During the 2023 Footy season, Clubs in the Mortlock, Central Wheatbelt and Eastern Districts Football Leagues will be given the opportunity to be involved in an innovative opt-in Country Football Wellbeing Program (CFWP), developed by the Holyoake Wheatbelt Suicide Prevention Project (WSPP) in partnership with the Country Football WA (CFWA) and Healthway.
A confronting statistic is that men account for around 75% of all suicides in Australia, and yet this cohort are often the most challenging to engage with due to self-stigma and levels of unhealthy stoicism.
Acknowledging the strong connection that many men have with their football club, and them identifying their Club as being one of their strongest protective factors, it provided the perfect platform to launch this innovative program.
Coupled with the rising number of men that identify with the connections that football brings, the initiative will also present multiple opportunities to promote positive healthy messaging, expand their knowledge, develop stigma reducing activities and increase their self-awareness and confidence to support each other. Whether they play, coach, hold an administrative role or an avid supporter or parent, the CFWP will provide opportunities for football clubs to further enhance the support they provide to those involved in their club.
Holyoake CEO Lorraine Keane said; ‘Holyoake is honoured to be a key player in this innovative program with Country Football WA (CFWA) and Healthway. Collectively, we can promote mental health awareness throughout the Wheatbelt, encourage impactful conversations around mental health and wellbeing on and off the field and engage the communities to connect with each other on a sporting and social level. Suicide is a wicked problem impacting our most rural communities. Initiatives like this strengthen relationships, providing a safe place for people to discuss any issues, seek help and reduce the stigma’.
Although the primary target audience for the Country Football Wellbeing Program (CFWP) is males, there is also a focus on females, children, and young people. Activities and initiatives outlined in the CFWP will further connect community members to their football clubs, with clubs providing a diverse range of activities that can be easily accessed by all. It is envisaged that there will be mutually reinforcing benefits for all involved, with the potential for clubs to increase their membership by providing a safe, respectful, and inclusive club environment.
Clubs will receive a list of positive mental health and club culture activities that they can engage in and will then be rewarded with ‘club points’ which can be redeemed for an extensive selection of branded merchandise/equipment throughout the year.
The overarching aims of the CFWP are:
- Increase knowledge/ mental health literacy of participants
- Increase participants’ confidence to engage in positive conversations around health and wellbeing
- Increase competency of leadership within the Wheatbelt to enhance local contribution to community health and wellbeing
- Strengthen club environments to ensure they are safe, inclusive and have a positive impact on player/club members’ behaviour, health & wellbeing
WA Football Commission’s Executive Manager Country Football, Affiliates & Facilities, Tom Bottrell said; ‘Country Football WA (CFWA) is proud to partner with Holyoake and Healthway for this important initiative. These Leagues have all been impacted significantly by critical incidents in recent years. The aim of this program is to continue the work being done across the State to reduce stigma and spark some important conversations around mental health and wellbeing. This collaboration provides CFWA with an opportunity to reward clubs that champion mental health awareness at a local level and invest directly back into these Wheatbelt communities. The early uptake from clubs has been significant, and we are hopeful of expanding this pilot program across the State in the near future’.
Activities that football clubs can earn ‘club points’ are divided into 4 strategic categories:
- Communication (examples below):
– Promotion of resources and communication materials that support mental health and wellbeing through club environment
– Promotion of Think Mental Health Round; Talk to a Mate® BBQ ; Bush Footy Legends Podcast or Regional Men’s Health Podcast (club email, social media and poster around the club) ; and R U OK? messaging
– Dissemination of awareness raising messaging and promotional assets developed by the Wheatbelt Suicide Prevention Coordination and the WSPP
- Education (examples below):
– Club engages in a mental health awareness session- Host a presentation by Royal Perth Hospital’s P.A.R.T.Y. (Preventing Alcohol & Risk-Related Trauma in Youth) Outreach presentation for young members & parents; a Talk to a Mate® BBQ’ and invite all Club and community members to attend;
– Mental health training completed by Club Member (provider must be listed within the CFWP Education and Training Guide)
– Identify a ‘Wellbeing Coordinator’ to fulfil roles and responsibilities as listed in the position description provided by Healthway
- Environment (examples below):
– Club works with Healthway, Sportwest and local services to facilitate the development of a ‘Health & Wellbeing Action Plan’ that aligns with individual and community wellbeing
– Club engages members in RSA training
– Club becomes an active member of the Good Sports program and provides evidence of contacting their Alcohol and Drug Foundation staff member
– Club achieves ‘Silver Accreditation’ or ‘Gold Accreditation’ of the Good Sports program
– Implement a ‘Skippers’ program or provide free bus transport for patrons after an event.
