• Exploring equity, emotional wellbeing and collaborative approaches to return to community sport

    35m 31s

    Think Tank 4 of the post COVID-19 Community Sport series explores equity, emotional wellbeing and collaborative approaches for a return to sport with Professor Simone Fullagar from Griffith University. 
These are extraordinary times, the presence of COVID-19 means that each and every one of us, each and every one of us is facing our toughest ever opposition, although we stand apart if we work together as a team, as a team, and play by the rules, and play by the rules, we'll soon get back to playing and watching the sport that we love.

We need your support now more than ever, more than ever. Wash your hands and listen to the advice. If we play by the rules. We'll all get through this together.

Welcome, everybody. My is Peter Downs, the manager of Play by the Rules. Welcome to Think Tank 4 in our series. This the think tank we are exploring equity, emotional wellness and collaborative approaches to return to community sport? I'll introduce you in a second or two we'll get straight into it to Professor Simone Fullagar, who is on the line as well. So welcome, everybody. Let's start by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land in which we are all sitting today and pay my respects to elders past, present and emerging.

Now, these think tanks were created to give you some food for thought around the return to community sport post COVID-19 and I'm hundred percent certain that that will happen today. In this particular think tank, there's a huge amount to try and cover in the next 10 or 12 minutes. But Simone will talk for ten or twelve, fifteen minutes around the topic and then we'll open for questions from you. So please, please do send in your questions and comments in the chat in YouTube, and I'll be monitoring those here online on my laptop as well.

So we'll get to those in about ten to fifteen minutes or so. OK. So I'll introduce you to Professor Simone Fullagar. Hi. Hi, Simone. Can you hear me? Yes, thank you, Peter. Excellent. Excellent. I can see and see and hear you fine. Which is which is great now.

Professor Simone Fullagar is interdisciplinary sociologist and feminist researcher at Griffith University. She leads the sport and Gender Equity Research Hub in the sports management programme.

And really, this think tank came about as a result of an excellent article that that Simone posted and is now on play by the rules. So if you go to play by the rules, you've got to see that article on recovery and regeneration in community sport.

And in that article, I'll just take one quote that I'll read out here, which is a good lead into today's discussion. To quote Simone, while the risk management thinking that informs sport policy guidelines and implementation practises focuses on what needs to be done, it tends to ignore the issue of how people will negotiate changing sport contexts.

That is, I think, a good lead in Simone. Would you agree to what do you want to talk about today?

Yes, thank you, Peter. And it's fantastic to have the option to speak about these issues today. There's a lot to cover. So what I've tried to do is just cover the key points. And clearly this is going to lead to a writing up another article. But there's so many issues emerging and it's a really fluid space.

So I'm really looking forward to hearing the questions that people had related to wherever they're situated in the sports sector. But first, I would like to pay my respects to the Jagera and Turrbal peoples and their elders past and present an emerging.

It is a very difficult time at the moment, globally and locally. There are many powerful emotions moving people to act in a variety of ways against racism and for change. Black Lives Matter. I want to return to this one little later. And that's so compelling now in our present reality. So today I want to take the opportunity in this think tank. And it's fantastic to have a think tank related to sport and equity to really bring together issues around equity and emotion in thinking about the practise policy and conceptualisation of recovery in sport.

Think about these issues as socio cultural. I'm a sociologist by training, so I want to think about how the individual and the social come together. So we need to be thinking about how issues of risk and safety are connected to equity and inclusion in the return to sport. We have a range of national and state guidelines and checklists now for managing the risk of disease and physical environments that these are really important. But looking closely at these guidelines is actually being very little acknowledgement of the changing emotional landscape. Sport and the equity issues that are implicated in that and how sport organisations might proactively shape this recovery process. So a great opportunity for us to kind of think about those issues in the broad sense and also in a practical sense today.

