Hawthorn Amateur Football Club gets wings

Many of our local sporting clubs are forging unique pathways to promote inclusiveness among its members. One such club is the Hawthorn Amateur Football Club, where member Sarah Ward volunteers as Player Welfare Manager.

Tragic circumstances led Hawthorn Amateur Football Club to focus on mental health through the creation of their revolutionary Player Wellbeing Program, WINGS. In 2010, the club community was touched by several losses to suicide including that of a player, former player, and father of a player.

The shock rippled through the club and prompted them to take action. As a result, a platform for mental health discussion called WINGS was established, encouraging players to seek support in regards to their wellbeing.

Sarah Ward is the volunteer Player Welfare Manager for the club, whereby she encourages players to achieve their personal best and provides guidance and support to those who reach out for help. 

Sarah said that touching base regularly with players is a necessary part of her role. 

“Everyone is going through highs and lows in life and naturally tackling issues in their own different ways,” Sarah said. 

“The most important skill to utilise is active listening and appreciating that every person, whether they realise it or not, requires a different approach.” 

Club President, Pat Clancey, explained how the program has significantly evolved from its infancy as a breakfast with a guest speaker. 

“Now, we run an awareness match during Mental Health Week every year and raise funds to send three club members to mental health first aid training every year,” Pat said. 

“We also have a fund which can be accessed by players and members who may be struggling. The funding can be used for sessions with a councillor or psychologist subsidised directly by the club.”

For Pat, creating an inclusive environment for players has been an important journey and has sparked the creation of regular club events like soup night on Tuesdays and a full club dinner on Thursdays. 

“Making players comfortable is a big part of our culture,” Pat said. 

The club has continued to share their journey with WINGS over the past 10 years, inspiring other clubs in the Victorian Amateur Football Association and other sports, like the Hawthorn Cricket Club, to follow their lead. 

To find out more about how you can build support for mental health into the ethos of your sports club, contact Beyond Blue or Headspace

For more information on our sporting clubs, contact our Recreation and Wellbeing Department on 9278 4797.