How the AFL industry is supporting mental health

How the AFL industry is supporting mental health

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Player Development and Wellbeing
Player Development and Wellbeing has been one of the AFL industry’s biggest priorities for the last six years.
The 2012-2016 CBA mandated that every AFL club must employ at least one full-time Player Development Manager (PDM) whose sole role is to work with the players to support them and develop their non-football identities.
In addition to this, the AFLPA employs seven Regional Managers across the country who work with the Club PDMS to shape the individual club environments. 15 clubs currently employ a psychologist or psychiatrist to support their players.

National Psychology Network
In 2013 the AFLPA launched its National Psychology Network. The network consists of a diverse range of qualified, registered and experienced psychologists who are available to work one-on-one with players, away from the club environment. There are currently 90 psychologists in this network with representation in each state.
This network is an independent, confidential, player-focused service, provided at no direct cost to current and past players. In 2018, 1678 sessions were delivered to male and female players, as well as past players. This was an increase of 26 per cent on 2017.

Industry Governance Committee for Player Development (IGC)
A key outcome of the 2017-2022 Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) between the AFL and the players (AFLPA) was the direction of more than $2 million per year into Player Development and the formation of the IGC. This committee brings together representatives from the AFLPA, AFL, players (current male and female and past male), clubs and player agents to promote collaboration, consistency and best practice in Player Development across the industry.
The IGC has in 2018 developed a strategy for Player Development for the AFL industry, with one of the outcomes of this strategy being the distribution of $900,000 to the 18 clubs to support them in this area. The majority of clubs have used the money provided to them to enhance the support they provide players in the area of mental health.
A key piece of work commissioned by the IGC over the past 12 months is a Mental Health Industry Review, which was borne out of direct feedback from current players that mental health is their number one area of concern.

Mental Health Industry Review
The Mental Health Industry Review (MHIR) was scoped and conducted by an independent Principal Researcher, who was charged with the task of mapping the current landscape and develop a best practice mental health framework with accompanying recommendations to aid the industry to determine priority focus areas for action. An implementation plan has also been developed.
Over a six month period, the researcher interviewed more than 250 industry representatives drawn from six AFL clubs as well as staff from the AFLPA, AFL, AFLCA and AFLUA.
The review delivered a number of recommendations for the industry, including the implementation of an aligned Industry Mental Health Team, which will bring together the expertise to support clubs and the broader industry in the implementation of all recommendations from the MHIR.

The recommendations out of the review fall into eight key categories:
1. Governance, policy, and planning
2. Program & service delivery
3. Alignment of Player Development approaches to best support mental health
4. Internal AFL industry mental health awareness campaigns that support the mental health of players and staff
5. Access, availability, support, and development of qualified psychologists in the AFL industry
6. Delivery of education and training to industry stakeholder groups (eg. coaches, club staff agents)
7. Evaluation and measurement of mental health and psychology support
8. Industry’s role in supporting mental health outcomes for the community
The IGC is now in the process of prioritising recommendations to be introduced throughout 2019 and will work with the Clubs to implement.

Mental Health and wellbeing promotion
The AFLPA has delivered extensive wellbeing promotion including workshops, campaigns and projects, with the focus on collectively building player wellbeing, resilience, and performance as people. Wellbeing promotion centres on maximising the potential of players during their AFL careers and beyond. Evidence-based mental health education and training is has been delivered throughout the industry by qualified and experienced psychologists with a concise understanding of the industry and environments within.

– Mental Health Education
– Wellbeing workshops
– MindMax resilience
– Player resilience profiling
– Social media
– Gambling Harm Prevention program
– Practical mindfulness

Mental Health Education program
The AFLPA developed its mental health education program, Brain-based Mental Health, in 2017 and has since delivered it to AFL club staff, players and media. The eight-hour certificate program aims to build mental health awareness and literacy by introducing participants to three core themes; understanding, recognising and managing mental health issues.
Media across the country have been invited to participate in this program with many taking up this opportunity.

Community campaigns
Through the ‘Courageous Conversations’ campaign, Dayne Beams, Taylor Adams, Connor Blakely and Matthew Lobbe shared their personal experiences with mental health in a video series led by the AFL Players’ Association in partnership with the Movember Foundation.
The campaign uncovered powerful and inspiring stories as well as acts of courage that strived to break down the traditional stereotypes that often restrict men from feeling comfortable to open up and ask for help. The Courageous Conversations series also highlighted how the definition of courage is evolving in the players’ eyes, fostering a culture of openness and support.
Alongside the content series, the players also donated $60,000 to the Movember Foundation through the AFL Players Care program and altered the selection criteria for the AFLPA ‘Most Courageous’ Award to include off-field acts of courage.

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