I think it's a it's really a missed opportunity in these these plans and frameworks. We could have had equity and psychosocial issues embedded in risk management processes and ways of thinking, because this would help support sports organisations to address the potential of COVID-19 to worsen inequalities in participation, volunteering and decision making across a range of sport roles. So we really need to be thinking about equity and emotional well-being and socio cultural issues in managing the recovery of sport, which is what these frameworks are helping us do, but also thinking about how sport has a significant role to play in the recovery of community well-being. So there is a growing body of literature that explores diverse meanings of recovery, both individuals and communities affected by a diverse range of adversities and injustices.

And that is a really important body of literature that sport can draw on. So mental health, emotional distress and well-being are embodied experiences and their socio cultural constructs. Our thoughts and our feelings and our relationships are so connected to our social context and how we understand and respond to issues of adversity, loss and injustice, particularly as shaped by historical moment we're in. In Western societies, medical perspectives have significantly shaped the discourse around mental health of distress in terms of illness. So we hear a lot about brain imbalances and diagnostic categories, common mental health disorders such as depression, anxiety, have been on the rise. But these ideas important recognise, I think, that these ideas are historically situated. So we look at examples throughout history. We see quite different ideas of what emotional distress and well-being looks like.

So the ancient Greeks, for example, had a very gendered perspective and they thought that women became hysterical because their wounds dislodged and wandered around their bodies, causing havoc. So the notion of this hysteria is connected to great nations of the world. So, again, very gendered understanding there. If we also think about other ways in which mental illness classifications can marginalised groups, we can think about how homosexuality was included as a mental illness in the psychiatric bible, the DSM, until 1973. So it's important to recognise how powerful discourses are that shaped how we talk about emotional distress and mental health or mental ill health, mental illness, because inequities can be perpetuated. And there are different socio cultural understandings of our emotional lives.

For example, indigenous Australians often prefer to talk about social and emotional well-being, to recognise the importance of culture and relationship to country, as well as acknowledging intergenerational trauma that is produced by colonisation. So the destructive force of COVID-19 has really intensified emotions and inequities. So fears of illness, death, job loss, sadness, isolation, disconnection and hatred.

So this week we have sadly seen the distress emerging in the US with the growing protests against racism and the death of George Floyd through police brutality, the rise of Black Lives Matter movement created a platform for expressing anger, despair and frustration, but also solidarity, coming together to advocate, advocate for human rights and for change on a global and a local scale.

And these issues are very relevant to us here in Australia. It's a very sobering thought when we think about how we've had 400 Aboriginal deaths in custody since the royal commission in 1991. And I'd like to give a shout out because these are very complex and big issues to think through. A shout out to the outer sanctum. We've produced a great podcast this week where they're talking about racism and sport and their relationship. And Shelly Ware, where talks about her experience as an Aboriginal woman in this contemporary moment, the impacts it's having on her. So I think I'm going to recommend tuning into that podcast. They also talk about mental health issues in relation to the AFL.

And more broadly, we can think about how Asian Australians have been experienced intense on racism through COVID-19. And also had gender inequalities have been identified across by the home and work and women's access to space to be physically active, as well as increased domestic violence. So we also have seen people with disabilities of older persons issues with isolation and care, risk. So there are a huge number of issues around marginalisation that are being intensified through COVID-19 in relation to gender equity in sport. The financial impact on sport, job losses, sponsors, investment, all of those things. There is a real risk that funds will be redirected from women and community inclusion programmes back into men's competitions. So there's a lot being written about that at the moment.

The sport is very much in twined with the social context of our lives and can act to worsen or improve mental health. It's not never simply a panacea. And this is especially with discrimination, exclusion and the unthinking exercise of privilege, individual and structural levels in our society occurs. If we only focus on managing the risk of disease, we face the risk of exacerbating inequities and potentially worsening emotional wellbeing. And there are many ways to embed equity thinking within the risk management practises across sport organisations, whether that's from governance and leadership levels, right through to decision making points and given resources, voluntary management, training and culture building.

