APS says sports psychologists needed in each AFL club

Response to Majak Daws incident

The Australian Psychological Society (APS) said the AFL needs to invest in the mental health of its players by funding each club to employ a full-time, registered sports psychologist.

Sports psychologists are trained to work in high-performance environments to deal with a range of performance issues but also mental health and wellbeing issues.

APS CEO Frances Mirabelli said: “The AFL should make it a priority to put appropriately qualified mental health professionals in each club to ensure the wellbeing of their players, both on and off the field.”

“If the AFL really wants to be the most successful sporting code in Australia they have to set the standard of employing the right people with the right qualifications in the right roles.”

Sports psychologists undertake six years of psychology training followed by a further two years of specialist training in sport and exercise psychology.

APS sports psychologist Tracey Veivers, who has over 15 years’ experience working with AFL clubs, said the pressure on athletes in AFL is like no other sport.   “The players are paid large sums of money and put under immense pressure and duress, with their performance measured every day.  The pressure is intense.”

“Clubs often don’t understand mental health training or what their players need, not only from a performance perspective but from a welfare perspective,” she said.

Ms Veivers said sports psychologists are not only psychologically trained here in Australia, they are uniquely trained to work with elite athletes in a high performance environment.

She said there is plenty of scope for a sports psychologist in an average AFL team of 48 full-time players.  “In addition to working with athletes and coaches on a myriad of performance issues and wellbeing, psychologists assist with team-building, selection, debriefing and retirement transition.”

Ms Veivers said sometimes players go outside their club to seek help, but the counsellors they engage don’t have anywhere near the training of a sports psychologist, which means the players are not getting the right help that’s needed.

“AFL is one of the most professional sports in the world, but there are gaps they need to close, and employing qualified sports psychologists is one of them.”

Ms Mirabelli said: “AFL clubs need to invest and recruit appropriately. They shouldn’t just provide field support, but holistic support for their players and coaches.”