Dr Stewart Vella is a Senior Lecturer in the School of Psychology at UOW, a Movember Foundation Men's Health Partner, and a recent National Heart Foundation Postdoctoral Research Fellow. He is a developmental sport psychologist with specific expertise in the relationships between sport participation and multiple indicators of health during childhood and adolescence. His sport based program to promote well being among young men has been embraced by the Movember Foundation and is being translated to other sports worldwide.

What are you researching or working on in 2019/2020?

From 2015-2018 I led a multidisciplinary team at UOW to design, develop, and test a sport-based program to promote health and wellbeing among young men. The program includes workshops for young men who participate in sport, their parents, and their coaches. The program was well received by sporting clubs and proved engaging and effective across all participant groups. UOW recently entered into a partnership with the Movember Foundation to disseminate the program around the world. We have been working hard to adapt the program for specific sports and geographical regions (for example, check out our translation for ice hockey in Canada – breakingtheice.ca). Through 2019 and 2020 we are focussed on the adaptation process, and evaluating the roll out of the program around the world – making sure that the programs remain engaging and effective as they are tailored to meet the needs of our partners. 

In regards to your field of research what are some of the most innovative or exciting things emerging over the next few years?

Mental health in sport has captured the public attention recently, with rapidly increasing prioritisation of athlete mental health. The next few years will see researchers trying to provide evidence-based programs to promote good mental health through sports. We have been leading research in this area and see a huge need for evidence-based mental health guidelines for sporting organisations, and greater influence on government policy over the next few years. 

In your field of research what are some of the things readers should be cautious/wary of over the next few years?

Without a doubt, people should be careful of programs that have no evidence base to underpin their claims of effectiveness. The spotlight on mental health in sport will undoubtedly lead to the proliferation of programs becoming available for the sports sector. However, very few of these programs are likely to be underpinned by strong evidence. Given the potential to cause harm by intervening, this is a major consideration for administrators and practitioners, as well as the sport sector more generally. 

Where do you believe major opportunities lie for people thinking about future career options?

There are going to be opportunities for relevantly qualified people to be working in the area of mental health and sport in the near future. These may include supporting the wellbeing of elite athletes, taking a proactive approach to mental health care among sub-elite athletes, or facilitating public mental health through sport-based intervention. Opportunities to work  in the area of mental health within sporting clubs, organisations, institutes of sport, or within state and national governing bodies may be commonplace in the near future. 

What is the best piece of advice you could offer to our readers?

Be persistent. Research, and particularly innovative research, is hard. Failure is common. We failed many times as we sought to develop and test the ‘Ahead of the Game’ program. Our success was founded on our collective ability (as a team) to pick ourselves up, be self-reflective, and learn from the situation. Of course, long term funding helps a lot – but so do passion and persistence.