Sport is at the centre of many communities across Australia and this R U OK?Day, Thursday 10 September, coaches and athletes are encouraging everyone involved in sport from high performance to grassroots level to check in with one another, and ask R U OK?
It has been a challenging year for everyone, making it even more important for people to stay connected. The Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) and Sport Australia are throwing their support behind #RUOKDay and reminding everyone that a conversation could change a life. This year Australians are learning what to say after R U OK? to keep the conversation going when someone says “No, I’m not OK”.
Coaches and athletes from sports across Australia are banding together this R U OK?Day to encourage people to have a conversation, including Paddle Australia’s Australian Paddle Team and London 2012 Olympian and National Coach – Canoe Slalom Robin Jeffery.
“I was really motivated to be involved with RUOK?Day, partly because of some of the struggles I experienced after Rio Olympic selection and disappointment I had there. But also, now being a coach as well, and seeing the ongoing challenges that our athletes and coaches alike experience. It shone a light on me on the importance of mental health and making sure that we are checking in on each other all the time,” Jeffery said about his motivation to get involved with RUOK?Day.
Jeffery has been coaching Paddle Australia’s men’s canoeing paddlers on the canoe slalom team, including Daniel Watkins, who was selected earlier this year to represent Australia at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games next year. His advice to other coaches?
“The advice I give to coaches, ask the question, are you OK? Keep checking in, but as well, when you are asking those questions do it in an environment where it’s equal balance of power, so going out of the sporting environment going for a walk in the bush. If you’ve got a shared interest, kicking the footy in the park, it’s something I have been doing with my athletes. It’s just that catalyst to start conversations and it’s really powerful.
AIS CEO Peter Conde said R U OK?Day is a timely reminder for all athletes, coaches and support staff to make wellbeing and mental health a key priority.
“The AIS strongly believes that wellbeing and performance go hand in hand, and when athletes are at their best emotionally and psychologically, they’re ready to perform at their peak,” Mr Conde said.
“This R U OK?Day we urge everyone involved in the sporting community to check in with their teammates, fellow coaches and colleagues and ask this very important question.”
Winter Paralympian Sam Tait says sport and the supportive network it provides helped him through some of the toughest times.
“Sport has been in my life ever since I can remember as a little kid, but it was after my motorcycle accident that it really took a special place in my life and it was more of a mental and physical rehab. It gave me something to focus on and be good at, and not worry about my disability.
“A few weeks ago I had a couple of days where I felt terrible – so I called my coach and told her my body was in pain and I just wanted to cry. After two days of listening to my body and doing nothing, I came back to training and skiing and I was actually skiing above my normal average.
“I don’t think many people are comfortable talking about their feelings, everyone has bad days and you’ve just got to take them with the good. Speaking out and speaking up about how you feel is important.”
R U OK? CEO Katherine Newton says sport has a crucial role in the community.
“Sport can break down barriers, reduce stigma and provide a safe and inclusive environment where everyone can thrive, but for that to happen everyone needs to play their part, none more so than coaches,” Ms Newton said.
“All the feedback and advice we have listened to points to coaches as having the most influential role in grassroots sport and the opportunity to change lives.”
“The ‘Hey Sport, R U OK?’ campaign provides resources to help coaches spot the signs that someone might be struggling and guides them through what to say and do in the event one of their athletes, players or sporting colleagues is not okay.”
Sport Australia Acting CEO Rob Dalton says sport can provide great supportive networks.
“Sport plays an incredibly important role uniting families and communities but it’s not always easy to start a conversation when we notice a player or teammate isn’t behaving as they usually would,” Mr Dalton said.
“Sport has the largest volunteer base in this country, and we know it’s often mum or dad stepping up to coach their son or daughter’s team including taking on the added role of counsellor, so it’s great to see these dedicated resources to benefit the sporting community.”
You don’t have to be an expert to keep the conversation going when someone says they’re not OK. By knowing what to say you can help someone feel supported and access appropriate help long before they’re in crisis, which can make a really positive difference to their life.
If someone says they’re not OK, make time to listen, encourage action and check in. That conversation could change, or even save, their life.
Want to know how you can share a conversation? Check out all the tips at ruok.org.au.
The Hey Sport, R U OK? resources are free and can be downloaded at www.sport.org.au/sport.
Do you or someone you know need help now? Call Lifeline on 13 11 14.
If you are part of the Australian high performance network, you can also find support through the AIS Mental Health Referral Network – click here.