So recently, some of you may be aware this has been the release of the new National Mental Health Wellbeing Pandemic Response Plan, and that actually identifies sport as a protective factor. An important community institution through which we can re-engage communities and develop positive coping strategies. So it's interesting to see sport mentioned in that documents several times. But there's a little detail on what that would look like or how perhaps the health, mental health sectors could speak to the sport recreation sector. More work to do in that space. This week also, we've had, Headspace, youth, mental health organisation come out and talk about how, you know, at least a third of young people have reported high or very high psychological distress. They have been talking with the AFL created a partnership, which is focussed on supporting talent development. But these kinds of conversations across the sports sector and health sectors are really important, particularly we're thinking about supporting young people and children to re-engage. So we need to be engaged in these conversations about how we can create inclusive cultures, where it's OK to not be OK to break down unhelpful stereotypes that tough sports, mental or boys don't cry, or that sports women or girls have good friendships. So they'll naturally be OK.

We need to ensure people of all genders, ethnicities, sexualities, abilities, religion feel welcome and able to express how they're feeling. So that question of return to sport has to have a question in it about how we think about what it feels like to return to sport.

And what does an inclusive sport club or facility feel like to enter into this time? Because people to cope with crises in very different ways. We can't assume we know what people are experiencing. And it's really important to just to ask how people are and to listen, not to judge or not to diagnose and to to expect there'll be a very emotional response in a global pandemic.

Recovery takes time and people might be living with various forms of trauma. And it's really important for people who don't have professional training to refer all this on, rather feel like they have to to perhaps take on the role themselves. So knowing your limits is important as knowing your referral points that people. We can do things like draw on trauma, informed resources for sport. And there are a range of resources available internationally that can be really useful for both organisational development, but also supporting coaches, for example, managing players responses to their own well-being. Coaches are really crucial in the sport system and COVID can trigger all those emotions I've talked about or can trigger past events in ways that people may not immediately be aware of or even be and put into language and particular talking about childhood adversity and issues. But we could do things like develop a Mental Health Policy in the recovery strategy that embeds- practical actions into a systemic approach.

Sports can become clubs or organisations that actively promote resilience and equity inclusion. And we have various examples available to look at. I know of a very good organisation and Infive Management sports agents here in Brisbane and they've developed their own mental health policy staff of athletes and they are working on a social media campaign to support coach mental health and wellbeing. So there are a small business commercial organisation. Then we have another example. The bigger end of the scale. The AFL develop their own comprehensive mental health framework, and they are trying to take a holistic approach to mental health promotion, early intervention and support.

But when I look closely, at that, I can see that they haven't really unpacked equity issues and there's a lot more work to do around understanding the gender differences.

It is all branded AFL and not AFLW. And when we have even talking about AFL, there is not much discussion about masculinity and the pressures on men's mental health. Nor is there much about ethnicity, indigeneity or sexuality. So there's a lot more work to do in this space to really embed complex thinking about equity and diversity.

We can do things like provide help seeking information, linking to the Beyond Blue and Headspace for young people's support, support lines for domestic violence, men's referral lines, financial, alcohol, gambling issues. These are a range of things that people might be experiencing. We can consider staff training and this is something that is addressed in their return to sport guidelines.

How you be training staff, not just about, COVID physical distancing. But you could think about mental health first aiding. A training for support staff, volunteers, coaches, etc. It's going to be invaluable for helping respond to someone who may be in distress or may not know what they're going through. They might be having a panic attack, for example. You could also think about having informal sessions, topics related to mental health and wellbeing, resiliency, invite guest speakers in, think about the local context. And then, of course, this extends into the idea of creating safe spaces that encourage people to connect, to come back to sports in ways that they really value that. Why did you want to come back to sport? It's not just the physicality and excitement of the game, but to connect with people that are important part of a social network.

But we also need to think about how, for example, alcohol consumption has massively increased through this crisis. Do we want to be creating social spaces where we might be contributing to the misuse of alcohol? We have to think about why and gambling start up the sport industry. Think about those kind of impacts. When we're creating social occasions. We can also have regular check ins with staff, volunteers and those responsible for managing other people. Club surveys, taking the pulse, seeing how people are going, gathering ideas that could be used to think about the impact on future of sport.

