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AFL Coaches Association equips coaches and volunteers with the skills to support mental wellbeing

The AFL Coaches Association (AFLCA) plays a key role in the AFL Industry as the representative body for AFL coaches in the Australian Football League (AFL). The AFLCA’s purpose is to assist coaches to become world-class leaders.

The overall welfare and development of AFL coaches is the key responsibility of the Coaches Association, assisting them in their professional and personal lives before, during and after coaching.

The Challenge

Tackle Your Feelings is a mental health training program for community AFL clubs and coaches. It is a collaboration between the AFL Coaches’ Association, the AFL Players’ Association and Zurich.

A similar initiative in Ireland supporting mental health for rugby players was the inspiration for the Tackle Your Feelings program for AFL coaches in Australia. A number of tragic circumstances highlighted the need for mental health support in the AFL community. AFLCA needed to adopt and adapt the overseas-developed program for Australian conditions within a tight timeframe and at the same time find education technology products and services to deliver the program and integrate with the AFL learning management system.

The five-year program aims to improve mental health resilience, support and to promote behaviors which support better mental health for:

  • 500 Australian Rules community football clubs
  • 50,000 children and their families
  • 5,000 coaches and committee members

As a not-for-profit organization, AFLCA needed a cost-effective LMS solution that could scale for a large number of learners with minimal administration overheads to enable focus on the learning program, not the technology.

The Solution

The Tackle Your Feelings program was designed with a team of psychologists, professional coaches and learning designers. It was designed as a blended program starting with a face-to-face session held at a community AFL club. Coaches and club personnel attending the session get the opportunity to learn about mental health from sports psychologists and participate with their peers in group discussions and activities.

AFLCA's online module dashboard in Totara Learn

The face-to-face sessions are designed to challenge learners' views on mental health and consider new frameworks for thinking about mental health and supporting members of their community. Once a learner has successfully participated in the face-to-face event, they are encouraged to continue to the next stage of the program online. 

Face-to-face workshop booking screen in AFLCA's Totara Learn

AFLCA partnered with Androgogic to implement Totara Learn as the delivery platform for the Tackle Your Feelings program. The LMS uses key Totara Learn features to enable tailored delivery to specific groups of coaches. Coaches are grouped by the age range they coach and provide tailored learning modules specific to that age range with authentic case studies and support for age-appropriate intervention.

To meet the tight deadline a collaborative workshop was held with Androgogic to determine the overarching design before splitting the more detailed design and development into 3 streams: the online course modules, the face-to-face component and the implementation of the LMS.

AFLCA's Tackle Your Feelings courses

Key enabling features include:

  • Audience dashboards are used to provide simple navigation specific to a learner or other system users' needs
  • Learners are prompted to register for face-to face events before being automatically enrolled in the courses appropriate for their coaching profile using Totara Learn dynamic audiences
  • Automated course notifications using an Androgogic plugin
  • Pre-configured email templates and conditional labels and instructions on the LMS provide timely support and ensure learners have a clear path to their next activity
  • Ease of integration with AFL using Androgogic’s Androsync plugin
  • Once the modules have been successfully completed, learners are invited to provide feedback (using Totara’s feedback activity) on their learning experience and assess their knowledge and confidence in applying the program in their context
  • A library of resources, the Coaches Box, releases content to learners based on their progress
  • The LMS was configured to ease administration of the program, particularly as it scales to nationwide delivery. Administrators can access reports including learner registration, progress, results and feedback
  • The Tackle Your Feelings Totara Learn platform is integrated with the AFL’s Totara Learn platform enabling learners to seamlessly access relevant programs on both sites

The Results

Totara Learn has provided the AFLCA with a cost-saving platform to provide innovative delivery of the program. Feedback has been overwhelmingly positive with participants and clubs reporting a much greater knowledge of mental health and that after participation in the program they felt more equipped to tackle mental health and wellbeing in their player community.

AFLCA's Coaches Box in Totara Learn

Participants have reported that they like the look and feel of the online modules, find them engaging, informative and easy to navigate. 

The project was delivered on time and on budget using an agile stream-based project management approach to enable a fast-track implementation that did not compromise quality.

The project has met its targets and is being extended across Australia. The Tackle Your Feelings team has partnered with Australian Psychological Society to assist with the national rollout.

AFL has integrated their Totara Learn platform with the Tackle Your Feeling platform, providing a seamless experience for AFL coaches and players to participate in tailored online modules on the Tackle Your Feelings site.

Tackle Your Feelings is now being successfully delivered to support: 

  • 500 Australian Rules community football clubs - to turn these clubs into mentally healthy communities
  • 50,000 children and their families over the life of the program - where coaches look out for the children involved in the clubs, providing support and education to them and their families
  • 10,000 coaches and committee members over the life of the program - initially the AFL Coaches Association were awarded funding to train up 5,000 coaches and committee members over the life of the program. With such a positive uptake and demand in the community the funding has been nearly doubled and expected to have an impact on 10,000 coaches and committee members by the end of 2024

This tailored mental health education for coaches and committee members at participating clubs equips these front-line volunteers with a better skill set to identify individual members of their club that may have a mental health problem and then to offer them appropriate support.

The impact of COVID-19 prompted temporary changes in the program with planned in-person sessions being run online.  

The ability to integrate virtual face-to-face sessions in Totara Learn means that the engagement sessions between the program participants, the facilitator and psychologists have flowed as well as it would in normal in-person circumstances.

The unplanned experience with complete online learning has provided great insight that may help spread the program even further than first anticipated.

“Building our Totara Learn platform was a journey in itself and our aim has always been to provide the best experience for community coaches. It was great recognition for developers Androgogic and the AFLCA to develop a platform that supports the needs of community football coaches across Australia.

Creating the user-friendly platform would not have been possible without Androgogic and I want to thank them in particular for their leadership and guidance in using Totara Learn.”

Nick Walsh, Program Manager, Tackle Your Feelings
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