31st May, 2021 — Membership and management

Healthy bodies and healthy minds at Devonport Gymnastics

Set in the small coastal city of Devonport, Tasmania, is a thriving gymnastics club dedicated to caring for its members, in both body and mind. 

Devonport Gymnastics is a proud Good Sports club. They’ve been a part of the program for two years and added a mental health plan to their policy. 

Good Sports works with sporting clubs to build stronger and safer support networks that encourage open and inclusive conversations around mental health.

Leanne Lillico, the Devonport Gymnastics Club Coordinator, spoke to Good Sports about why mental health is so important to her.

Devonport Gymnastics is a close-knit community

Leanne loves her life on the north coast of Tasmania. It’s a beautiful area and in her opinion, Devonport has all the activities that you can find in a bigger city, but in a smaller and friendlier setting. 

“This allows for a closer-knit community and means everyone can help to support each other,” Leanne explains. 

The gymnastics club is the perfect example of this, which is why Leanne has been a part of it for 20 years. Her now-adult daughter first got into gymnastics as a child, so Leanne started doing all the relevant courses and eventually started coaching. She now runs the club and is head coach. Since that time, the Devonport Gymnastics club has grown to upwards of 300 members. 

“I love everything about gymnastics! I wouldn’t have been here for that long if I didn’t. I love the discipline and skills it builds in children, the resilience and dedication they can learn. It’s great to watch the gymnasts grow up.”

Devonport Gymnastics focuses on being inclusive and caring, and they have a great club culture. For example, they run gym programs for people with a disability, making sure all members of their community can access the sport if they’d like to. 

An opportunity to connect

Leanne believes that it’s important for all sports clubs to support the mental health of members. She recognises that the Devonport Gymnastics has a good opportunity to do that, especially as a club where staff often have between nine to 12 contact hours a week with members. The club can leverage this time spent with students to prevent mental health issues developing and to give children avenues to talk to supportive people.

“Parents say we spend more quality time with their kids than them,” Leanne laughs. “At home, young people lock themselves in their rooms with phones and computers, but here they are engaged with us.”

The Devonport Gymnastics membership is made up largely of pre-teen and teenage girls, and Leanne notes that occasionally coaches have seen their students dealing with mental health issues - not caused by the sport but because of issues in day-to-day life. 

“To me, it’s really important to look after my student’s minds as well as bodies,” explains Leanne.

Healthy bodies, healthy minds

Adding a mental health plan to their Good Sports policy has helped the club to build on this already inclusive culture and continue providing an environment where members feel safe to talk about their issues. Senior staff feel equipped to support students if they notice anyone having a hard time, or if a student approaches them with a mental health issue. 

“It has given us knowledge as much as anything. It’s opened avenues to talk about mental health. We encourage all members and staff to be open and make it possible for the gymnasts to be open about how they’re feeling,” says Leanne. 

It’s personal experience that makes Leanne so passionate about the subject. When she experienced mental health issues herself as a younger person, she had no idea how to deal with it or even what was going on. 

Leann acknowledges that at the time, she could have used the support of her community but did not know how to ask for help. 

Reducing stigma

To promote mental health, the club has posters up around the place, and coaches make sure they talk to gymnasts about the program. Open conversations in the club are encouraged.

“If you start at the top [of the organisation by training] staff, it’s a good way to go as they are the ones who deal with club members day-to-day,” says Leanne. 

Leanne believes that Good Sports helps reduce the stigma associated with mental health issues. Fear of being stigmatised can often mean that people with a mental health condition do not feel able to speak up or ask for help, which Devonport Gymnastics hopes to overcome by opening up these conversations.  

On top of adding a mental health plan to their policy, two members of staff recently did a Youth Mental Health First Aid Course, which was covered by the Tasmanian Good Sports grant program. The grants program helps Good Sports clubs to improve the health of their members by providing access to education, resources and equipment, which can include courses for staff and volunteers. 

“A mental health plan and the extra training has been really helpful. It’s helped to reassure us we’re doing the right things. And the more knowledge the better,” says Leanne. 

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Membership and management