Community sport can provide an important contribution to community regeneration following a crisis. We know COVID-19 has placed a considerable challenge on many aspects of life for a significant proportion of the community. Not everyone is affected to the same extent and not everyone has the same response to similar situations.
So while there are many logistical requirements to manage your sport through COVID-19 reboot, those who can establish a genuinely welcoming, safe and inclusive environment can provide a community benefit and also receive a benefit from a strengthened value in community during time of crisis recovery. For many sports, particularly those in rural and regional areas, this is possibly nothing new. However, the extent to which COVID-19 is shared nationally and even internationally creates a new challenge... and opportunity.
Creating a genuinely welcoming, safe and inclusive environment requires consideration to the policies and practice set by your leadership and the extent to which they are supported and managed within your club, league or association. The current challenges produced through COVID-19, mean that actively addressing mental health and wellbeing is one important step your sport can take, even if playing competition is not possible right now.
Maintaining activity in your sport during 2020, even if just training and adapted "friendly" competition, will provide a place for your community to begin its recovery and regeneration from this time.
This article outlines practical approaches and resources you can draw upon to guide a mental health and wellbeing focus. However, it can still be a little daunting if this is not an area where the leadership team feels confident. Contact Reboot Sport if you would like guidance on how to go about creating a mental health and wellbeing focus in your sport.
1) Develop a mental health and wellbeing policy and procedures
Agreement by the Committee or Board on the intent to build a policy and associated procedures would be a useful start. Appendix A outlines a number of places you can go to access resources to get underway.
Start simple... you can build on that over time, however it would be helpful to act quickly and simply rather than getting too caught up in large and complicated strategies. Keep in mind an initial priority to enable your sport to play a role in strengthening the mental health and wellbeing of your membership as the community moves through a major unsettling period of time. Your sport doesn't even need to be currently competing in order to provide this value.
An initial intent along the lines of... "We aim to provide a safe, supportive and inclusive environment in which all members of the community are welcome to join, participate and contribute" would provide a basis to build relevant practices or procedures.
2) Identify priorities to include in your policy and procedures based on your local sport, community and mental health services
Once you initiate the process, a simple needs analysis to consider how well your current practices support good mental health and wellbeing provides a starting point. The Play by the Rules website provides an excellent point to consider inclusive strategies. A rich arrangement of case studies also provide further inclusive options to explore. Appendix A (below) provides further examples of where you can access information on how sport can promote good mental health and wellbeing.
Making contact with at least one of your local mental health services brings you in touch with professionals who work with these types of issues daily. Refer to Appendix D for a list of services while your State or Territory is also likely to have additional services you can draw upon. Your local community based services are a key partner. They may provide specific advice in relation to your policy and procedures as well as become a valuable contact for the club to draw upon. They will be able to identify additional ways for individuals to access services if they require mental health support.
The intent of the mental health and wellbeing policy would be for your sport to play a prevention or strengthening role in mental health and wellbeing. However, if a situation arises that requires professional support, establishing a relationship with a local service provider will be useful.
3) Nominate a leader in your sport to champion the mental health and wellbeing focus
The Committee should match the nominated leader/s with the role. Importantly, unless the individual/s is appropriately qualified, it would be wise to be clear they are not taking on a mental health service provider role. A brief and clear position statement would help guide the extent of the wellbeing champion's role.
In most sports, a wellbeing champion would take on a role where they have three priorities: i) assist the Committee or Board to develop and implement the policy and procedures; ii) active input into your broader local sport practices that demonstrate that enable you to create and maintain a safe, welcoming and inclusive environment; and iii) encourage and enable promotion of good mental health and wellbeing.
In situations where professionally qualified leaders take on the wellbeing champion role, they may also consider acting in more of an initial mental health support type capacity. Alternatively, there are various mental health first aid short courses available (now accessible online). Where appropriate training and support is in place, the wellbeing champion may provide a contact point for members and players/participants. For most sports though, this is likely to be out of scope initially as it can be a more complex undertaking.
4) Promote and support your mental health and wellbeing focus
This may include talking with your membership about mental health and wellbeing and the steps you are undertaking to promote and support good mental health.
Consider reviewing broader practices to encourage a safe, welcoming and inclusive environment. This is also useful discussion with members. These participation focused strategies will potentially also lead to attracting new members and participants. This Funding article (updated regularly) shows funding is available for sports that focus on inclusive participation. Realistically, if your sport is not encouraging and enabling diversity and inclusion, especially in COVID-19 times, then there will be challenge in promoting mental health and wellbeing.
