ABOUT one in three sport-playing Australians are experiencing worse mental health amid pandemic lockdowns than this time last year, a Federation University researcher has found.
The latest blow comes for this region in the cancellation of all junior competition in Ballarat Football Netball League on Tuesday, days after having announced the season would proceed.
Senior football and affiliated netball across the region was axed last week with other sporting codes and competitions still in a state of flux as to what could be possible amid fast-changing Victorian restrictions.
Fed Uni sports participation researcher Rochelle Eime said it was clear the absence of community sport had detrimental effects on people of all ages, physically and mentally, but it was unclear what the full impact would be on sport as more winter competitions folded for the year.
Periodic findings for a joint study on the contribution of sport to individual and community well-being found 28 per cent of 6000 sport-playing Australians had felt downhearted or depressed and 30 per cent of respondents were losing sleep to worry.
Professor Eime said it would be interesting the flow-on effects this has to other community sports, especially those with summer seasons.
Sports are really going to have to look at retention, like how is a footy club going to stay connected with its members a whole year without play.Professor Rochelle Eime, Federation University
"What's that going to mean for football next year," Professor Eime said. "Are people and players going to come back or will they shift to other sports because people can't play football? Is cricket going to be stronger - maybe there will be an increase in numbers of people because they haven't been able to play a sport all winter.
"...Sports are really going to have to look at retention, like how is a footy club going to stay connected with its members a whole year without play. Some people will decide to not come back. Some clubs will find it difficult to fill teams."
Depending on the changing shape of junior sport, Professor Eime said parents might move younger children to sports like soccer just to get them in a team environment for a game.
Researchers completed the first phase of the survey last week. Participants across all sports will be surveyed again once community sport is back up and running.
Professor Eime said this was the first chance for researchers to measure sport's clear role in community well-being, due to the complete break in organised sport. It was also a measure how some sports could re-start by creating a whole new playing field while others would fade.
Not all junior sport is benched with Professor Eime anecdotally finding golf and tennis were proving popular.
Wendouree Netball Association will host the city's first major indoor sporting event since lockdowns on Wednesday morning. Retired Australian Diamond Julie Corletto will return to Ballarat Sports and Events Centre a fourth consecutive year for her high-energy netball clinic.
Interestingly, Corletto was among the first to tour the new BSEC community and show courts last July on the eve of the stadium's opening.
Professor Eime is also working on a separate study with Basketball Ballarat to explore a community return to basketball among players, coaches, officials and volunteers. This will look at motivations to return, or not, to the court after restrictions.
Professor Eime reiterated the major reason Australians play sport was for fun and enjoyment and, according to the participation survey, most children did not care about how many matches they played or winning premierships.
She said children fundamentally wanted to play sport with their friends - whatever form that might take.
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