One of the best things I get to experience in my role is how NTU sports clubs can offer such a great sense of belonging and support to their members. Indeed, for a lot of our students their main social group can be found on the pitch, in the pool or on the court.
With the introduction of social & wellbeing officers, mental health training and the NTUnity campaign, I have been actively pushing these issues up the sporting agenda, both institutionally and nationally in my role as BUCS student director.
Below I have listed some key tips to help you promote a positive culture within your clubs to support your members wellbeing:
1) Encourage supportive conversations about mental health
Mental health difficulties might not be immediately obvious, so be aware and take an interest in club members’ wellbeing – establishing a committee member responsible for members’ welfare, if you don’t already have one. Set the standard for each other, listening and responding to the needs of others to ensure they feel valued, whilst maintaining appropriate boundaries and understanding where to signpost if further support is needed.
2) Organise socials activities which are inclusive of all members
Social situations can sometimes be intimidating at university, especially for first year students, and can often make you feel pressured to comply with group behaviour. Whether students are experiencing mental health difficulties or not, social situations can feel daunting and isolating.
Social events often focus on alcohol, so instead try focusing on putting on alcohol-free social activities, using spaces in student union buildings or doing skill swaps with other clubs to give members the opportunity to meet new people and socialise in a safe environment. Indeed, some of the best social events I experienced as a student involved no alcohol at all, and can often open your club up to new members who otherwise wouldn’t have got involved.
3) Include members in the club experiencing injury periods
Missing training, competitions or fixtures through injury, demanding study or personal circumstances can often lead to a sad feeling of isolation. Keep members involved through social activities or coaching other teams to ensure they don’t lose their support network, and maintain a sense of purpose within your club through difficult times.
4) Remove barriers to participation
Reducing these concerns by being transparent about membership costs, keeping social activities accessible and diverse, never turning someone away, offering a variety of training opportunities for different levels of abilities and sharing information about hardship funds and access schemes can reduce the extent to which students worry about not being able to join your club.
5) Plan a thorough and inclusive induction
Share plenty of information about your club online, through social media and at welcome meetings, including committee members’ details for ease of contact, the flexibility of students’ involvement and what someone should bring to the session. Make sure you introduce the appropriate individuals and explain how to contact them, providing information on what to expect as well as encourage existing members to talk to new members. These small steps can have such an impact on whether a student enjoys the club environment and come back again.
6) Prioritise the individual during intense competition periods and disappointment
The adrenaline-fuelled nature of competitive sport is thrilling for some students, but can be distressing to others, especially those experiencing mental health difficulties. Discuss expectations; encourage; do not blame and keep any criticism constructive. This goes for any trials or taster sessions and throughout the year. Following a period of high pressure and energy, or after missing out on a place on a team, students can feel lonely and without purpose. Focus on the wellbeing of club members and always offer alternatives opportunities for them to get involved in your club or other university sport and physical activity.
For more information, please visit www.ntu.ac.uk/wellbeing
Matt Nicholson – VP Sport