How community footy clubs are tackling mental health

words by Tackle Your Feelings, Wednesday 22 February 2023

A mental health program for local footy clubs backed by Nathan Buckley, Bec Goddard, Leon Cameron and Simon Goodwin increases a participant’s knowledge of mental health and wellbeing by up to 30 per cent, according to research conducted by Monash University.

A controlled research study into Tackle Your Feelings completed in 2021 with 25 community clubs from across Victoria found the program significantly increased a participant’s confidence to support and refer someone who they identified as struggling with their mental health. The study also found a 22 per cent increase in a participant’s knowledge of resources available to support mental health.

Monash University Associate Professor Justen O’Connor said pre-existing research endorsed community sport as an effective vehicle for mental health support, and this latest study demonstrates the specific effect that can be achieved.

“Given people are more likely to seek out informal sources of support for mental health issues, community sporting clubs offer an important site for health promotion, particularly when they integrate with the wider community and health resources,” Associate Professor O’Connor said at the Tackle Your Feelings season launch event held at the MCG on Wednesday.

Tackle Your Feelings is a free mental health training program delivered by a local psychologist for community AFL coaches, as well as committee members and other club support staff. The 90-minute workshop aims to help participants gain the tools to Understand, Recognise and Respond to signs of mental ill-health in their players.

The program, which also includes online learning, launched in 2019 and has since been delivered to more than 7200 participants from more than 850 community football clubs across every state and territory in Australia.

“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,” Program Manager Adam Baldwin said.

“Local sporting clubs have for many years invested into the physical health of their players by providing physios, trainers and in some instances, doctors, but more clubs are now looking to add mental health support. 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.”

In his role as an ambassador, Cameron, who coached the GWS Giants to the 2019 AFL grand final, has attended several workshops at community football clubs to encourage coaches to invest in upskilling themselves in mental health.

“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,” he said.

The program was formed by the AFL Coaches Association, AFL Players’ Association and Zurich Insurance in 2018, after the tragic death of Adelaide coach Phil Walsh three years earlier.

Linda Griffin, Head of Brand, Marketing & Corporate Affairs, Zurich Australia & New Zealand and Tackle Your Feelings Steering Committee Chair, expressed pride in what the program has achieved in this time.

“Zurich is incredibly proud to have supported Tackle Your Feelings since its inception. There has never been a more important time to prioritise mental health education and support initiatives that improve awareness in the community,” Ms Griffin said.

“The results of this report demonstrate that Tackle Your Feelings is a proven success and, more importantly, provide an encouraging signal of the difference the program will continue to make into the future.”

Tackle Your Feelings is funded by the Z Zurich Foundation in Switzerland, which focusses on wellbeing, climate change and social equity.

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

“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.”

A network of more than 100 psychologists based around the country are deployed to community clubs in their region to deliver the program through a partnership with the Australian Psychological Society (APS).

“Football is the beating heart of many towns across Australia and gives people the chance to be part of a community and get support when needed”, APS CEO Dr Zena Burgess said.

“The work APS psychologists do combining community-based sport with psychological training to upskill local footy clubs and coaches makes a real difference and we can’t wait to help even more people in 2023.”

The research paper was published in the Journal of Mental Health and Prevention can be accessed here.


1) Coaches see that they have an important role in supporting the mental health and wellbeing of their players but don’t always feel confident they have the skills to have conversations
2) TYF improves coaches’ understanding of mental health and wellbeing
3) TYF increases coaches’ confidence to have conversations with their players about mental health and wellbeing
4) Coaches who have completed the TYF program provide an environment that improves the willingness of players to discuss mental health and wellbeing and seek help
5) When both coaches and players complete the TYF program, there are additional benefits than if just coaches had completed the program


• People undertaking the TYF program increase their confidence to support and refer by 14 per cent
• Participants reported an increase of six per cent in the network of people they would reach out to for help for someone (this represents an extra person per participant based on a list of 10 options)
• 22 per cent increase in their knowledge of resources available to support mental health
• 30 per cent increase in their self-rated knowledge of mental health and wellbeing issues.
• Participants decrease their desire to maintain any social distance (stigma) from people with a mental health issue, from 15 to 5 per cent
(Based on median data, compared to control)


Nathan Buckley (Ambassador) – “It’s an awesome program. It’s so succinct and gives you really practical strategies…It’s a great conversation starter”

Bec Goddard (Ambassador) – “Coaches are so influential in the lives of their players, and everyone with a football club for that matter, and with this comes a responsibility to ensure they play their role to create an environment where people feel safe, supported and comfortable to ask for help if they need it. Not every community coach is going to be confident in this area, so being able to access a free program to help them develop is gold”

Dylan Buckley (Ambassador) – “I’ve been fortunate to visit several community clubs with Tackle Your Feelings over the past three years and I’ve seen how effective the program is in starting conversations that will hopefully lead to change within the club. Particularly in regional areas where the community may have experienced the loss of someone due to mental health or challenges related to climate, the program has a way of surfacing things that otherwise might have been left unsaid.”


Melbourne High School Old Boys Football Club, based in Melbourne, participated in the Tackle Your Feelings program in 2021 and 2022. A key outcome from the first workshop was to form a connection with the local psychologist representing the Tackle Your Feelings program. Bree Van Ryswyk, a clinical psychologist, began regularly attending trainings and games, as well as delivering regular wellbeing workshops based on the club’s needs. In 2022, a survey was conducted with the club’s players to determine the impact of the club’s leaders having completed mental health training through the Tackle Your Feelings program. A key outcome of this survey was;
100 per cent of players responded with strongly agree or agree when asked “If I feel I needed support for my mental health and wellbeing, I know my football club would help”
You can learn more about this case study here.

Willaston Football Club, based in South Australia, completed the Tackle Your Feelings program in 2022. Twenty-six representatives from the club participated in the workshop run by a local Tackle Your Feelings psychologist. Since hosting the workshop, the club has established a wellbeing team made up representatives from both the male and female teams, which aims to be a contact point for anyone who is struggling. The club has also appointed a wellbeing coordinator who is also a member of the club’s committee.
“This is a great program to assist with building confidence across your club in knowing how to address mental health issues and nurturing the wellbeing of your players and club officials. We feel privileged to have access to a fully funded program such as this that can support grass roots community clubs.” – Karen McColl, Willaston Football Club Wellbeing Coordinator.