They say sport has the power to change lives and that has certainly been brought to the fore during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Lockdowns restricted the opportunity for us to both play organised sport but also to sit in the stands and terraces to cheer on the clubs we love. Joe Wicks kept us active in our homes, but he wasn’t able to replicate the passion, the joy and the raw energy we get from live sport.
A chance to offer support
While one professional cricket club was missing the sound of leather on willow, their committee saw it as a moment to stand alongside its members and community in a very different way – to offer help and support – in effect to be their 12th man in the middle of a global crisis. Sussex Cricket launched a world-first mental health and wellbeing hub.
The club teamed up with its local NHS Foundation Trust and welltech specialist Frog Systems to create an online environment where local people could seek help, advice and support if they were struggling. It brought together the authentic voices of players, staff and club volunteers to speak directly to fans and residents.
It’s been just over a year since the hub was launched. The first person to speak on it was former England wicketkeeper Sarah Taylor who shared her own continuing struggle with anxiety issues. Since then, hundreds of people from the wider Sussex community have chosen to share their own experiences to help others. Over 50,000 pages of content have been viewed.
Adding cultural wellbeing into the mix
At first the hub focused on helping with issues like depression and addiction and then it widened out to cover subjects like dementia and bereavement. However slowly but surely, the hub has become as much about the cultural as the emotional state of the community, with an increasing number of voices speaking out on disability, racism and diversity.
The ability to know that you are not alone, and hearing from someone who has been through similar experiences, has proved incredibly powerful. Presenting this in video form rather than text has enhanced the messaging further.
Another unique aspect of the Sussex Cricket mental health and wellbeing hub is that it connects those who visit it with organisations in the area that offer support, as well as a library of curated educational resources. It has become a learning platform as well as a support hub and the club is rightly proud of this.
Insight to influence action
Behind the platform sits data, the lifeblood of any sports organisation when it comes to fan engagement. The insight gained from the anonymised searches made by users of the hub guides the club’s Community Foundation on where extra resources might be needed or what new partnerships it could forge.
Other sports clubs have seen the benefits of what Sussex Cricket has done and followed suit. The British Basketball League launched BBL Inspires, a mental health and wellbeing hub for its own community. In Leicester, the four professional sports clubs have come together with a range of local charities for a similar initiative to engage with fans and residents across the city, to break down stigma around mental health and encourage people to lead healthier lives. They say at United Leicester “You support us, so we support you”. Never has that phrase seemed truer.
The power of sport in the community
Sports clubs don’t just entertain, they are part of the very fabric of the communities in which they reside. Over the past two years, they have played an important role in keeping us buoyant when they have been able to get back into action, even if that experience has been shared with us from behind closed doors.
While the pandemic has seen many more elite sports stars open up publicly about the challenges they face around their mental health, in one corner of the countryside a quiet revolution has happened. As a result of a global emergency, Sussex Cricket has taken the opportunity to offer a helping hand to its fans and wider community in the most difficult of circumstances.
These first steps taken by Sussex Cricket have shown that support in sport is not just a one-way street.
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About the author
Phil Worms is Chief Executive Officer of Frog Systems. He has over 30 years’ experience in wellbeing, technology, and digital education. He is passionate about the use of the lived experience and video to transform society.
Frog Systems brings people and content together to achieve positive change. Its Ashia® technology provides a safe online environment where individuals learn from other people’s struggles and connect with organisations offering support, to proactively improve their emotional, physical and social wellbeing.