Illawarra athletes get Ahead of the Game

Illawarra athletes get Ahead of the Game

A new mental health program targeting adolescent males kicks off in the Illawarra today (Saturday 5 November), with the University of Wollongong (UOW) Ahead of the Game program delivering sessions to 180 athletes from the Illawarra Academy of Sport (IAS).

The Ahead of the Game (AOTG) program, in partnership with the Movember Foundation and the Black Dog Institute, is aimed at adolescent males who participate in sports and includes coach training workshops, programs for teenage boys and for their parents.

The AOTG program currently has 29 sporting clubs on board for the 2016/17 season spanning a range of summer sports.

IAS General Manager Shannon Fraser welcomed the addition of AOTG to its scholarship program, with 180 new athletes from more than 25 sports taking part in AOTG activities today as part of the athlete and parent induction, held on the UOW campus.

“The Illawarra Academy of Sport is thrilled to provide our scholarship athletes, for the first time, access to mental health education through the integration of the Ahead of the Game program,” he said.

“The stigma of mental illness held by young people and a lack of awareness can both be barriers to early intervention. Having the capacity to provide relevant education and engage our young scholarship athletes through the Ahead of the Game program is extremely important and something we really value.”

Ahead of the Game lead researcher Dr Stewart Vella from UOW’s Early Start Research Institute (ESRI) said the program aims to equip adolescent males with skills, confidence, and support systems to help recognise the warning signs of mental health problems and act on them as early as possible.

“We know that adolescent males are a group at high risk of mental health problems and we’re starting our summer program with a huge group of athletes from the IAS,” he said.

“Three-quarters of adolescent males participate in organised sports and we really do believe that sports have a big role to play in the prevention of mental health problems in Australia.

“Sport lends itself to the opportunity to teach important lessons with participation in sport associated with the development of social and emotional skills. With such a high national importance placed on sport and large participation numbers among adolescent males, sport is a great channel to tackle important mental health issues.”

As part of the program, researchers will be undertaking a study to better understand how Ahead of the Game can help local clubs improve mental health knowledge including how to prevent or reduce the impact of mental health problems in adolescent males.

This project is part of UOW's Global Challenges Program, a strategic research initiative which addresses mental health as an important component of Living Well, Longer.

Ahead of the Game comprises the expertise of multiple researchers within UOW’s Early Start Research Institute (ESRI) and School of Psychology. It is supported by the Australian Sports Commission and the governing bodies of six of the most popular sports for adolescent males: the Football Federation of Australia, the Australian Football League, Tennis Australia, Basketball Australia, Swimming Australia, and Cricket Australia. Community partners include the Black Dog Institute and the Australian Drug Foundation, the Movember Foundation and other collaborating university partners including the Australian Catholic University.