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Lakes Boosts Well-being By Enlisting Sports Chaplain

By Tara Murray

THE mental health and well-being of players is more important than ever in football clubs and Taylors Lakes is putting things in place to ensure that it's a major focus.

The club recently announced that it had a sports chaplain onboard at the club, with the direction to work with their girls program before expanding throughout the whole club.

The idea to get someone onboard came after a lot of research by committee member and Under 15 girls assistant coach, Paul Dolby.

Dolby, who was an assistant coach to the Under 13 girls team last season, said for him it was about trying to provide the best support possible to those at the club.

Previously, the club had a couple of parents doing welfare work on a voluntary basis.

Dolby said while they were doing a good job, he thought the club as a whole could benefit from getting someone professional onboard.

“I had one of the parents doing voluntary welfare work tell me early about some issues for the Under 15s,” he said.

“I was trying to get my head around the training and thinking about what I’m going into next year and it started to get my own thought process rolling.

“I thought there was a better system, something more solid and something more professional.

“The club has tried over the last two to three years to really establish its professionalism in a lot of different areas.

“We’ve tried to do that and there has to be a different way in terms of welfare of these girls as its getting more and more serious as the time goes on their own personal issues.”

Dolby started his research by talking to a parent of a player who plays for the Western Bulldogs in the AFLW.

He said he quickly realised that some of the things they were seeing at a local level, continued to flow up into the senior ranks.

“After I spoke to my contact at the Bulldogs, I spoke to their welfare officer and they really started to push me down the path of suggesting a chaplain,” Dolby said.

“I got in touch with Sports Chaplaincy Australia and they gave me some information on what it is about.”

A sports chaplain provides care (pastoral denominational and non-denominational) for the sports community, including athletes, coaches, administrators, and their families.

Dolby said at first he was concerned about getting a religious company involved in the club, but his fears about that were laid to rest pretty quickly, with the players mental health and well-being the main focus.

He then spoke to Diamond Creek Women’s Football Club, which has had a chaplain in place for a number of years.

“They went down that path a few years ago and it has done wonders for the club,” he said.

“It’s changed the culture of the club and the well-being of all these girls. Even the parents are coming in and speaking.

“She’s a legitimate part of the club. She goes to all the training and games. Off the back of that chat, I thought that is exactly what we need.”

Jessica Suraci was appointed the club’s sports chaplain earlier this year.

She met with the Under 15 girls team once, but with training interrupted due to COVID-19, hasn’t been able to meet with any other sides.

Dolby said despite the interruptions, it had already been a success.

“It’s been a really tough initiation with what has been going on,” he said.

“She addressed the girls at training for 10 minutes and started to build that contact with them after one night.

“It’s given me the confidence to know there is help there for the girls to help guide them.”

Dolby said the plan was to introduce Suraci to the Under 18 girls and then to the other sides in the club, including the senior men’s teams.

He said with the current environment of uncertainty, having someone onboard with professional experience was vital for the club.

The club is one of only a few in Melbourne’s west which has a chaplain onboard.

“If there is ever going to be a time that a club or someone needs independent ears, when mental health is questioned so strongly, the time is now,” he said.

“The break has only worsened the health for some people.”

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