Dave Burt, CEO and Founder of SALT (Sport and Life Training) recently conducted a Wellbeing and Mental Health session for a group of Under 17-year-old boys in an Eastern Football League Junior Club. It was a session that yielded amazing dividends.

SALT is a not-for-profit organisation that works to deliver positive cultural and life lessons using the established framework and supporting community of sporting clubs.

Normally in a session like this Dave would use a phone app developed specifically for SALT that allows attendees to anonymously provide real time responses to questions on their mental health – however at this venue the Wi-Fi wasn’t working.

“I had a room full of boys exuding the bravado that is typical of that age,” Dave explained. “While this age-group does treat mental health seriously they can be reticent to share their experiences and when I realised I wasn’t going to get the information I needed anonymously via our app, I had to hope that playing footy together as well as all the other club activities they participated in had built a trust and respect where they would feel comfortable sharing openly.”

Dave had bought Hawthorn footballer, Jack Gunston, with him as a guest speaker and while Jack talked to the boys about the challenges he had faced in his sporting career and how he had dealt with them, Dave closely observed the boys.

“As I watched the boys settle back and give their attention to what Jack had to say, I got the sense that there just might be a great deal of openness in this group. So, when Jack had finished talking, I asked ‘Who of you have previously suffered or are currently suffering from a mental health issue or think they might have a problem?’ Seventeen hands went up into the air.”

For Dave this was the perfect springboard for a discussion on how mental health issues are affecting a lot of young people. People who walk around looking perfectly in control of their lives. He was able to put to bed any thoughts of a stigma around having these problems and encouraged the boys to talk to their families about how they felt and if necessary, to seek professional advice. He also asked for the boys to provide additional peer support to each other.

“It was a heart-wrenchingly honest session full of conversations these boys wouldn’t normally have. There were pledges of support for those who were suffering and the compassion in the room was palpable.”

After 45 minutes of discussion Dave bought the session to a close. He was packing up his equipment and was struck by how quiet the room was behind him. In turning he saw that the silence was a reverential respect as the boys walked around hugging each other. This was not a sign of weakness but a demonstration of strong mutual support.

“It was an incredible thing to behold from 17-year-old boys,” Dave concluded. “And it inspired hope for a brighter future for our youth.”

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