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Unlocking mental wellbeing with sport and physical activity – recap of HEPA expert webinar

By Maria Malyshkina, ISCA

Can sport and physical activities help boost mental wellbeing? ISCA and the members of our newly established Health-Enhancing Physical Activity (HEPA) Expert Group explored this question together with invited experts from Ireland and Denmark in our latest webinar in September. Read our recap and get ready for our new online course that will help you learn more about HEPA for mental health and wellbeing.

At the end of September we invited stakeholders, professionals and anyone involved in the sport and physical activity sector with an interest in mental health and wellbeing to join the first of our three-part webinar series on health-enhancing physical activity and the idea of a #HealthyLifestyle4All. The purpose of these capacity-building webinars, which will run until the end of 2022, is to provide help practitioners deliver more inclusive and attractive activities to a range of different target groups in various settings.

Host Carole Ponchon from ISCA gave the floor to Dr Niamh Murphy, a professor at the South East Technological University Waterford, Ireland, who is also a PE teacher, athletics coach, parent, former athlete, current triathlete, and one of the new ISCA HEPA Expert Group members! In her presentation she looked at the practical side of nurturing mental wellbeing through sport in both elite and social settings, drawing from her own experience as a coach. Training for coaches, she said, should include both sport-specific expertise and socio-emotional intelligence.

“In order to coach ‘Ann’ athletics, I need to know athletics and I need to know Ann,” she said, explaining further that it is all about the environment we create for the people who come to practice sport. In order to thrive, people need to connect to each other during the sessions and need to feel that they belong. That is where the initiative presented in the second part of the webinar, on the ABCs of mental wellbeing, comes to play a big role.

ABC is an evidence-based mental health promotion campaign that originated in Australia and is now successfully being rolled out in Danish sports clubs and workplaces by ISCA member DGI. One of its focuses is to encourage people to take proactive steps towards improving their mental wellbeing and another is for individuals and clubs to share the responsibility of creating more welcoming social environments. ABC is built on three pillars: ACT – Do something; BELONG – Do something together; COMMIT – Do something meaningful.

Hanna Christensen and Lone Brink Rasmussen (Project Leader and Consultant at DGI)  explained that for many years the focus was on treatment and prevention of mental conditions, but ABC is prompting a shift towards micro-actions in everyday settings that can help a person ‘swim along the river of life’, even when it gets really tough.

As sport evidently has a positive influence on both physical and mental wellbeing, Hanna noted, it is important for sports clubs and social settings to not only be conscious of taking micro-actions such as positive politeness and helpfuness, but to generally create an environment that makes it nice to stay in their facility.

Lone revealed the extensive partnership behind the ’ABC of Mental Health’ initiative in Denmark, which includes organisations working with social determinants of mental health and professionals across different sectors. DGI reached out to different sectors to ensure that they were all working together on a united path towards improving mental health in Denmark.

Despite the broad network of partners DGI has engaged in ABC, Lone highlighted that the model is so universal that it can be used by everyone to improve their quality of life; it’s simple, people relate to it easily and it is helpful regardless of your context or if you’re feeling that you’re struggling with mental wellbeing or not.

The presentation received warm feedback from the online viewers as the experts went on to give actionable recommendations and inspiring tricks that can make a massive difference to sports club participants’ mental wellbeing. Lone invited us to expand our thought processes and optimise our welcoming processes and community culture – looking into what makes people happy is essentially how you are supposed to work with ABC, she said.

Carole Ponchon added, “ABC might be simple but the topic of mental health and wellbeing is not an easy one. You three just made this field more comprehensible and easy to understand from the perspective of our sector.”

In the second part of the webinar we opened the floor to questions and then broke out into smaller groups where the participants could share their experiences, challenges and solutions and network with other professionals with similar interests.  

Are you also interested in the topic of mental health and wellbeing? This will be the topic of the first module of the soon to be launched ISCA HEPA online course – stay tuned, more details coming soon!

We thank everyone who participated in our webinar and connected with other people working in the field, and we hope to see you again soon! Keep an eye on and sign up to our newsletter for more information.

If you have any questions or would like more information about the webinars, feel free to contact Carole Ponchon.


Watch selected videos from the first webinar here

Coming up next in 2022

Postponed due to illness, new date to be announced – Webinar N°2: HEPA for NCD prevention

15 December 2022 – Webinar n°3: HEPA for socially disadvantaged groups

Registration will open 2-3 weeks before the webinars. 

Posted on 10/10/2022 by Maria Malyshkina, ISCA


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