By Russell Bennett
A cricket club can be so much more than just a place for players to take to the field to participate in the game they love.
It can be a safe haven – a place for anyone to feel comfortable in coming forward to talk about their own mental health challenges.
Cricket is widely regarded as one of the most mentally-challenging sports.
But what about when its people are facing their own mental health challenges away from the field?
The Emerald Cricket Club has appointed one of its own long-time players, Caleb Lobbe, as its chaplain for the 2018/19 season.
Caleb started playing for the Bombers when he was just eight years old, and is currently involved as a youth pastor at St Luke’s church in Cockatoo.
He, along with his brothers Tom and (Carlton AFL ruckman) Matt, has his own mental health journey to share – specifically the challenges that Tom has faced along the way.
On 17 November, the Emerald Cricket Club will host a mental health awareness night featuring the Lobbe brothers sharing their story.
It will be held at ‘The Hangar’ (the Chandler Reserve social rooms), and entry will cost a gold coin – with all proceeds going to the Movember Foundation.
“I just started thinking about what we could do at the club to make it a better place, moving forward,” said Bombers seamer, and club president Clinton Marsh.
“I just thought we needed to have a look at what we could offer our players – more than just a place to play cricket.
“Sometimes you don’t feel like leaving the house or seeing people. When you talk to Caleb he’s great – he’s really calm, and he’s a genuinely good person.
“He broached the subject to me in the pre-season, and I just thought what a great idea (appointing a chaplain) – let’s run with it.
“It just grew momentum, and it’s something where we can make the club a more rounded place, a better place.”
Though Caleb is involved with St Luke’s, his role at the cricket club isn’t about religion – it’s about offering a friendly, non-judgemental ear to listen.
“That’s the thing about sporting clubs in small towns,” Clinton said.
“They’re almost the lifeblood of some communities.
“People just want to help, but sometimes you just ask yourself ‘what do I say?’. It’s hard to find the right words.
“But the more you talk about it, the more you might recognise those signs to look for (when people are struggling).”
Caleb said his role with the Bombers was a kind of extension of the pastoral work he does locally.
“It’s as simple as having a presence and being around at the club, and creating an environment where any player or their family member can come forward and I’ll be there to listen and help guide them,” he said.
“The main idea is to start the conversation – to create awareness that people struggle with mental health challenges, but that’s ok. It’s about reducing the stigma, and creating an environment where it’s clear it’s ok not to be ok.
“My brother’s story is one of great resilience – he’s been able to overcome significant challenges with the help of his family, community, and even the cricket club.
“We want to continue to build an environment where people of all ages can feel free to be themselves – and feel that strong sense of community.
“It’s very early on in my role at the club, but so far I’ve had some great conversation with people already and generally the response from my team mates and public has been really positive.
“It’s really an important thing for people to know that if they’re struggling there’s a safe place they can go to.”
Caleb has made it clear that regardless of anyone’s personal beliefs or backgrounds, he’s there to listen.
He’s mental health first aid trained, and in coming weeks he’ll be looking to secure his accreditation with Sports Chaplaincy Australia.
Next month’s mental health awareness event at the Emerald Cricket Club, which will be alcohol-free, is open to everyone and begins at 7pm.
Anyone with inquiries can call Caleb Lobbe on 0457 265 218, or Clinton Marsh on 0433 332 270.