inspired him to come back and link with locals to empower communities to help deliver the model.

Tongue says that kinesthetic way of learning resonates with indigenous elders he's met in Alice Springs and Tennant Creek, who pass on traditions and law through dance and song.

Sport is also a good platform to get conversation flowing about the taboo topic of domestic abuse and Tongue's awareness program is delivered nationally with the NRL and has been taken to Papua New Guinea and Fiji.

It uses football drills and physical movement to break down barriers of shame and change attitudes among players.

"Men are the main perpetrators of this violence, men need to make change. And we have an opportunity to get in front of men by going through our football clubs," Tongue said.

"That'll then filter back into our communities and our family homes."

He's also partnered with Barnardos to teach young people how to build respectful relationships to tackle the national issue that plagues many remote communities.

Tongue spent 13 years with Raiders, captained the side for five years and played 220 games.

"But you know how many premierships I won? None. And I share this with the kids because I don't look at myself as a failure in that space," he said.

"Because I ripped in and I worked as hard as I could. If you can walk away from anything you do knowing you've given your absolute best, you're an absolute success."

AAP