Swans Appoint New Women’s Football Chaplain

Tuesday, September 24, 2019 - 9:49 AM

The Swan Districts Football Club has appointed Karen van Namen as the chaplain for the club’s women’s football program. This follows the appointment earlier in the season of past player Rod Manton as the chaplain of the senior men’s football program.

Swans Chief Executive Officer Jeff Dennis says that mental health is a significant increasing concern for both men and women. “Our club is not immune to these challenges and has decided to take a proactive approach to assist all Swans football players to be the best they can”.

“The club’s Strategic Plan 2018 – 2022 includes an objective to provide a positive, healthy and caring environment for our people to aspire to be the best they can. We’re creating strategies to help develop our peoples’ capability by providing continuing education, training and well-being initiatives”.  

The facts are one in four young Australians currently have a mental health condition and suicide is the biggest killer of young Australians and accounts for more deaths of young people than car accidents. Self-reported mental health issues in young Australians aged 18-24 involved in local football is substantially higher than the general population.

Karen will become an integral part of the club’s women’s football program in 2020 and will help create a safe and secure place for all Swans women players. She’ll help build an environment where players, staff and volunteers can feel that’s it’s not only ok, but it’s perfectly normal to reach out and talk to someone when they need to.

Karen spent seven years as a Personal Fitness Trainer and Sports Massage Therapist and 14 years as a College lecturer and assessor. She followed this with three years as the Manager for Lakeside Fitness Centre and also the Sports Chaplain for Lakeside’s Women’s SBL team. 

It was at Lakeside where Karen discovered that it was more than just physical health and she started working on developing the whole person – nutritionally, mentally and socially. 

As a chaplain, Karen sees the importance of supporting people in their good and bad times to be the best version of themselves. This can be achieved easier in the presence of a strong community as we seek to strengthen one another. “When I read the Swan Districts vision I realised how closely aligned they were to my own goals and purpose of connecting people and developing their potential. I got excited with the prospect of coming alongside not only the players but also the supporters, parents, coaches and staff, as well as the wider community.”

Karen lives in Bassendean, a short walk from the ground. She loves AFL and has been an avid West Coast Eagles supporter since 1990. Karen and her husband look forward to meeting many of the club’s supporters in 2020. 

The club’s sports chaplaincy program complements the mental health education sessions and welfare support program provided by Outside The Locker Room. The Swans OTLR program includes topics on depression and anxiety, drugs and alcohol education, social media and cyber bullying, gambling and inclusion and respect. The program has been going for two years at the club and now includes both the men’s and women’s senior playing groups.

Since the mid 1980’s, Sports Chaplaincy Australia has worked closely with Australian sports to provide well-resourced and quality personnel as chaplains to their respective sports. Because of its diversity it has established a common code of conduct and training program for chaplains in both high-performance and local sports settings, thus providing a national umbrella accreditation program. All SCA chaplains are professionally accredited, insured and accountable to Sports Chaplaincy Australia.

This initiative follows other club strategies to raise the profile of women’s football including spending $200,000 on a new dedicated women’s football changeroom accessible to junior football clubs in the Swans community in 2020. The club has also invested heavily in repositioning its WAFLW home games providing a fun and engaging environment for young families with its very popular Swans Play Zone and on ground music and competitions.

Next season the club will expand its team support structure further by providing a physiotherapist at its women’s football training sessions and game days and also improve its match day vision and data feedback systems.

“Women’s football is critically important to the Swan Districts Football Club’s future. It provides the club a tremendous opportunity to speak to half the population in a different way than we have in the past. It’s an important strategy helping us build new audiences”, says Jeff Dennis.