The AFL has on Wednesday announced a new partnership with Australia’s leading youth mental health organisation, headspace, as it continues its commitment to the mental health and wellbeing of the next generation of AFL and AFLW footballers.
The partnership will ensure football focuses on building mental fitness and wellbeing skills in players before they reach an AFL list. The partnership will provide young people in the Talent pathways programs with tools to help protect their wellbeing as they navigate the challenges they face while aspiring to play the game at the elite level.
The AFL’s Head of Mental Health and Wellbeing, Dr. Kate Hall said, “This partnership addresses one of the crucial focus areas for the AFL - preventing mental health challenges by building protective factors for wellbeing, earlier in a player’s life.
“We have an incredible opportunity to educate and empower young players who are connected to our game. Together with headspace, we will develop and embed a curriculum across the Talent pathways to support the mental health and wellbeing of young people striving to play the game at the highest level.
“This early investment in the future leaders of our game will benefit the health and wellbeing of our football community in the long term.”
With over 248,000 participants aged between 12 and 18 years old, General Manager of Football Operations, Steve Hocking, welcomes the partnership for the next generation of players.
“Football cultivates more than just on-field skills – it builds a strong bond between teammates, coaches, and their community. Our goal is to arm youth participants with the knowledge to look out for themselves and one another. We want to create a powerful network of advocates for mental health in our future leaders,” said Hocking.
CEO of headspace, Jason Trethowan said, “It’s critically important for young people to know about the ways in which they can manage their mental health, support their peers and also how they can get support.
“A third of young Australians are currently reporting high or very high levels of psychological distress and we know that if young people experiencing mental health challenges access support early, the more likely they are to achieve better outcomes.
“This partnership with the AFL provides a great opportunity to continue to address and reduce the stigma around mental illness and in doing so, ensure young people and their families have the tools and resources to navigate potentially challenging times.”
Members of the AFL industry mental health steering committee Collingwood’s Brodie Grundy and GWS Giants’ Alicia Eva have welcomed the partnership.
“headspace already plays a crucial role in supporting many young people within our wider communities, so it is an exciting prospect that young footballers in the talent pathways will be provided mental fitness education through this partnership.
“If we can equip our aspiring footballers at an earlier age with preventative tools and knowledge to help navigate the pressures of the footballing journey, it will go a long way in assisting them to reach their potential as athletes, but more importantly, thrive as young people in their lives post-football,” Eva said.
Collingwood’s Brodie Grundy said, "The importance of a holistic approach to our talent pathway cannot be overstated. The partnership will create provisions for mental health literacy within our talent pathways as we develop and up-skill our next generation of leaders.
"With a focus on preventative strategies, reducing mental health stigma and promotion of help-seeking behaviours we can empower boys and girls to be agents of change in their own lives and within the community.
"On-field football development in our talent pathways is fantastic but giving young people tools to flourish in their own lives - away from the game, is the best part".