The National Women’s Football League (NWFL) checked in with a player and coach from the Peterborough Royals and Swindon Storm respectively to discuss mental health and the impact of American football on mental wellbeing.

Players, coaches and volunteers have been sidelined throughout the pandemic, but with the community returning to the field this summer, American football is putting its power to boost mental health back on display.

Vicki Gaffney, a player rep from the Peterborough Royals, described how the return to play and club structure had created an immediate impact on this year’s rookie players.

She continued to say: “The one thing that echoes through the rookies is how integrated they feel from the very first session.

“As we all know the best thing for mental health is to be around people, be active and just have that positive mentality that other people bring to you when you’re not feeling great.”

According to Gaffney, her club has taken huge strides in recent years thanks to its front-office structure and the introduction of player reps who encourage accountability for issues such as mental health.

She added: “We make sure that when we get rookies along someone takes ownership, looks after them and checks in on them afterwards.

“We support our girls and we do what we can to support other people and teams. It’s even more important with BAFA getting the message out there and raising awareness.

“It’s not something you can teach because we all find our own outlets for mental health. It’s for clubs to take ownership of that and make sure they are doing those kinds of things.”

Elsewhere in the league, acting Head Coach of Swindon Storm Women Tony Martin lauded the communication and honesty that come with American football, and emphasised the responsibility of coaching staff to look out for their players.

“The way American football is structured and played reinforces that ethos of communication and teamwork. You have a job to do at every level of American football – if each of you does your job and communicates then the team works.

“Personally I think that all coaches should undertake a mental health course, not just the welfare officers, and that might encourage people to open up to everyone else.

“We as coaches have to step in and take players aside for a chat because even if it isn’t football, we have a responsibility to support our players.”

Swindon will be fundraising for the mental health charity MIND in October with a memorial match in honour of former quarterback Greg Roscow. The club will be releasing more details for how to get involved later in the year.

With the National Women’s Football League well underway, BAFA and the NWFL will continue to highlight the importance of mental health support on and off the field.

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