– Inclusion of an Acknowledgement of Country during official proceedings within club in line with Reconciliation Australia recommendations or the inclusion of a Welcome to Country prior to football matches across NAIDOC round.
– Acknowledgement of significant events that promote inclusion and diversity
- Relationships (examples below):
– Develop partnership with local community group / service provider to facilitate mental health and wellbeing and alcohol & drug prevention outcomes or program delivery
– Develop partnership with local Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisation (ACCO) and/or identified Elders to facilitate a cultural awareness activity for the club
Healthway and Lotterywest CEO Ralph Addis said Healthway is proud to work with Country Football WA to deliver mental health strategies in football clubs across the state. “Sporting clubs, like football, are places where players and members naturally seek support from their mates,” he said. “By providing clubs access to the necessary education and support services, we can aim to make a difference to the mental health and wellbeing of not only a football club but the whole community.”
Although the intended primary target audience for the CFWP is football clubs, since promotion of the initiative has commenced, there has been keen interest from other sporting codes (Netball and Hockey) and it is hoped that there is potential to expand the project to, not only other football leagues within the Wheatbelt and other regions, but potentially to other sporting codes, as the concept is easily adaptable to suit any demographic or sporting code.
Holyoake Wheatbelt Suicide Prevention Coordinator Jo Drayton who oversees the WSPP & CFWP advised “Football Clubs, for us, are an ideal platform to promote health, safety and wellbeing. Through the CFWP we are able to provide comprehensive guidance to Clubs on evidence informed and evidence based activities that are, not only easy to implement, but effective in creating positive behaviour change. This program also provides creative opportunities for Clubs to engage and connect with professionals and para-professionals working in the sector. Through the Wheatbelt Suicide Prevention Project we are consistently looking at new ways to strengthen our over-arching safety networks in the Wheatbelt; and football clubs are obviously an important and pivotal partner for us. We are looking forward to measuring the positive impact of this initiative at the end of the footy season.”
Of note and importance, the Holyoake CFWP has also been designed to value-add and enrich other suicide prevention activity that is being delivered through the Wheatbelt Suicide Prevention Project. This ensures that there are always a wide range of multifaceted and co-designed community-led initiatives and opportunities available for all those residing within the Wheatbelt.
Koorda Football Club Captain, Ryan Greaves said; Everyone we know is affected by mental health in some way, whether that’s yourself personally or someone you hold close to you. It’s often the people you least expect that are struggling the most, especially in rural areas. It’s often someone you’re close with. Seeing teammates in the past really struggle with mental health has helped me personally open up, and the ability of a team environment had in getting me comfortable enough to talk about things you might not be used to, is an amazing thing. Even just mates checking up on each other can go a long way in the scheme of things. Out here especially, it’s more than just sport, it’s about the whole community. The social side that sport brings to rural communities like ours brings everyone together and makes everyone feel welcomed and able to feel like they’re in a safe environment. Sitting down on a Saturday after a game or in the change-rooms after a training having a chat with a mate is half the reason we play sport. If we can do that and have a chat with a mate on how he/she is going we might end up saving someone’s life, you never knew needed saving.
For further information on the Holyoake WSPP Country Football Wellbeing Program please contact:
Jo Drayton (Wheatbelt Suicide Prevention Coordinator) JDrayton@holyoake.org.au or
Daniel Murphy (Community Development Specialist – Country Football WA) email@example.com.