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SMJFL Champions Mental Health in Round 5

Round 5 of the South Metro Junior Football League (SMJFL) 2021 season saw the league highlight its partnership with the AFL Coaches Association’s Tackle Your Feelings program.

The partnership aims to promote understanding of mental health from a grassroots football perspective for local level coaches.

Tackle Your Feelings is a mental health training program available for the SMJFL’s hundreds of coaches which provides tools to better understand, recognize and manage mental health from a grassroots level.

The program does this by building skills to enable coaches to foster an environment where athletes are supported to effectively manage their emotions.

Tackle Your Feelings Program Manager and St Kilda Football Club AFLW Coach and SMJFL ambassador Peta Searle attended Mordialloc Braeside JFC’s home ground, Walter Galt Reserve, to promote the program and spread awareness of the cause.

Mr Walsh, who originally hails from Ireland and has a background playing both Gaelic football and AFL football, spoke to SMJFL media about the program.

“What we’re trying to do with our program more broadly is encourage conversations and connections between players and coaches,” Mr Walsh said.

Mr Walsh recognized the significant role coaches play as role models for their junior players.

“Coaches are often seen as role models, and because of this, kids often open up to them about issues that may be occurring.”

Pictured: Tackle Your Feelings Program Manager Nick Walsh and St Kilda AFLW Coach Peta Searle address the U14 Mordi Brae JFC girls

This season, St Kilda AFLW Coach Peta Searle has served as an SMJFL Tackle Your Feelings program facilitator and has facilitated many of the league’s member clubs’ sessions.

SMJFL coaches have been fortunate to witness Ms Searle draw on her experiences as a coach throughout her football journey.

Ms Searle was the first female AFL-level assistant coach and is currently the sole female coach in the AFLW competition, and has a long career consisting of both playing and coaching.

Ms Searle began her football journey at Mordialloc Braeside as the sole female football playing in their Under 9 side and said she wished she had more support from her coaches at the beginning of her football journey.

“Not everyone gets it right all the time,” said Ms Searle.

“As a coach I don’t get it right all the time with my players [and] as a parent I don’t get it right all the time with my kids, but it’s really important that there’s different avenues for kids to be able to seek support and make them feel safe enough to be able to just go out and talk about how they’re feeling.”

Pictured: Tackle Your Feelings Program Manager Nick Walsh and St Kilda AFLW Coach Peta Searle speak at the SMJFL 2021 Season launch

Ms Searle spoke of the importance of not only recognising mental health, but actively maintaining it.

“You know how we talk about dental hygiene; do we talk about mental hygiene? We don’t because we don’t really know enough,” Ms Searle said.

“So, we know how to present [kids] with dental hygiene, but we don’t know how to actually prepare our kids for mental hygiene and good mental health.”

Mr Walsh said the Tackle Your Feelings program will empower coaches by giving them the “simple tools” needed to tackle conversations on mental health.

“What we’re trying to do is give coaches the simple tools to have those initial conversations and increase their capacity and confidence to be therapeutic about their approach.”

Mordialloc Braeside Junior Football Club Vice President and Under 14 Girls Division 4 Coach Ashley Orchard said he was “extremely pleased” with the program.

“We’re so blessed to be with a league who we feel has more than adequately put the support mechanisms in place to support and give guidance to the clubs,” said Mr Orchard.

“[Mental health] is such an important topic and one that I am very passionate about as well.”

Mr Orchard spoke of the tight-knit community at Mordialloc Braeside JFC.

“To our players, look around you. There’s so many good adults, so many friends, so many people to support you,” he said.

“No one’s ever alone [and] there’s always an ear, somebody willing to listen. Don’t be afraid to speak up and use your voice.”

For more resources and information about the Tackle Your Feelings program, visit


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