Teaching community sports clubs how they can help save lives

Flinders University researchers say community sporting clubs can play an important role in addressing the global mental health crisis.

Physical activity and mental well-being go hand in hand, so how can grassroots sports clubs leverage this to cultivate environments that could improve mental health and potentially save lives?

Against the backdrop of a global mental health crisis, researchers from South Australia’s Flinders University are seeking a deeper understanding of how sports clubs could help to address mental health issues.

“The promotion of mental health and well-being in sport settings may be key to creating ‘safe spaces’, where club members feel a sense of support and are more likely to reach out for help if they need it,” says lead author, Dr Jasmine Petersen from the College of Education, Psychology and Social Work.

Education and support needed

The study, Examining the promotion of mental health and wellbeing in Australian sports clubs, surveyed 300 stakeholders from Australian sports clubs, including sport participants, parents/guardians and committee members.

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“We found that around half of the sports clubs surveyed (47.7 [er cent) reported having initiatives in place to promote mental health and well-being, but very few evidence-based resources were being used,” says Dr Petersen from the College of Education, Psychology and Social Work.

“There seems to be a disconnect between sports clubs’ ‘buy-in’ to promoting mental health and well-being and clubs providing the supports to do so, which is most likely down to a lack of guidance and support.

“Providing sports clubs with greater guidance on how to support mental health and well-being could be critical to bridging this gap.

“At the moment there is a missed opportunity for grassroots sports clubs to cultivate environments that have the potential to drive widespread change in mental health and well-being outcomes.

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Taking a sports-based mental health approach

The study found that in Australian sports clubs there was limited implementation of evidence-based programmes such as Mental Health First Aid training, providing guidance in how to offer initial support to those struggling, or ‘Ahead of the Game’, a sports-based mental health and resilience training program.

“We’d like to see a standardised best practice approach established that uses evidence-based methods to guide sports clubs on how to promote mental health and well-being, and create a positive and supportive environment,” says Dr Petersen.

“The promotion of mental health and well-being in sporting environments is crucial for the overall well-being of athletes and can have a significant impact on their performance and longevity in the sport. By prioritising the development of standardised, best practice approaches in these settings we can help ensure that communities receive the support they need.”

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