And then if we think about a couple of examples of organisational approaches, then there is a lot of different research out there that can usefully inform what organisations want to do. There are solutions, focussed approaches, and they can help us think creatively about ways to build culture and develop strategies. It's very easy to think for people to feel overwhelmed by large changes, or the range of problems to be addressed. The lack of resources, potentially lack of staff with the cuts that have happened and getting the job done have returned to sport for practical focus on risk management. So what if we also think about how we could draw on the team work that sport is known for working together as a sector, as a community, working with other organisations to increase the capacity for all sharing examples of what works, how to move forward, developing innovative approaches.

So there are various collaborative approaches that could be used that often referred to a solution focus or assets based or communities of practise. And they can guide our thinking about culture and strategy. So, for example, we could think about how you'd like to have a new support network to develop and share recovery expertise. Can you make online digital resources? Have you considered untapped resources such as university students who might like to do placements and internships and help develop recovery plans and a greater with greater consultation engagement? We can think about the skills and networks that members have in your organisation and encourage people with diverse skills and to come forward and take up leadership roles in a variety of ways. So recently, if I give an example, I had an online discussion with our policy people in Sport REC Queensland just share different insights and perspectives of what's happening at the moment and those moments where it's interesting how a crisis can bring people together in new ways to think differently together.

You can team up with academics. Universities are going through a very difficult time at the moment, as well as the sports sector. But there are a lot of academics who are very passionate about this area and want to engage in research and collaboration to inform practise and policy change. Local grant applications. Talk about your ideas. Action research can be really useful for developing practical solutions and approaches. For example, in Victoria last year I worked with Kirtsty Forsdyke from Latrobe University and we held a stakeholder workshop to look at strategies that we could develop to prevent violence against women in sport. This brought together a whole range of people and it was a fascinating day because we had many voices and different kinds of expertise in the room, and it really helped to join up our thinking and set out some ideas for ways forward.

So those kinds of processes can be really valuable. You don't have to do it alone. And the final kind of framework that is useful, I think, takes is appreciative enquiry.

It takes us beyond the conventional SWOT analysis focus, which tends to look at issues, strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. Whereas appreciative enquiry is much more process oriented and asks a lot of HOW questions. Four basic phases that can guide discussion within organisations and teams about what recovery of sport might mean in the local context. The first one is discover, so appreciating and valuing the best of what is about a sport club at this moment and where it wants to go, what we value about it, what's inclusion feel like, how we best manage risk, what might be the impact on the marginalised groups? What are we most worried about with engaging people? And this is a process where information, stories can be gathered about what is also working well and what are the hopes for the future. And this feeds into the second stage, which is kind of the dream stage. It's envisaging what might be what could the sport organisation become in this context, what do you want it to be? What are the values?

And then the third stage is design. It gets bit more practical. Determining what should they what are the priorities, what things need to be done and how could that happen? And the final phases is deliver. Or destiny. Innervating.

What will they what do we learn through these processes and discussions about new ways of doing things? And then, of course, to come back and revisit the phases and speak through again. So basically, I pretty much used up all my time to cover those key issues and now stop and opoen up the questions. Thank you very much.

Fabulous. Thanks Simone. I know I did say that that would give people food for thought, and I think that's an understatement. I've got a million questions that I have, but I might try to reserve those. Just for your feedback Simone. The comments seem to be around the mental health issues in particular there. So I'll talk about that. It emphasises the importance of groups in the future, such as Good Sports, such as Speak Up Stay Chatty as well in Tasmania has been mentioned there that are on the line. So those sorts of organisations can be very important moving forward. I start off with a question from Al, Al Murphy. I'll abbreviate it a little bit, but what do you think is the best way to prioritise inclusion in core thinking in the future, given that there's a great temptation just to revert to the norm?

