Geelong Cats’ community partner Read the Play has released encouraging results from an independent evaluation of its program, which found there had been an increase in mental health literacy in sporting youth in the Geelong region due to the program.
The independent review, conducted by the Deakin University Centre for Drug use, Addictive and Anti-social behaviour Research (CEDAAR), found a marked increase in mental health literacy and help-seeking intentions in young people who had completed the Read the Play program.
It also found that 1 in 11 sporting youth sought help from their coach or Player Wellbeing Officer (PWO) for mental health problems after participating in the program.
“We’re really excited to be able to have the results to show what we’re doing, and the impact we’re having in the community and with community sporting clubs,” Read the Play general manager Michael Parker said.
“We always thought what we were doing was making an impact, but to have that officially ticked off now as part of this Deakin evaluation is great, and hopefully gives us the opportunity to build on that evidence base and those results that we’ve got to improve the program even further.
“It’s even more important now with COVID and those related issues.”
Read the Play, which is proudly supported by the Geelong Cats, was founded in Geelong and is delivered to every AFL Barwon club. It is an Australian health literacy program, mainly delivered to football and netball sporting youth, designed for the junior levels of sporting clubs (e.g. the under 15s age group).
Cats General Manager Community Development and Co-Chair Read the Play Sarah Albon said: “The Cats have been a partner of Read the Play since its inception. We are passionate about increasing mental health literacy and improving help-seeking behaviour for young people.”
The program aims to deliver mental health and help-seeking information to young people by way of fun, interactive games at their sporting club to ultimately increase young people’s knowledge and understanding of mental health and mental illness, facilitate an environment where mental health problems are not negatively judged, and thereby promote positive help-seeking behaviours. Read the Play is a one-night intervention that takes approximately one hour to deliver.
Well-renowned Australian psychologist Dr Michael Carr-Gregg, who is Read the Play’s patron, said “never before” have programs such as Read the Play been so important.
“COVID has caused what we call a ‘shadow pandemic’. We’re seeing really disturbing figures around the mental health of young people,” Dr Carr-Gregg said.
“There’s no point in having people like me, who are ambulances, at the bottom of the cliff; we need to build robust fences at the top – that is what Read the Play is all about.”
Research lead investigator Brittany Patafio, who led the review, said there were some "really great findings" resulting from the evaluation.
"Specifically, we found that those who were low in help-seeking intentions and low in mental health literacy prior to the intervention actually saw significant improvements after the intervention," Miss Patafio said.
"And we only tested this in a short-term period, so this was two-to-eight weeks after, which was really great to see those improvements in such a short time.
"We also saw that 1 in 11 young people actually reported seeking help from their Player Wellbeing Officer, which is a really big part of the Read the Play intervention. That was really good to see - that they were making use of that, and seeking help, whether it be just for some extra assistance, or whether it be for some mental health problems."
Read the Play will again come into prominence in AFL Barwon's junior competition this weekend, with the annual Read the Play Round rolling out across football and netball matches.
To find out more about the Read the Play program, head to readtheplay.org.au.
Support of Read the Play program sits in the Cats in the Community ‘Cats Learn’ pillar. The Cats also support BioCATS, in partnership with BioLAB and supported by Bisinella, and have their own flagship education program GHMBA Healthy Heroes, with a focus on healthy eating, active lifestyles and mental health and wellbeing.