Cricket Australia to appoint mental health overseer

In the wake of 40 redundancies at Cricket Australia and more than 150 around the states in the time of the Covid-19 pandemic, there is some logic to the news that the first new job created at the downsized governing body will be devoted entirely to mental health.

CA this week advertised for the role of mental health and wellbeing lead, to report to its head of sports science Alex Kountouris. It is a little less than a year since the AFL appointed its own head of mental health and wellbeing, Kate Hall, and the winter after Glenn Maxwell, Nic Maddinson and Will Pucovski all made very public withdrawals from cricket to deal with their mental health.

While Maxwell, Maddinson and Pucovski were all dealing with issues stemming one way or another from the unrelenting treadmill of constant cricket, its attendant pressures and risks, the more recent Covid-19 crisis has laid bare matters concerned with what happens when that particular schedule and the sporting business in general are brought to a shuddering halt by unforeseen external events.

Both instances, though, have underlined the need for more focus on the area, the better to allow CA’s two dedicated sports psychologists, Michael Lloyd for the men’s team and Peter Clarke for the women’s team and pathways, to spend more time with individual cricketers and staff.

Meanwhile the new role is geared at taking a broader approach to the area, whether that be in managing cases between CA, states and W/BBL clubs, updating the governing body’s approach according to new research, or evolving the remit beyond high performance to the whole of CA.

“The new Mental Health and Wellbeing Lead will give a greater focus on mental health at Cricket Australia, giving us an individual resource dedicated to this area,” CA’s high performance chief Drew Ginn told ESPNcricinfo. “The role will also provide broader case management support for CA contracted players.

“It’s a great chance to prioritise mental health. It will provide further reinforcement to our current psychologists working with our teams. To have a dedicated leader in a national role and having them focus on a national strategy, policy, future partnerships, critical case management and support for players and states is a positive step forward for the sport.

Michael Lloyd (left) chats with Australia coach Justin Langer Getty Images

“This role is more important than ever, particularly in a world where mental health issues continue to be prevalent, particularly with the demands of elite cricket, Covid and all of the uncertainty. It’s crucial for us to provide the right support and environment for our players, coaches and staff, and this builds on fantastic work being done by Michael Lloyd and Peter Clarke.”

Required qualifications for the role include post-graduate qualification in psychology/psychiatry, behavioural science, or a related field and clinical practice experience, in addition to senior management and case management expertise.

One of the areas needing to be negotiated will be the varying approaches taken in each state association, where not every department has the same structure or resources regarding mental health or other areas. This has only been exacerbated by the aforementioned staff cuts, where only Cricket New South Wales has so far managed to steer clear of cost-cutting.

At the same time, CA staff are still regaining their composure after the traumas of April, May and June, when 200 staff were stood down ahead of redundancies that also saw the departure of the chief executive Kevin Roberts amid widespread rancour between CA, the states and the players’ union.

“We are looking for a senior mental health professional who has experience in systems leadership,” the position description states. “You will have expertise in the development and operationalisation of best practice mental health and wellbeing strategies, policy, governance and partnerships. In this role you will also be assisting Australian Cricket health professionals in case management.

“Reporting to the Head of Sports Science & Medicine, you will bring your previous success in implementing best in class mental health and wellbeing outcomes. This is a pivotal strategic role and your success will be determined by your ability to influence outcomes across a complex stakeholder landscape.”