The Wellington Phoenix have underlined the importance the club is placing on mental health by appointing a performance psychologist.
Alex Hill has come on board to develop a mental wellbeing programme across the entire club, including the academy.
The announcement comes ahead of the men’s charity round match against Macarthur FC on Sunday, when the Phoenix players will wear a special one-off strip in support of I AM HOPE and their annual Gumboot Friday appeal.
I AM HOPE aims to promote positive attitudinal societal change around mental health throughout New Zealand, offering hope and a voice to young people.
Hill is a trained clinical psychologist who has worked for the Department of Corrections for the past few years. She has also helped Wellington Softball and Softball NZ develop wellbeing programmes for their youth players during this time.
Phoenix general manager David Dome has welcomed Hill’s appointment.
“Our club is increasingly recognising the value, and role, mental wellbeing has in people performing and living to their best,” Dome said.
“Therefore, Alex’s main responsibility is to help manage the overall mental wellbeing structures within the Wellington Phoenix and Wellington Phoenix Football Academy with the view to maintaining the highest levels of personal wellbeing and related performance for the club’s staff and players.
“Alex will also be working closely with our cultural advisor to connect our ongoing introduction of tikanga Māori and her performance programme.”
Hill is passionate about helping athletes perform mentally as well as physically.
“I think sport in a high-performance context is the pinnacle of where physical and mental health crossover,” Hill said. “So having a mental wellbeing programme and processes in place, and support for player performance, is vital.
“Generally sport has so much focus on athletes trying to physically perform, so by employing a psychologist the Phoenix are recognising to get the best out of their athletes, and for athletes to feel that they’re getting the best out of themselves, there also needs to be a focus on mental performance.”
For the next few months she will be focusing on meeting players and staff across the club to understand the current strengths and challenges the Phoenix face managing mental wellbeing.
“My first task for the next couple of months is scoping out what people need, both staff and athletes, to perform the best they can.
“Following that I will be creating and implementing a programme that allows athletes and staff to go to workshops and be seen individually.”
Hill will be able to help Kiwi footballers develop good mental wellbeing habits from a young age by working with the academy.
“Targeting youth and working in the academy is probably one of the most important roles I will have as a performance psychologist because we’ll have the capacity to set examples and develop really good mental strategies and skills for the athletes from a young age.
“They can also be in teams and a culture that supports those skills and strategies, so when they do get to the professional stage they will have all of those tools in their toolkit already, which can make that leap into the professional space so much easier.”
The match-worn shirts from Sunday will be signed by the Phoenix players and auctioned off, with the net proceeds going to I AM HOPE and Gumboot Friday.
Paladin Sports have designed the one-off strip and they are also supporting Gumboot Friday. They will donate $10 from every jersey sold to I AM HOPE.
The charity shirt will be available for pre-order exclusively at the Official Wellington Phoenix FC Kit Store from 3pm Sunday for one week, with delivery in the New Year.
Fans too can support the Gumboot Friday appeal by texting ‘boots’ to 469 to automatically donate $3.