I think that's a fantastic question. It's like a fundamental question. We should have posted up policy discussions, meetings, strategy discussions. I don't know that there is one way. I think we should always try and explore multiple ideas and perspectives because things change rapidly and we have to adapt and we might use approaches. But certainly we need to look at our strategies. Whereas an embedded in strategic plans, everything from how something is prioritised, human resources. Who is working on the issues and what's that connection back with our stakeholders, our members? What processes feed voices into that strategy and strategic planning process? Now sporting organisations are going to be wrestling with implementation. Implementing COVID safety plans. So that's the opportunity to bring together what has to be done to keep people safe and the organisation's biggest strategies and think about how things are changing in the landscape in sport. Do some more consultation, have more discussions and then feed that back into more nuanced plans that could be developed. Perhaps this is this is why an organisation might need a mental health building plan or policy that would come out of those discussions. So it needs to be on the agenda at meetings. It needs to be part of our thinking about engaging with people who are playing and who is not playing. Equally as important and why. And that's where, of course, as a researcher, I'd say we need to do our research around that. And that could be desktop. That could be out in the field. There's a whole range of processes that could be used to to inform that continual thinking process. A great question.

Very good question. We're going to have a very good question to which you have discussed around already. But I think it's really worth worth pursuing from Sally. Sally Shaw, Sport New Zealand distributed approximately five million to pro's professional sports. The focus on back to normal. How do we challenge the basis of normal when discourse is so strong from the top?

Great question, Sally. Thank you for that. Yes. I think questioning the norm and the normal part of my job is, as I see a sociologist and critical thinker and feminist, whenever I see a norm, I think. How is that norm produced and what are the assumptions informing it? So as a point. A starting point. How money is spent and how money is allocated involves thinking back to the norms that shape it, the assumptions we make. OK, being part of the decision making process would be ideal. We need to ensure that there are diverse voices at the table when decisions are made about strategy and money and human resources. That is also one of our biggest challenges.

How do we have a seat at the table to ensure those critical conversations are happening about norms and the need to change the norms of sport if they're not inclusive? Because it will be nothing. We won't have a future if we don't have a diverse range of people. We know that traditional organised sports are. Finding facing a number of challenges around participation because of the rise of action and lifestyle sports and informal recreation. So those issues are both economic and ethical or social. So I think it is an ongoing challenge to ensure that we don't revert to some kind of norm based on conservative view that you should be playing sport.

We'll start to draw it to a conclusion, but there's been lots of positive comments and lots of interaction online as well.

But I wanted to go back to a point you made earlier around vulnerability and people's limits. I think it's important to recognise that not everybody have the same levels of vulnerability. We won't be all the same coming out of this, going into the new world in the future. Have you got any of that kind of a bit of a summary of what you have talked about? But how do sports react to people who are perhaps more vulnerable in the new world that we're coming into rather than just carrying on as normal?

I think this is our big challenge going forward is to really take seriously the issues of vulnerability, of trauma, of people's emotional well-being. How do we define that? By thinking about how we engage people sensitively and how we ensure that our sporting environments and clubs feel inclusive. So we need to do a bit more thinking and discussion with people around what does an inclusive space feel like at this moment? People may have high anxiety levels. They have fears about interacting with other people or the spaces. They may have lost their confidence entirely. Others will be really keen to get back. So we're going to have a range of responses that maybe you can think about would be a good person in the club or the team. They might be a contact person or a go to person for reaching out to other people. There is a designated COVID Safety Officer but they are going to be overwhelmed dealing with the risk management issues. So can we create the types of roles to support people? How do we promote and market on social media and all communication with sport members and maybe those who are not showing up? If we can access them. The images that we use need to be diverse, the language that we use needs to be inclusive. All of those things matter enormously. People are feeling uncertain or anxious about a return to sport. And I have to say, I think that the government policy guidelines at state and federal level could do a better job of using more inclusive images to show the diversity of people who we want to be encouraging to play sport.

Yeah, yeah, yeah.

This is a question that I'm glad I don't have to answer. I don't think anyone's got an answer to. But it is a really burning one and one that has been in every think tank so far. So we still keep addressing it. Now, how do we drive this with grassroots sports when they appear already overwhelmed as volunteers?

It is it's a key issue. It's one that's not going to go away easily. So many thoughts come to mind.

