SA footy clubs get Ahead of the Game to tackle youth mental health

May 2, 2024

Thousands of young South Australian footballers and their clubs are set to benefit from the AFL and Movember’s Ahead of the Game (AOTG) program as the initiative officially launches across the state.

The free youth mental health program, presented by Coles, teaches players, parents, coaches, umpires and volunteers to understand mental health, build mental fitness and strengthen resilience.

With players learning how to deal with challenges in both sport and life, the program is aimed at changing the face of mental health throughout the Australian football community and sits within the AFL’s Mental Fitness Charter.

Since its inception in June last year, the program has delivered 360 workshops at more than 60 local clubs across Victoria, Tasmania, New South Wales and Queensland – ultimately having a positive impact on more than 6,000 participants including parents and coaches.

Once the program has completed its staggered rollout across Australia, it will be the largest rollout of a mental fitness program in sport globally, with workshops facilitated by familiar and trusted local delivery partners at clubs’ facilities before, during or after training.

In South Australia, Breakthrough Mental Health Research Foundation and Sonder Care – lead agency for four South Australian headspace centres – have signed on to be delivery partners of the program and will be on the ground facilitating the workshops at clubs in the community.

The program was launched in SA at Para Hills Football Club, which competes in the National Pharmacies SANFL Juniors competition and will be among the first clubs to take part in the program.

Para Hills Football Club junior players Hayley Fielke and Jake Kopeikin with Port Adelaide’s Jackson Mead.

AFL Head of Mental Health and Wellbeing Dr Kate Hall said it was exciting to see AOTG reach the next phase of its national rollout.

“We’re proud Ahead of the Game is now available to local clubs in South Australia so we can make a positive impact on more players, parents, coaches, volunteers and the entire football community,” Dr Hall said.

“Since we launched the joint youth mental health initiative with Movember last year, we’ve brought 18 delivery partners into the AOTG team to deliver the program to their local communities across four states and territories, officially training more than 200 facilitators. For the remainder of 2024 we intend to deliver an additional 600 workshops at approximately 100 community clubs, equating to 10,000 more program participants.

“We know our love for footy connects people and creates a sense of belonging – the perfect environment to deliver a youth mental health program that gives everyone at the club the tools to recognise mental health challenges, identify when and where to get help, and build resilience to deal with challenges in sport and life. Ahead of the Game is a flagship program in our Mental Fitness Charter.”

Matt Duldig, SANFL Executive General Manager Football said the Ahead of the Game program continues SANFL and the AFL’s commitment to supporting the mental wellbeing and resilience of our young players and officials, their parents, coaches and broader football community.

“We know football clubs provide much more than just fielding teams – they help increase social connections and improve wellbeing, mental and physical health,” Duldig said.

“This unique opportunity to partner with the AFL and Movember to deliver this outstanding free program to our clubs across the state is a great outcome for footy.”

Breakthrough Mental Health Research Foundation CEO John Mannion addresses Para Hills Football Club players.

Movember’s Director, Global Sports Health Initiative, Owen Brigstock-Barron said:

“We’ve seen the positive impact Movember Ahead of the Game has had on grassroots community football across Victoria, New South Wales, Queensland and Tasmania, and are thrilled to continue expansion of the program into South Australia in partnership with the AFL.

“We know that evidence-based mental health programs like Movember Ahead of the Game effectively engage young teenage athletes leading to increases in mental well-being and teaching the essential skills to encourage others to seek help when needed, as well as the knowledge to spot the signs and symptoms associated with monitoring their own mental wellbeing.

“By proactively equipping sporting communities with the skills and resources to be able to identify and seek support for mental health challenges early, we are taking a preventative approach that aims to slow the burden of poor mental health for future generation.”

Coles General Manager of Health, Safety and Wellbeing, Angela Konstantopoulos said the AOTG program closely aligned with one of Coles key values – to care for each other.

“We are excited to be working closely with the AFL on this mental health program that closely aligns with the work we do to support our team members with various training materials and resources. We know how important it is to breakdown the stigma around mental health, and this is a fantastic opportunity for our teams to champion this within their local communities.

“So many of our team are members or volunteers at their local footy clubs, and programs like this are a fantastic way to help communities lean into having open conversations and show genuine care for each other.”

About Ahead of the Game

Ahead of the Game uses sport to teach young players, parents, coaches, umpires and volunteers how to talk about mental health. The program reviews how to recognise mental health challenges facing young players, what to do and when to get help. Players learn how to build resilience and overcome challenges in sport and life.

This program is designed to engage the whole local community sport ecosystem. It includes interactive workshops and materials for community teams and their support network of parents, coaches and volunteers.

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