Another monthly hello to all our Friends and thank you as always for reading
this latest update. Whether you’re reading this after training, on a train, or
between other things at work, we always appreciate the fact that people from all
walks of life, sportspeople and non-sportspeople, take the time to find out what we’ve
been up to as a Charity and what we’re doing right now to further the interests of athletes in the world of professional sport.
Over the course of our first 12 months of updates we’ve introduced you to three of the four services the Charity provides - Talking Therapy (our network of counsellors who can address a very wide range of issues on a 1-2-1 basis), Residential Treatment (which is solely for those assessed to suffer from an addictive disorder), and Education (which I’ve led on for a number of years and is currently going through a process of expansion as we talked about in last month’s update). These are our outward facing services that we promote to athletes and that athletes engage with, but for those of you who work with us ‘behind the scenes’, you’ll know that we do just as much work on a consultancy basis with lots of different groups and organisations across the sporting landscape. That’s because these groups and organisations have (at different speeds and at different points in time over the last two decades) come to the understanding that the mental health agenda within their world extends far beyond the provision of funded or semi-funded treatment services such as counselling sessions or rehab places. They’ve also understood – in alignment with the view that Tony Adams and others held 20 years ago – that professional sport (which in itself is a large umbrella under which sports with different needs and budgets sit) employs individuals who self-refer into a challenging, competitive and what could be perceived as an unforgiving environment when viewed alongside the majority of other industries.
The consultancy work we undertake for our clients includes the modelling of organisation-wide mental health strategies, designing practical toolkits to improve treatment pathways and developing best practice. We have reviewed and continue to develop policies, procedures and frameworks relating to the mental wellbeing of athletes and staff -it is vital that this group (in particular playing staff and those responsible for athlete performance) understand the factors that affect mental health in their environment, and have access to regular wellbeing conversations internally and, ideally, externally. Managers, coaches and MDT’s must also have the right skills to support athletes and be able to respond compassionately to individual needs. In addition, leaders at the top of sporting organisations need to feel able to feel comfortable in the role of reinforcing positive attitudes, shifting mindsets and influencing organisational culture through modelling positive behaviours. Only with all these elements in place and given consistent attention can sporting bodies and leagues develop a culture where open and honest communication is encouraged, bullying and harassment is not tolerated, and people are treated with dignity and respect. It is an expectation in most jobs, and every professional sportsperson has a right to expect this for themselves, their team mates and their opponents too.
This month has seen the relaunch of the Premier League’s Mental Health Toolkit which is exactly that. A box of tools (guidance, adaptable policies and job descriptions, emergency action plans) aimed to support the board member of each Premier League club with responsibility for the mental health agenda within that club, to turn aspiration into best practice.
We hope that this project and many other similar ones being undertaken (with and without our involvement) in professional sport will have its intended impact. On the one hand, to encourage more athletes to use support services such as those Sporting Chance offers and on the other hand to improve the ‘health’ of the environments in which athletes compete - so that some of the emotional and mental health issues that we witness first hand are addressed earlier or don’t materialise in the first place.
All the best for the Autumn months ahead,
Head of Education, Communications, and Athlete Engagement