In short

A Flinders University study has found around half of sporting clubs are currently offering mental health initiatives to their members. 

The study has also found local clubs often lack the resources to implement best practice programs. 

What’s next?

Local sporting clubs running their own programs hope they can extend them to reach more sections of the community.

Two years ago, a group of volunteers at a country South Australian football club decided they needed to make change. 

The Barmera-Monash Football Club, based in the Riverland, had been rocked after three people connected to the organisation died by suicide in the space of a year.

The club decided it needed to try something different to improve conversations around mental health in the tight-knit community. 

The Barmera-Monash Football Club has now held two mental health awareness rounds in the Riverland Football League.(Supplied: Grant Schwartzkopff)

A group of volunteers came together to start a wellbeing committee, dedicated to promoting mental health initiatives at the club. 

“It’s been pretty overwhelming, the success we’ve had and the impact we’ve had in our little community,” committee chair Mick Scordo said. 

“I was having a chat to one of the older blokes at the club and I’ve found we’re not only having an impact on the players and members, but the community as a whole.”

Since the group was established, it has organised regular programs including an awareness round, family fun days, and mental health first aid training.

Mick Scordo also works as a trained counsellor in the Riverland.(Supplied: Mick Scordo)

Mr Scordo, who also works as a trained counsellor in the Riverland, said consistently discussing positive mental health habits had transformed the club, both on and off the field. 

“I’d love to see it at every club, to be honest,” he said. 

“We’ve had conversations with other clubs around here about how we formed our committee and some of our goals. 

“A lot of clubs get workshops in for a one-off, but I really think [mental health is] one of those things that needs to be tackled outside of an individual session.”

Resources running short  

A recent study from Flinders University found around half the sporting clubs it surveyed offered some form of mental health program. 

Researcher Jasmine Petersen said sporting clubs involved a wide range of community members, making mental health programs vital. 

“There is this disconnect between sporting clubs wanting to support mental health and actually implementing initiatives,” Dr Petersen said. 

“We think this disconnect is because they don’t know how to implement these initiatives. 

Jasmine Petersen says clubs need help to support their members’ mental health.(Supplied: Jasmine Petersen)

“Other prominent barriers include not having the time, the knowledge or the money, since we know volunteers in sporting clubs are already quite burdened.”

Dr Petersen said a “best practice” program should be developed to help clubs implement consistent approaches to improving their members’ mental health. 

“We’re playing around with a toolkit that’s less structured and more flexible that clubs can tailor to their needs,” she said. 

“It really takes the onus off of sporting clubs so that we’re providing really explicit guidance [and] taking away some of those burdens around time, money, and knowledge.”  

Clubs ‘a place to connect’ 

Earlier this year, the Nangwarry Football Club, based in a small forestry town in SA’s south east, was rocked by the sudden death of one of its young players. 

Celeste Raymond promotes positive mental health initiatives at the Nangwarry Football and Netball Club.(ABC South East SA: Sam Bradbrook)

Celeste Raymond has been working with the club for four years, talking to players about their mental health and offering a safe space to seek support. 

She said while the event was tragic, having established supports in place to discuss mental health helped the club process the news together. 

“I think sporting clubs are a really great place to connect with people on so many levels and mental health really underpins wellbeing,” she said. 

“Having someone there as we needed when we had a crisis situation … it really was my role then to be there on site as someone they knew. 

Ms Raymond has promoted the Switch the Play initiative at clubs throughout South Australia’s south east.(ABC South East SA: Sam Bradbrook)

“It was quite a natural thing for me to be there and to be providing that support.” 

Ms Raymond, a qualified social worker, said clubs needed to think long term about their players’ mental health and not just rely on irregular interventions. 

The Nangwarry Football and Netball Club is based just north of Mount Gambier.(Facebook: Nangwarry Football Club)

She said giving young men a structured way to seek support was vital. 

“We don’t have data or any research to prove it, but I know there is a general feeling [that] if something goes wrong or they have something going on in their lives, they have a resource they can just check in to,” Ms Raymond said.

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