AFL is Australia’s premiere football code. Played for over 150-years the game is home to some of the world’s most exciting, skillful, and athletic competitors. The league and it’s leaders are an extraordinary force in the nation’s sporting, social and cultural landscape with a stated purpose to ‘progress the game so everyone can share in its heritage and possibilities'.

EVOLVE, a best-in-class personal and professional development program for men at the AFL.

The Opportunity

In 2019 the AFL partnered with Nosworthy Group to pilot and pioneer new ways to connect men more deeply with themselves, their work and the people around them.

The clear aim of the program was to enhance constructive and inclusive behaviors of men within the leadership group and core teams.

The piloted approach worked increase empathy through activities designed to reduce Perceived Social Isolation, reduce stress and increase emotional awareness and sensitivity.

The Approach

The program itself was built on three cohesive pillars:

Learning Resources
  • Long form recorded conversations and podcasts with leaders and experts in leadership, inclusion and men’s development.
  • Topical research-backed learning support resources (Research packets and activation-journals).
  • Regular provocations shared directly with participants of things to consider and practice as they moved through their working day.

Small Group Sessions
  • Program participants were placed in cross-functional, and cross-team peer-led small groups.
  • Small group leaders were identified and given development opportunities to host conversations.
  • Groups were provided conversation guides with structured reflections, provocations and exercises.
All-In Sessions
  • Over the duration of the program, three all-group sessions were held in an inspiring and informal offsite location.
  • Participants joined together for learning experiences hosted by leading psychologists, trainers and men’s educators.

Evaluation Strategy

To best understand the impact and efficacy of the learning experience on the participants, Tyler Hudson LPC, NCC, CWC was engaged as the evaluating clinician.

“Given my understanding of the programming that was to be delivered through EVOLVE, I recommended that we measure the following constructs: Empathy, Alexithymia, Mindfulness, and Perceived Social Isolation.

As a clinician who researches and works frequently with men, it was also my recommendation that we measure Perceived Stress and the phenomenon of Gender Role Conflict (GRC), as both are correlated with mental health, well-being, relationships, and job performance.

The research question guiding this evaluation and analysis is: What is the effect of EVOLVE programming on participants’ empathy, alexithymia, mindfulness, perceived social isolation, perceived stress, and gender role conflict?”

The Results

Amongst all participants, and in aggregate:

  • Stress was reduced by by 11.5%

  • Empathy was increased by 37%
  • Emotional access and fluency was increased (Alexithymia to zero)
  • Mindfulness was increased by 5.7%
  • Gender Role Conflict was decreased by 5.2%
  • Perceived Social Isolation was decreased by 31%

“The EVOLVE program has shown to produce a statistically significant effect on AFL participants’ empathy, alexithymia, mindfulness, and perceived social isolation. From a clinical perspective the results are quite impressive. In particular, the significance of the changes in Perceived Social Isolation would be difficult to overestimate. 

Men are largely psychologically, emotionally, and often physically isolated and the research has shown significant correlations between perceived social isolation and depression, suicide, and mortality rates. 

Research has research indicated that when compared to smoking, obesity, sedentary lifestyle, and high blood pressure, social isolation was as strong a risk factor for morbidity and mortality (Cacioppo et al., 2011; House, Landis & Umberson, 1988).

Significant time, resources, and energy are used frequently in a variety of clinical and professional settings to increase these characteristics and states in individuals, often to little or no effect.”

- Tyler Hudson LPC, NCC, CWC