Former professional cricketer Ryan Carters launches new initiative to help boost Australian dads’ mental health

Ryan Carters
Ryan Carters

Former professional cricketer Ryan Carters, used this Father’s Day to launch a new support organisation for the dads of Australia and is calling for an urgent boost in Federal Government funding to help support struggling fathers who are battling increased mental health issues.

Who is Ryan Carters?

Carters, a father of three, who played for the Sydney Sixers, the Cricket Australia XI, NSW and Victoria, said not enough was being done by all levels of Australia’s Government to help address systemic issues facing dads across the country and said there needed to be a holistic level of coordinated support networks and programs for fathers to remedy the situation.

After six months of community trials, Carters has launched the Dadfit program. Dadfit aims to create healthier families and communities by connecting local dads with each other.

Carters surprised the cricketing world at 26 by ending his award-winning sporting career to pursue a career contributing to social change, moving to Boston with his young family to take up a prestigious scholarship studying public policy at Harvard’s Kennedy School.

He then returned to Australia to work as a consultant with McKinsey, and now, with Dadfit, the former professional cricketer hopes to realise his biggest dreams beyond the bat and ball. Carters described his vision to reshape the narrative of modern Australian fatherhood.

What was the inspiration behind the Dadfit program?

Commenting on the new groundbreaking initiative, Ryan Carters, said, “Dadfit is the result of a very personal, heart-led risk that I took with my family at the start of this year. After a decade of trying to balance fatherhood with a professional sporting career, post-graduate education, and then a demanding corporate career, I had not found balance at all.”

Carters reported experiencing challenges that an alarming number of Aussie dads across every demographic were also facing, including difficulties maintaining physical and mental health, loneliness and relationship stress. Carters cited research from the Movember Foundation reporting that 7 in 10 dads feel increased stress in the first year of parenting and 1 in 2 increase negative health behaviours. 1 in 10 fathers suffer from post-natal depression.

“When I became a young dad during my cricket career, I felt like I was working it out on my own. The men around me didn’t talk openly about the challenges of being a dad, and this continued in my corporate career. On the other hand, my wife was suffering from post-natal exhaustion and anxiety, and I knew in my heart I was getting it wrong,” said Carters.

“When you’re facing the challenges of fatherhood, the last thing you want is to feel alone. Yet today Australian men aged 35-49 – the prime years of raising children – are the loneliest age group amidst a broader crisis of male loneliness. The current numbers tell a dangerous story.”

“Too many dads are struggling, and when dads struggle, families suffer, including negative effects on child and maternal health, risk of family violence, and unequal burden on mothers, who still perform two-thirds of domestic work and child care for children under 5 in Australia.”

Carters decided to tackle these numbers and his own craving for real connection with other dads with a project he called ‘Dadfit’. In January 2023, Carters traded his corporate office for the kitchen table; resigning from his job to focus on running the Dadfit pilot program.

What does the program bring to Australian dads?

The free, five-week Dadfit program helps dads to team up in their local communities to exercise together, swap stories, and cut through the small talk to share what’s really going on in their lives as dads. “I was incredibly excited to get started, but also nervous about whether anyone would even show up. I made a very basic website for sign-ups, and within a week, our first group was oversubscribed!” said Carters of the Dadfit pilot program.

“I remember our first ever Dadfit session. There were 12 dads sitting around the table after a group workout. Most had never met. We started with a simple question: ‘Who are your ‘dad’ role models?’ We didn’t even get halfway around the room before there were tears,” he said.

“For one dad, it was the father who had hugged and kissed him as a boy at a time when other dads didn’t show affection. For another, it was a grandfather who hand-carved wooden toys that outlived him. One dad revealed how he admired a friend who gave up his high-flying career to be there at school drop-offs and pick-ups. The role of dads is changing rapidly.”

“A generation ago, we had traditional gender norms of the male breadwinner and the female carer. Today, we have a chance to rewrite the rules. Many dads want to be equal parents and partners, and there is so much evidence to show that real involvement from dads is great for mothers and children, but our culture and social systems have not caught up. There are still very few spaces where men talk honestly about the challenges of fatherhood,” said Carters.

Why is the program a timely one?

Existing family services like First-Time Parent Groups and Maternal Child Health services reach mothers, but many fathers fall through the cracks. Ahead of the Father’s Day launch, Dadfit’s tested model for connecting and supporting dads in local communities has been successful.

“Our public services supporting new mothers are incredibly valuable. If we’re serious about promoting family health and gender equality, we need governments across Australia to make a similar investment in programs specifically for dads. We have run 3 five-week pilot programs in Melbourne, each with 15 dads, and have had incredible feedback,” said Carters.

“We are now partnering with communities, regional governments, workplaces and sporting organisations to help expand the program, with the primary goal to make it available to dads across the country. I have had messages from Aussie dads and their partners saying being part of Dadfit has transformed their family lives. It’s amazing to see the power of having a community of dads where you can connect, be real and support each other,” Carters added.

“And I feel it too. This Father’s Day will be the first one where my family can celebrate a huge change in our family life with a much happier, healthier, connected dad,” said Carters.

For more information about Dadfit and its initiatives, please visit the website.