Beyond The Sidelines – Launched on 6 July

The mental health of families of professional athletes is being supported by the Beyond The Sidelines initiative, which has partnered with Rugby League Cares, Leeds Rhinos and Edge Hill University.

The initiative is founded by and for professional athlete families, in an effort to create happy and fulfilled athlete family lives. Its mission is to support, educate and care for one another through shared experience of the highs and lows an athlete goes through during their career.

The experience of two partners of professional athletes sparked the initiative, and their time spent with Nigel O’Flaherty Johnston, Director of Swan Counselling, Mentoring and Coaching (CMC). Nigel has been the Welfare Officer for Leeds Rhinos for four years. BTS is encouraging the sports industry to pay more attention to the mental health of athletes’ families, which will in turn have a positive impact on the performance of the professionals.

Nigel O’Flaherty Johnston, Director of Swan CMC: “Over the past few years there has been a shift in focus to the mental health of the athlete being just as important as their physical health in ensuring optimum performance. I am supporting more and more partners and families in dealing with both the impact on the mental health of the athlete in challenging times, but equally their own, providing them with coping mechanisms and tools to deal with the impact of such instances as athlete injury or retirement.”

Laura Hanson BTS Founder and partner of professional golfer Chris Hanson: “Many people have the view that being a partner of a professional athlete is ‘glamorous’. Don’t get me wrong – being in the pro sport industry brings many highs but what people don’t see are the lows, challenges and pressures it can bring on the family. We need a more holistic support system that works both on the pitch and ‘Beyond the Sidelines’ – one that supports the athlete, but also those closest to them, with the emotional tools required to deal with the challenging times that a professional sporting career can bring and support a long term, successful, happy family life.”

Lotty Steel BTS Founder and partner of retired professional rugby league player Brett Delaney: “Life as a partner of a pro-athlete can be a rollercoaster. Being able to talk to others who had experienced similar situations alongside regular catch ups with Nigel at the Rhinos meant I was more emotionally equipped to deal with the challenges that retirement and a career ending injury brought for Brett and our home lives. We are passionate about transitioning this change in the sporting industry, so that more families of athletes across all sports have access to the support we’ve had, and the benefits that a more holistic support system can bring to family lives.”

This initiative is unique, so research across the world is limited, which is why BTS has partnered with researchers at Edge Hill University. Their research will inform the development of an holistic family support programme in the professional sports industry.

Professor Andy Smith, Edge Hill University: “We are delighted to partner with BTS and Rugby League Cares to support the mental health of families of professional athletes. Much of the existing research focuses on the lives of athletes and the mental health challenges they experience. Relatively little is known about the mental health of the partners and families of professional athletes and how this can, and often does, impact the lives of the athletes themselves. Some research has indicated that professional athletes divorce at a significantly higher rate than the general population, with some studies estimating this to be as high as 70% or above. There are also many other impacts on the lives of professional athletes and their families that need to be better understood and supported. To that end, the creation of BTS provides an important opportunity to help support professional athlete families to lead a happier, content and longer-term family life, and we look forward to working with them and Rugby League Cares to achieve this.”

Steve McCormack, Head of Welfare, Rugby League Cares: “We are focused on providing a holistic support programme through our player welfare programme. BTS complements our efforts perfectly. Positive supportive relationships are an essential aspect in all our lives. The team at BTS understand this and can support from multiple perspectives, but more importantly come at their support from the perspective of a pro athlete partner. A happy, healthy family life ultimately leads to the delivery of our goal of a flourishing, successful athlete.”

Kevin Sinfield, Director of Rugby, Leeds Rhinos: “We are delighted at Leeds Rhinos to be supporting the ‘Beyond the Sidelines’ project. We have seen in recent years how important a holistic approach to player welfare is and how that benefits the player and the Club as a whole. We are proud to think of our team as a family and ‘Beyond the Sidelines’ offers a way for us to support our players at home as well as in the workplace.”

Beyond The Sidelines offers FREE membership to families of ALL professional sport athletes, enabling them to access online workshops, resources, peer mentor support and family counselling services.

Visit www.beyondthesidelines.co.uk for more information or if you are partner of or a family member of professional athlete and would like to become a member, you can sign up via the website or email [email protected].

Feature photograph, left to right: Laura Hanson, Chris Hanson, Sophie Warden (Edge Hill University), Nigel O’Flaherty Johnston, Lotty Steel and Brett Delaney. Provided by Pink Gorilla.

Helen Morgan

Helen's interests are wide-ranging, from food to music to art and comedy.   She is especially keen on writing about local charitable activity and events as well as the opportunities the City Region has to offer to those with hidden talents.

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