By Dave Burt, Founder of SALT (Sport and Life Training)

It is that simple and that serious.

Putting Victoria into Stage 4 Restrictions – a true lockdown – will no doubt lead to a significant increase in loneliness and disconnection.  And we know that loneliness and disconnection are the single biggest contributors to mental health problems.

A really important role to play

Right now, sporting clubs have a really important role to play, despite the fact that members are not able to meet together physically.  For many people, their sporting club is their strongest social group.  It is their tribe.  It is where they feel the most connected. It is their escape from the stress of life.  But people are cut off from the club, their tribe – they are adrift.  So I encourage you to step up the connection you have with your members.  To provide a lifeline to people who need support, an emotional anchor, a link to others.

Stay connected

The easiest way to bring everyone together is an online meeting platform like Zoom.  No, it is not as good as being together physically, but you’d be surprised how good it feels to see your mates’ faces – even if it is just on a screen.

Find someone in your club to be responsible for setting up these meetings regularly.  Promote the dates and time they are on through emails, texts, newsletters – all the ways that you are communicating with your club members.  Text everyone 10 minutes before as a last-minute reminder. Don’t be afraid to ask everyone to come prepared with a story or joke to tell – this will help everyone relax into the format.

Ask the right questions

Set aside time in the online meeting to take the mental pulse of everyone.  The best questions you can ask are “How are you going? No, really, how are you going?  Are you okay?  Do you need some help?”  Make it clear at the very beginning that everyone has had their own experiences and that every person’s situation is unique and very real to them.  This is not about who has suffered most or least.  It is not a competition and there is no judgement. You need to create this safe place where everyone feels free to share.

Listening, not just hearing

Encourage everyone in the group to listen carefully to what others are saying. There’s a significant difference between hearing what people are saying and really listening. To go a step further, when you are listening, try and put yourself in the shoes of the other person speaking. Don’t vague off thinking about what you are going to say when it is your turn, just really listen. This is called empathy and it is one of the key practices that will get us through these times.

Picking up on the sub-text

As you are listening you will hear that some people are coping pretty well, and others are struggling. Those who are struggling will probably understate things.  They will say things like, ‘Look, I’m going ok, but…’ Or they will talk about something that has been really hard for them, but at the end they will put a positive spin on it. They will say something like “but look, it isn’t all bad.  There’s plenty of people worse off than me.” They are giving people a chance to move on and ignore their issue.  They are conscious of not being a burden. Don’t let the positive spin at the end stop you from following them up.  There’s a red flag here, so it is important that you do.  You can say something like ‘Hey thanks for sharing that.  That must be really hard.  Have you got good support around you?’  Or something like, “Hey, if you need a hand, or just someone to talk to, I’m here and I’m really happy to help out or chat.”

It’s not your job to fix them.

Sometimes we worry about opening up a can of worms – an obligation – if we ask people to share how they are going. You don’t have to worry.  Do you know why?  Because it’s not your job to fix them. It’s your job to show that you care.  It’s your job to be just one member of a team that checks in occasionally and is available and willing to help them get extra support if they need it.

The beauty of a sporting club like yours is that some people are going to have needs and others are going to have capacity to help and are going to want to help. We can connect those with needs to those who can help, and we can make sure that people have resources like help lines, information sheets, specialist website and support services that can also help.

If you are someone who has needs, please let other people in.  Don’t be so proud or stubborn that you think you can deal with this all alone. People actually want to help, they don’t see it as a burden, they see it as a privilege.

Consider running a SALT Re-Connect session

Lastly, at SALT, we want to help. We can run an online Club Re-Connect session for your club and, thanks to our sponsors, we have a certain number that are fully funded – so free of charge to your club.

During the session, we will ask your club members a whole lot of good questions and we will also utilise our live quiz which enables us to, while maintaining their anonymity, extract some information about how people are travelling that they may not want to say out loud. We will use break out rooms for more private discussion, allowing everyone in the group a chance to speak up.

That may sound like a heavy session, but we will have a few laughs; laughter is great therapy and we need it, so we make sure that when we come to the end everyone is in a really good spirit.

We’ll also leave you with some really helpful resources.

These fully funded session will run out so book now to make sure you don’t miss out.

Meanwhile, look after yourselves, and again, thank you for all that you do. You are the life blood of our communities.

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