The cancellation of community sport during Victoria's pandemic winter has highlighted how we've taken the "community" part of local sport for granted.
Dave Burt – founder of not-for-profit Sport and Life Training (SALT) – says requests for SALT's group mental health sessions from community sport clubs grew so much through Victoria's lockdown that he developed an online program catered specifically for it.
Dave Burt is the founder of SALT, who has seen demand for its services boom during lockdown in Victoria. Credit:Joe Armao
“We’re doing more now online than we ever did face to face," Mr Burt says of the nearly 50 clubs he's helped during lockdown. “We are addressing the situational anxiety of the moment.
“We are now, by word of mouth, being run off out feet.”
Mr Burt was inspired to start SALT in 2014 when as Eastern Football League chaplain, he attended seven suicides in seven weeks.
One of them was Graham Hulland's 16-year-old son Justin. Graham now speaks to sporting clubs about his family's story.
“I think a lot of people don’t know how to get support. I try to let people know there is support," Mr Hulland said.
Support is what SALT helps clubs, their players, families and friends find. He connects those struggling with support, whether it be to their family, friends or mental health professionals.
“They come away saying it was the best time they’ve had at the club, including premierships, because it was deep and meaningful and they realised they could have quality relationships with people that was always available, but not accessed," Mr Burt says.
Each program begins with an anonymous mobile phone questionnaire, the answers of which inform the session.
“At the beginning they felt devastated by lockdown and loss of sport but there was hope," Mr Burt says of what he heard during lockdown sessions.
“When the second lockdown happened they felt defeated and deflated.
“They said things like 'We pivoted, re-organised our lives and made sure when we came back everything would be compliant'. Then back into lockdown.
“But when they get on the screen and see each other and start to talk, they say they feel re-energised. Because they’re seeing their mates.
“You can take the sport out of the sporting club and there’s still something very real that exists – the relationships.”
Soccer club Essendon Royals have made a big effort to take training and club social events online to maintain community ties during lockdown.
They hosted online live “watch parties” for A-League games involving Melbourne teams and delivered live, online training to more than 800 players in the first eight-weeks of their program.
Royals head of football and New Zealand’s all-time top scorer Vaughan Coveny said the sessions have covered strength and conditioning, injury prevention, nutrition and mental health.
"We wanted to keep interacting with the kids and keep coaches connected with players," he said.
"This was the best way … if you want to talk to someone.
"Sometimes as a young player or athlete you don't want to talk to just your parents, you want someone else to turn to.
"This has also been a really good way of having a discussion with someone, and I know it's only a virtual coach, but once you're online with it I know of other coaches who have had that."
Community sport is banned under Victoria’s coronavirus restrictions. Groups of up to 10 may begin training outdoors on October 26, according to current restrictions.
If you or anyone you know needs support call Lifeline on 131 114, or Beyond Blue's coronavirus mental wellbeing support service on 1800 512 348.
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