From the TYF Program Manager’s desk…

words by Tackle Your Feelings, Thursday 2 April 2020

With the first three months of the year and the program planning behind us, delivery had just begun and then this unprecedented pandemic crept into our new world.  TYF Program Manager Nick Walsh discusses the challenges, opportunities and highlights Tackle Your Feelings has faced so far this year.

Coming into the new year, the demand for the Tackle Your Feelings had spiked significantly following a successful pilot year in 2019.

We began our journey in Western Australia where we delivered the program to West Perth Football Club and a number of other WAFL football coaches in the last week of February. Since that delivery and through to last week, when the COVID-19 restrictions were put in place, the Tackle Your Feelings program has been delivered to over 230 coaches around Australia.

Our program delivery also included a five-day roadshow where we visited bushfire and drought affected regional communities in Victoria’s northeast and New South Wales’ Riverina region. Delivering face-to-face sessions in Myrtleford, Jerilderie, Coleambally and Wagga Wagga, we were able to share our program with nearly 100 community coaches from towns where football is the cornerstone of everything they do.

The highlight of that trip was delivering the program in Jerilderie, a town in the southern Riverina region of NSW with a population of approximately 800 people. Combining a football skills clinic run by AFL Riverina, with a club BBQ and the face-to-face program meant we had more than 100 townspeople join us.

Through the partnership formed with the local Murrumbidgee council and AFL Riverina, we were able to attract different groups of people to the one venue and deliver much more than just Tackle Your Feelings.

It was great to see 1/8 of the population gather at the local football club and further their education around mental health and wellbeing.

Delivering the program to Jerilderie Football Club during the Tackle Your Feelings Riverina tour.

Unfortunately, shortly after that time the full effect of the COVID-19 pandemic took its toll on Australia and we were faced with new challenges around how to deliver a primarily face-to-face program online.

I remember the day clearly when discussions began, it was March 17th, better known as St Patrick’s Day to the Irish. As a working group, we presented to the Steering Committee about how Tackle Your Feelings still planned to deliver the program despite the unique challenges facing us and many other businesses.

From that point, it took close to 10 days to shift the program from an in-person delivery to virtual learning. As a program, we had to ensure with our psychologists that it was safe to teach mental health related content online, identify risks we may face and consider how different it would be compared to in-person.

Understanding those parameters was critical to the success of the program being able to move online and be in place to deliver our first virtual session this evening.

One key component we teach in our program focusses on the mental health continuum: struggling, coping and thriving. The ability to shift up and down that continuum is known as resilience and during these challenging times, our program needs to be resilient in relation to COVID-19. It’s critical for us to have the ability to shift and move as needed and still be able to deliver the program in a time where it is more important than ever.

The opportunity to deliver the program online will give community coaches the ability to lay foundations in understanding and recognising mental health and giving them the tools to support their community upon their return to training.

As a program, we needed to have some tough and honest conversations around what the government and AFL community policies meant for the continuation of Tackle Your Feelings this year.

Although we have halted our normal delivery, our team has worked incredibly hard to put the program in a position where it can be delivered in a virtual capacity, including training eight psychologists to deliver strictly online learning components.

Delivering the program to West Perth Football Club earlier this year.

However, with challenges there comes opportunity. COVID-19 has altered the way our community and the world operate, but it has also opened up the chance for us to try new things.

In the future, virtual learning may be a way we can reach further parts of Australia that we initially could not due to the demand of the program.

As much as 2020 so far has seen us face some significant challenges, there have also been many positive moments.

We have been able to bring the Tackle Your Feelings program from a pilot year to full, accredited delivery through linking with state and community leagues around Australia to help support us.

To see that demand is there for the program shows the importance of our three key pillars:

  • Raising awareness
  • Reducing stigma
  • Changing behaviours and actions associated with mental health  

Football holds a level of significance in communities that cannot be understated and we want to give them the power to make a change.

Our program is ready to help these communities support each other and foster environments where they are able to connect.