Male community sport players most affected by COVID-19 restrictions

Professor Rochelle Eime, Physical Activity & Sport Insights at Victoria University

A study examining the impact of COVID-19 on community sport participants in Australia finds men reported much lower mental health when they stopped playing compared to women.

How did fare during the pandemic restrictions?

The survey of over 2000 Aussies showed men aged 18-29 were most affected, reporting the poorest general health and lowest life satisfaction when they compared their wellbeing before and during lockdowns. Older men stated that playing sport was their ‘men’s shed’, providing them with valued opportunities to connect with other men, not just on the field.

Lead researcher Professor Rochelle Eime said the findings showed the important social and psychological role community sport played for men. “Some men talk to their club mates about things they don’t even tell their families or doctors,” Professor Rochelle Eime said.

“The study indicates that since sport clubs are an incredibly important setting for many men, clubs may need to pay particular attention to re-engage at-risk men who have experienced worse mental health from COVID restrictions, and who may have difficulty returning.”

How essential to mental health are community sports?

Dave Burt, founder of Sport & Life Training (SALT) – a non-profit organisation that works with sport clubs to build mental health resilience – agrees that COVID-19 restrictions were a significant challenge for many men who value sport as an essential part of their lives.

“Losing sport through restrictions tended to magnify life’s other pressures, leading to suicide ideation at its most extreme. Men in sporting environments lost their routines, exercise, and their habit of interaction and being there for one another — inside and out of sport,” he said.

He said even though restrictions have lifted, many men are still suffering. “I don’t know any man right now who says they are flourishing and things are back to normal,” he said.

Dr Eime said community sport was often seen as something for children, but the study showed it was also vital for adults – physically, mentally and socially. “Sport clubs need to ensure they have the capacity to rebound and that all invidivuals in those clubs – participants, volunteers, coaches and administrators – are given support and encouragement to return.”