But we do need to really understand what the volunteer experiences is. So we talk about athletes, mental health and wellbeing. We've had quite a lot of focus on that with the Institutes of Sport talking about that we need to be thinking about in relation to our volunteers and also our coaches who are often volunteers. So how do we engage them and more understanding what the issues are for them in returning to sport? This is also a policy conversation and a funding conversation. So bigger picture conversation about how do we support and grow the capacity of our volunteer sport sector. It's so important and there's a lot more that needs to be done. And it does need to be on the policy agenda at every level, local, state and national organisations and governments, because that's where things can fall down very quickly. We don't have the coaches coming back. We don't have the people who are actually doing the work of running the sport competitions and training sessions. We are facing big issues around capacity. So there's a lot that can be done in that space. So we have, you know, various kind of human resource approaches. But I think we need to be taking that to a deeper level to really think about what inclusion feels like and how we can address and support people's emotional well-being and resilience in that space.

What I think I'm looking at the comments coming in and some of those will be really appropriate. People who are sending those comments next Tuesday in a forum with Support Australia and Return to Sport Toolkit, because some of the things around. How do we organise events and support volunteers when there are fewer and greater pressures on volunteers. So I ask you to reserve those questions for Tuesday's forum there.

I think I'm going to draw it to a conclusion there? I might ask you to do a little bit of a summary though Simone as there has been a lot of really interesting comments coming in as a kind of a summary. What do you think are some of the opportunities now of trying to end in a real positive note, which I think there are real opportunities now in the new more to create a new, more new, more inclusive, safer, a more caring sport community than perhaps pre COVID?

Yeah, I think that's really important. And I am optimistic that we can learn valuable lessons through this COVID experience. And I think one of them is that sport is a really important place somewhere. It's a space and activity and community that people have missed enormously in the last few months. So what is it that we miss about sport most? What is it that we value about that sense of community connection, emotional well-being, space that we want to retain and highlight as really important going forward? We're thinking about sport for all the future sport. What do we want to take forward? How do we want to ensure that our sporting clubs and cultures are inviting places? And that's a balancing business imperatives alongside cultural imperatives. It's really, really important. There's a lot of I think that we are going to have to learn to address in terms of understanding complexities around mental health and emotional well-being. We know mental health issues have been pressing concerns alongside marginalisation and inequality. It's about how we start to bring us together in a more systematic way. That can't be ignored.

People are being affected in a multitude of ways. And we can draw a learning beyond sport. We can look at the work that's being done across various disciplines on recovery or mental health and wellbeing to bring into the sport space. It's not like we have to start from scratch. And I think that joined up approach to thinking. Researching, talking. Having dialogue. And this is a great example of what play by the rules is doing to help us to move forward with our ideas and strategies.

Excellent. Excellent. Thanks, Simone. People are agreeing with you and thanking you very much online. I want to pass those on. That's great. Great conversation. Insights. Thank you.

Was very intriguing and informative and I'll pass those comments comments on to you Simone. But we are going to do it to a conclusion theret, as I said at the start, the goal of these think tanks is to get you thinking into some food for thought. And I think we've definitely achieved that, today. The recording, thanks again Professor Simone Fullagar. Thank you very much. Thank you. For your participation.

The recording of this will be on Play by the Rules within the week, hopefully. So have a look for that. And next Tuesday, we also have a kind of special edition of this with Sport Australia looking at the Return to Sport Toolkit. And I'll be taking us through that next Tuesday at 5.30. And then we resume again next Friday with a think tank around child safety issues. But you'll be hearing about that. So thank you once again for your participation.

And thanks very much for your comments today. And we look forward to seeing you again in the future think tanks.

The presence of COVID-19 means that each and every one of us, each and every one of us is facing our toughest ever opposition, although we stand apart.

If we work together as a team, as a team and play by the rules, and play by the rules, we'll soon get back to playing and watching the sport that we love.

We need your support now more than ever, more than ever. Wash your hands and listen to the advice. If we play by the rules, we'll all go through this together.

Useful links mentioned in this Think Tank:

National Mental Health and Wellbeing Pandemic Response Plan


Outer Sanctum podcast ‘Rethinking the system'