YOUNG sporting leaders are urged to check in with a club volunteer because now is when clubmates need each other most, a leading sports mental health expert says.
SALT (Sport and Life Training) facilitator Scott Angove said reaching out and genuinely caring is a key measure of club on-field success. Mr Angove said particularly when it came to community clubs, sport was far more than a game.
The second bout of stage three lockdowns has kicked grassroots clubs hard after the initial optimism and hard work to get training back and, for a few, the chance for competition.
Mr Angove said committee members had been jumping through hoops to get players back in action and an early sense of optimism and motivation had given way to general despair and disappointment.
If you want to show leadership and set the club up for success, investing in volunteers means they're more likely to want to come back.- Scott Angove
"I implore young people to think about volunteers who have given their time to clubs - from the person who washes the jumpers to someone who cuts the oranges - reach out," Mr Angove said.
"Research shows 50 per cent of Victorians haven't been genuinely asked how they are going during the pandemic. If you want to show leadership and set the club up for success, investing in volunteers means they're more likely to want to come back."
SALT had been booked to deliver more than 1000 mental health and well-being sessions this football season. The pandemic wiped these out.
Sessions usually range from toxic masculinity to suicide prevention, responsible gambling and alcohol consumption.
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Instead the organisation has pivoted to delivering free, online club reconnect sessions to all sporting clubs via partnerships with the likes of WorkSafe and Netball Victoria.
Mr Angove said the pandemic has highlighted a vital need for mental health support with issues of isolation loneliness, unemployment and underemployment, alcohol and gambling emerging as key club concerns - from cricket to basketball, gymnastics to dragon boat racing.
"If you're training and playing footy every week there are visual cues, like if a guy's moody. When we're speaking to clubs and ask how you're tracking it's harder," Mr Angove said.
"It's real interesting that we're all experiencing this together. It's an opportunity to open up and go a bit deeper, to ask more follow-up questions."
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In reconnect sessions, participants are asked to rate how they are travelling on a scale of one to 10, with 10 being great. From this, SALT has found about 25 per cent are really struggling.
They focus on those who feel they are going all right and what these participants are doing for self-care, whether it be more time with family or mindfulness techniques.
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Conversely, when someone rates poorer they focus on who is prepared to step up and offer support.
Mr Angove said juniors tended to be more prepared to get vulnerable in the session and were also more likely to step forward in offering support for each other. He said this likely came back to an ingrained toxic masculinity culture that has not served society well - but gradually culture was shifting.
It's all about trust and emotional vulnerability with teammates. Success on field needs that, clubs need that.- Scott Angove
"(AFL club) Richmond at the end of 2016 knew something had to change. Captain Trent Cotchin and coach Damien Hardwick made the decision at the end of every training session someone would speak of their struggles off-field. Richmond won the premiership the next year," Mr Angove said.
"It's all about trust and emotional vulnerability with teammates. Success on field needs that, clubs need that."
Mr Angove pointed to the popular Rokewood-Corindhap city fit versus country fit club video that was picked up nationwide as a great example of clubmates keeping each other engaged. He also said the statewide country challenge, won by Lexton Football Netball Club, had offered fun and physical tests.
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These were the foundations for what sporting clubs could do best in looking out for each other.
Mr Angove said joining a sporting club was a choice in life, it was often why people felt so connected and it was a place young leaders could be incredibly influential.
For more details to accessing SALT's Club Reconnect program, visit: sportandlifetraining.com.au/club-reconnect.
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