Over time, we are seeing sports becoming more and more of a commercial enterprise at local club level. Sports administrators therefore ought to be aware of the impact that the pressures of sport can have on players and their mental health due to the competitive nature of the sporting activities they are involved in, not only to maintain on-field performance, but also to minimise legal liability.
Late last year, we saw star Collingwood midfielder Dayne Beams step away from the AFL indefinitely in order to focus on his mental health. While we hear more and more about the pressures of elite sport and see an increasing number of high-profile athletes like Dayne Beams take time away from their chosen sport to address mental health conditions, we also see the pressures of performance becoming an increasing issue for those in lower levels of sport as club sport becomes more of a commercialised operation. Pressures to achieve success can come from coaching staff and also from supporters, who may be quick to point out poor performances.
Sports clubs can take a proactive role to ensure the mental health of athletes is looked after by doing a number of things.
These may include providing a supportive environment where positive constructive reinforcement to athletes is practised. For athletes who miss out on selection in a team, processes should be in place to appropriately debrief those athletes in order to ensure that they know why they missed out and to clearly state what they are to work on if they are seeking selection in the future. Those at higher levels of competition, where performance pressure is often at its greatest, ought to also be provided with adequate time away from the sport during the offseason and also during the week during the season.
Off the field, sports clubs ought to have an Anti-Bullying and Harassment Policy which clearly sets out the club’s expectations in relation to such behaviour and which provides information to athletes and members on who to report bullying behaviour to within the club and the procedure in which reports will be investigated and dealt with. Clubs should also ensure their Code of Conduct clearly sets out the club’s expectations with respect to the behaviour of employees, members and athletes.
As some forms of bullying may amount to harassment or discrimination under federal and state legislation and therefore could be illegal, it is important that clubs have appropriate policies in place both in order to deter such behaviour from occurring and to discharge the club’s duty of care to athletes who are in fact harassed or discriminated against.
If your club needs assistance in writing or updating its policies, please contact Paul Horvath and Ned Puddy at SportsLawyer on 9642 0435 or reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Nothing in this article should be relied on as legal advice. The contents of this article should be regarded as information only, and for specific legal matters, independent advice should always be sought.