A group of young athletes in a huddle position
Ahead of the GameImage by: Movember
A group of young athletes in a huddle position
8 February 2021

Movember-program proven to boost the mental health of young men

3 minutes read time

New research has shown that teenage boys who take part in Movember’s Ahead of The Game program experience a greater understanding of their own mental health, and the mental health of others.

The program, which is delivered at local sporting clubs, has been proven to increase the wellbeing, resilience and mental health literacy among the athletes who take part.

Launched in 2019, Ahead of the Game is Movember’s flagship program for young men.

During the program, athletes, as well as their parents and coaches, go through a series of training sessions designed to help them spot the signs of poor mental health.

" Half of all mental health problems have their onset before the age of 14. "

The program was tested on 350 boys aged between 12-18, across a number of different sports including soccer, rugby league and swimming, over a season-long period.

Teenage boys who took part demonstrated a better understanding of what mental health is, had greater intentions to help others who have a mental health problem and were more confident about seeking help themselves if they needed to.

Stewart Vella, a senior lecturer at the School of Psychology at the University of Wollongong, is the study’s principle investigator.

“Sport is a really great way of engaging young men. It’s not school for a start, which is really important to them,” said Stewart.

“Giving young men the skills to cope with a mental health problem is really important as we know that half of all mental health problems have their onset before the age of 14.”

The Aussie-led program has attracted global attention, including pilots with grassroots rugby union clubs in the UK, hockey clubs in Toronto, and a partnership with the Rugby League World Cup 2021.

In Australia, Movember has partnered with youth suicide prevention organisation ALIVE and Queensland Rugby League to deliver Ahead of The Game across 25 rugby clubs.

The program has also been rolled out through St Kilda Football Club's Next Generation Academy, comprising 125 players, 15 coaches and 200 parents.

Owen Brigstock-Barron, mental health program lead at Movember, says that the combination of delivering the program through sport and having parents and coaches engaged is key.

“Involving the whole community enables us to create a supportive environment for young athletes that improves their overall understanding of mental health problems. It’s no longer something they have to deal with alone.

“The course takes place in the changing room, as soon as the players come off the field - it’s a space they feel comfortable and relaxed in.

“It explores mental fitness and resilience which not only helps them be a better athlete but has the potential to increase their ability to bounce back when things get tough, which is a really important skill to learn for outside sport and for later in life.”

Check out the program at aheadofthegame.org.au.