Blair O’Hara – VAFA General Manager – Commercial Operations
This weekend, the VAFA turns its off-field gaze to an issue that affects everyone in some capacity. One in four young Australians will experience a mental health issue and recent statistics indicate this is trending in the wrong direction. Sadly, only a quarter of those affected seek help.
Many VAFA clubs have experienced significant tragedies in recent years and do wonderful work to raise funds and create awareness for organisations working to tackle mental health issues and provide support for those that need it.
Over the past four years, the VAFA have been proud to support home-grown mental health awareness organisation, Thick & Thin. This weekend, over a third of our clubs will participate in the dedicated round and wear Navy or Sky blue coloured socks during games to draw awareness to the cause.
Recent VAFA players and Thick & Thin founders, Simon Hogan (Uni Blacks) & Scott Sherwen (Old Scotch), have been encouraged by the willingness of fellow players to become involved with the charity and do their bit to promote mental health awareness throughout the VAFA, either in their capacity as a committee member or as a key spokesperson within their club.
An important part of the fundraising outcomes for Thick & Thin is to allow two representatives from each participating club to register for formal mental health training with the Mental Health Education Group. This training will equip club members to recognise signs and symptoms, know what to say, and be confident in knowing what to do.
It’s encouraging to hear about the numerous individuals within the VAFA community that have approached the Thick & Thin committee members, acknowledging the importance of the cause. The awareness campaign, and the engagement with formal training, makes our community better prepared to have raw and powerful conversations with those that may be suffering.
Indeed, upon reflection of the support staff around professional or amateur sporting clubs, the balance is skewed heavily to attend to all matter of physical ailments, while mental health issues which affects on-field performance profoundly are not adequately supported. It can create a negative compounding effect when an individual has no outlet to express mental health concerns or if they are worried about how those concerns will be perceived.
Creating wide spread awareness is important to drive cultural change to allow for the acknowledgment of an anxiety disorder to be treated with the same level of attention and compassion as a hamstring injury, for example. Health is not isolated to the physical body and it is timely to emphasise how much our mental and emotional states affect our overall well-being.
Sporting clubs and associations provide an important framework for local communities. Over many decades, VAFA clubs have done a tremendous job building strong cultures and creating places that individuals want to be part of. This weekend’s Thick & Thin mental health awareness round provides a new opportunity for individuals and clubs to evaluate how can we better support each other and our members in this regard.
The VAFA would like to acknowledge the following clubs, participating in the sock fundraising component this weekend: AJAX, Hawthorn, Old Trinity, Caulfield Grammarians, St Bernard’s, Ormond, Emmaus St Leo’s, Beaumaris, Old Brighton, Uni Blacks, Old Xaverians, St Bedes/Mentone Tigers, Melbourne University, West Brunswick, Old Scotch, De La Salle, Fitzroy, Old Carey and Kew. We know many other clubs not listed above are aligned with and proactive in supporting different mental health charities and we recognise those valuable efforts too. We encourage all clubs to be vocal in how mental health can be more openly discussed and supported for the benefit of their players, volunteers, families and supporters.
We’d also like to recognise apparel supplier, TLA, for donating the socks used for the fundraising component of this initiative.
This weekend, let’s remember we all play ‘For the Love of the Game’ and the healthy outcomes of our participation are ultimately more rewarding than the outcomes on the scoreboard.