British Tennis rallies behind the Mental Health Charter for Sport and Recreation

Leonora Borg, Safe and Inclusive Tennis Senior Manager, British Tennis, blogs about the Mental Health Charter for Sport and Recreation and how tennis is taking positive action to promote good mental health through sport.

British Tennis had some great moments in 2015 – winning the Davis Cup for the first time since 1936; Andy Murray winning Sports Personality of the Year and the team winning Team of the Year. Our GB Wheelchair teams won a historical gold in the men’s and bronze in the women’s World Team Cup. There have also been some positive signs around participation: the number of people playing tennis rose by 16% between 2014 and 2015 and Tennis Leagues, Tennis Tuesdays and the Great British Tennis Weekend have enabled more people to play tennis.

Tennis is a fun, exciting and challenging game that many people enjoy playing with friends and family; at clubs, sports centres and parks. As with other sports, British Tennis recognises the positive impact tennis can have on people’s lives, helping to reduce stress and be healthier. The Tennis Foundation’s Network programme engages with a number of local Mind groups as well as being a part of the new Get Set to Go programme nationally to support people with mental illness to access tennis in a safe, supported environment using our sport as a fun way to get more active!

However, with one in four of us experiencing mental health issues at some point in our lives, British Tennis also recognises the importance of empowering staff, coaches, officials, volunteers and players to recognise signs of mental health problems and know where to turn to for support. Our elite young athletes can face huge and varied pressures from parents, coaches, teachers, friends and themselves and professional players like Mardy Fish are starting to speak out about their experiences of mental health in sport. For all these reasons, British Tennis chose to be an inaugural signatory of the Mental Health Charter.

Working across British Tennis, we are aligning our mental health action plan to our day-to-day working. This has involved bringing in all key teams, our Safe and Inclusive Tennis Advisory Group, CEO and Executive board so that they can be champions for this important area of work. The action plan has already seen positive results. We now have two fantastic Mental Health Ambassadors Naomi Cavaday and Oli Jones. Naomi, who was number 3 in the UK, now coaches, as does Oli. Both are speaking out about their personal experiences of mental health.

Additionally, we have developed What’s the Score – Safe and Inclusive Toolkit which includes guidance for clubs and coaches to recognise and support mental health; our elite junior players from 9 to 17 years old participated in age-appropriate mental health workshops; and staff now receive an introduction to mental well-being as part of their Safe and Inclusive Tennis training. We are particularly excited that to mark Time to Change in February, our Ambassadors will be speaking to staff about their experiences.

There is still a long way to go before the stigma of mental health is removed and people feel as confident to talk about mental health as they do about physical health. However, we believe that not only as the national governing body for a sport played and loved by millions, but also as a responsible employer, British Tennis has a key role to play in helping challenge this stigma. We look forward to continuing the pan-sport approach to addressing mental health in sport and working with Mind in 2016.