Many of the large mental health promotion organisations provide regular resource and information updates through social and professional media. These posts, websites, links and resources can be shared among membership through normal communication channels. Some resources can also be provided physically for distribution to or available for members to take after training or match day. Consider how you may also make mental health service contact details accessible for members.
Two large barriers for accessing mental health support include stigma and having had a previous negative experience when attempting to find support. A genuinely supportive club, league or association will search for ways help to minimise these issues.
While ensuring you comply with State / Territory COVID-19 restrictions, draw on ways to enable your membership to actively engage and support each other, as the camaraderie and energy that comes from your sport is an important part of the community working toward re-strengthening. Is someone looking out for the member/s who you haven't heard from for a little while?
The resources listed in the Appendix provide further information as you explore how to promote good mental health and wellbeing through your sport. Consider also how you Reboot Sport for PARTICIPATION to Thrive. Keeping your sport active in 2020 is valuable not just for your sport, but also for your community.
APPENDIX: MENTAL HEALTH AND WELLBEING IN SPORT RESOURCES
A) Sport Specific Resources
Resources may be specifically focused on a sport or geographical location, but the framework and resources provided can be easily adapted for your specific scenario.
Mental Health Policy and Procedures Template from Reboot Sport (contact for free access). An option as a starting point to shape up your own policy and procedures. A discussion starter with your Board / Committee. Adapt in to your own policy structures and draw on discussion with local service providers to shape your own policy and procedures that increase focus on mental health.
Good Sports Healthy Minds (Tasmania) from the Alcohol and Drug Foundation. Provides a structure and guidance for Tasmanian clubs to implement a mental health policy and supporting actions.
Tackle Your Feelings program from the AFL Coaches Association. Includes free access to training and tools to break down the barriers of talking about mental health and learn how to role-model positive action to strengthen your club’s understanding and awareness. Supports community coaches to broaden their capacity to influence the mental health of those within their football environment.
State of Mind program from the NRL aims to reduce stigma around mental illness, increase participant understanding of mental health, stimulate help seeking behaviours by educating and informing the rugby league community with appropriate resources and literature and connect rugby league communities with our expert partners.
Play by the Rules website from Sport Australia provides many resources, policy templates and articles to help build inclusive sport. Promoting good mental health and wellbeing requires an inclusive mindset to begin with.
B) Practical Mental Health Resources
Your sport may wish to actively promote information to help members understand more about maintaining good mental health, particularly during difficult times.
Head to Health website by the Australian Government provides comprehensive suite of mental health guides with over 500 digital resources available.
Staying Ahead eBook from Prevention United. This booklet is for people wanting simple and practical tips to promote their mental wellbeing and reduce their risk of experiencing a mental health condition. The strategies recommended are based on the latest research evidence for what works.
You can order a range of mental health resources free from Beyondblue that can be delivered in hard copy for members to access. Create a login on the Beyondblue resource site to access multiple copies for your organisation.
Mental health resources and support tools from the Black Dog Institute, research-informed and recommended by professionals.
C) COVID-19 Mental Health Resources
Useful resources to promote to members and/or build your own understanding of where to find evidence based and effective information and support. Search for information that can be verified as evidence based and the source well positioned to provide balanced and unbiased information.
COVID-19 mental health resource links by Prevention United. Draw on a range of resources identified by a national mental health prevention focused organisation. Links to Apps, videos, resources and Government health websites in every state / territory. Useful information for children, young people, parents and adults.
COVID-19 mental health resource links by Health Impact Solutions. In significant times, there is an overwhelming volume of information to sift through. It is difficult to source or even know where to look for credible sources of information.
D) Mental Health Support
Free support services open 24/7:
- COVID-19 Mental Wellbeing Support Line 1800 512 348
- Lifeline 13 11 14
- Beyond Blue 1300 224 636
- Kids Helpline 1800 551 800
Search for your local services:
- Find your local Headspace centre
- Community health services, vary depending on your state / territory
- Local General Practitioner
- Local emergency mental health service
We welcome further recommendations on sites and resources available to guide sport support for mental health and wellbeing.
Note: The information in this article does not constitute professional or expert advice in relation to diagnosis, treatment or provision of advice relating to any illness or disorder and is not intended to substitute for such advice. If you have concerns about your mental health, consult a medical doctor or qualified mental health professional. If you require assistance, please draw upon the Mental Health Support services listed above.