Tackle Your Feelings program improves mental health outcomes at the local level

As the football season gets under way again, it’s a perfect time to highlight an innovative education program that is having a real impact in helping improve mental health outcomes for thousands of people playing football in local sports clubs across the country.

Tackle Your Feelings is a free mental health program for community AFL coaches, as well as committee members, some senior players and other club support staff. The program is funded by the Z Zurich Foundation and was developed in conjunction with the AFL Coaches Association and Players’ Association in 2018, after the tragic death of Adelaide coach Phil Walsh three years earlier.

The program is delivered by a local psychologist and helps participants gain the tools to understand, recognise and respond to signs of mental ill-health in their players and teammates.

Tackle Your Feelings ambassador and former Greater Western Sydney Giants coach Leon Cameron says: “The role of a coach has evolved significantly over time, just like society’s awareness and understanding of mental health. It’s not just about the Xs and Os anymore. The coach must build strong personal connections with players and in doing so they are optimally placed to have conversations about mental health if they notice a shift.”

In 2022 alone, the program was delivered to more than 2,500 participants in 205 community clubs in regional and metro areas across the country. Since its inception, more than 7,200 coaches and senior players have been trained across 850 clubs in every state and territory.

To get a clearer picture of the program’s impact, Z Zurich Foundation commissioned an independent evaluation undertaken by Monash University. The findings show that local sporting clubs play a key role in communities as a place where people come connect. The evaluation confirmed that coaches are leaders and role models in local clubs and have significant influence over the culture and well-being of members. The reach of community clubs is also significant – more than 145,000 players have benefited from their leaders completing the Tackle Your Feelings training.

The key findings of the study were that participants improved their knowledge of mental health and wellbeing issues by 30%, decreased the level of social stigma associated with mental health issues by two-thirds, and enhanced their knowledge of resources available to support mental health by more than 20%.

Program manager Adam Baldwin says: “Community football clubs are beginning to understand the responsibility they have to their members to create an environment that prioritises mental health and promotes conversations so that someone who is struggling feels comfortable to ask for help. A key part of Tackle Your Feelings is that it’s delivered by a local psychologist who can remain with the club as an ongoing resource.”

The program is based on training delivered to the AFL industry, and other high-profile player and coach ambassadors include Simon Goodwin, Bec Goddard and Nathan Buckley. Nathan says the content provides coaches with the all-important tools to start a conversation around mental health with confidence: “It’s an awesome program. It’s so succinct and gives you really practical strategies.”

Barbara Jordan, Z Zurich Foundation Regional Engagement Manager for Asia Pacific, says: “We have a commitment to improving mental well-being in communities around the world. Tackle Your Feelings is one of our flagship programs, and we welcome the new data that confirms its positive impact in community sports clubs in Australia and communities more broadly.

“Tackle Your Feelings is an excellent example of many parties collaborating successfully for one common cause, and we thank the AFLCA and AFLPA for their leadership.”

Leon Cameron, Nathan Buckley, Bec Goddard – TYF Ambassadors