Wellbeing transcends all levels

Paul Bruce
10 Aug 2021

Tokyo 2020 has sparked ongoing conversations about mental health and wellbeing. Here’s why I think the sporting industry should listen.

Like everyone, I’ve been captivated by the action at Tokyo 2020. While the Olympics is an event that always attracts a lot of eyeballs, it’s been a particularly welcome distraction for those of us who are in lockdown.

Unsurprisingly, COVID-19 has been omnipresent over the games. The athletes had to endure the most unexpected of preparations thanks to the global pandemic – with the games delayed by 12 months – and it continues to lurk in the background. While we can be easily distracted by the medals, the individual feats of incredible athleticism and those tear-jerking moments, there are many more tales of heartache and failure.

Something that has been gaining momentum over the last few years and has been especially brought to light during this year’s games, is wellbeing.

During a recent conversation with an Olympic athlete, they reminded me that I “have seen sport from the inside out”. As a result, I’ve been reflecting on the many challenges Olympic sports have had in the lead up to the games, which can also be applied across all sports in Australia.

We often hear about the team behind the team: the coaches, managers, physiotherapists etcetera who all help athletes to perform and achieve. However, I believe the team is much more than this – it’s the entire sport they’re representing.

A sport cannot function without its people. Often this is made up of many other paid professionals and volunteers, all working to achieve the best outcome for the athletes and sport as a whole – from grassroots through to the Olympic elite.

Therefore, when we talk about wellbeing we shouldn’t be limiting the conversation just to athletes; we should be inclusive of everyone working within the sporting industry.

In my role, I feel very privileged to work on a daily basis with Boards and executive teams from national and state sporting organisations. One common theme in working with these talented people is their commitment, energy and respect in delivering great outcomes for their sport.

The global pandemic has been challenging for everyone. The sporting industry has seen an unprecedented increase in workload, and pressure on the physical and mental welfare of its workforce.

I have experienced first-hand the deliberations and personal heartache industry leaders have experienced, balancing immediate threats against the long term future of their sport, including the many extra hours and planning meetings during the rapidly changing environment we’ve found ourselves in.

Tokyo 2020 has again brought mental health and wellbeing to the forefront of societal conversations. We are a lot more conscious of it and the ways in which we can not only look out for each other but create an environment that fosters growth and sustainability across sport.

I believe that these conversations need to traverse all levels of sport. People of all levels are struggling with increased workload, uncertainty around the future and fatigue. Let’s also not forget the obvious financial challenges the sport and recreation industry as a whole are facing.

Now is an important time for our industry.

I’ve been fortunate enough to work with a variety of insightful and experienced people and culture professionals– both within the sporting industry and other sectors – who have helped shape my approach to delivering lasting and valuable people outcomes. It's an area I truly believe will help deliver long term sustainability to our industry. However, in my opinion, it is something severely under-resourced.

I don’t have all the answers, but I am passionate about helping the industry to secure and nurture great talent, so that our industry exceeds its potential...and that starts with the people who work within it. At a time when people are looking for a balanced life, which prioritises their health and wellbeing, our industry needs to be a leader in providing an environment that can deliver on, and foster, these practices.

Our people are our lifeblood; the heart and soul of our industry. So, let’s create an environment that attracts the very best people to join us.

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