Team Members

Meet the team

Ahead of the Game is proudly funded by the Movember Foundation.

Dr Stewart Vella

Dr Stewart Vella is a Senior Research Fellow at the Early Start Research Institute and the Chief Investigator for the Ahead of the Game project. He has expertise in sport and exercise psychology, with a focus on understanding how participating in organised sport interacts with mental health. His role will be to lead the project implementation, provide expert advice through the advisory committee and oversee all aspects of program delivery and evaluation.

Helen Ferguson

Helen Ferguson is a Sport Psychology Consultant with the University of Wollongong. She has extensive experience of working with both elite teams and youth academies across a number of sports. She will be responsible for overseeing Ahead of the Game's coach education program focusing on athlete motivation.

Dr Christian Swann

Dr Christian Swann is a postdoctoral research fellow at the Early Start Research Institute, University of Wollongong. His research to date has focused on flow states (commonly known as being "in the zone"), mental toughness, and the psychology of peak performance in sport. His role in the project includes development, implementation and evaluation of a positive psychology intervention for adolescent male athletes.

Matt Schweickle

Matt Schweickle is a Club Engagement Officer with the University of Wollongong and is currently completing a double degree in psychology and commerce, with his honours research focused on sports psychology. He has participated in competitive soccer and swimming, and has also played junior water polo at both a national and state level. He has coached junior boys soccer for four years and assists players and games at the special needs club at Titans FC.

Sarah Liddle

Sarah Liddle is a Psychology PhD student at the Early Start Research Institute, University of Wollongong. Her research is focused on mental health and sport, particularly among adolescents. Sarah will be responsible for developing and the conducting the “Help Out a Mate” program, a brief sports-based mental health literacy program for adolescent boys.

Diarmuid Hurley

Diarmuid Hurley is a PhD candidate at the Early Start Research Institute, University of Wollongong. His background is in social psychology with a specialisation in sport and exercise psychology. His role in the project is to develop, implement and evaluate a mental health intervention program for parents of youth athletes.

Vanessa O’Brien

Vanessa O’Brien is the Movember Adolescent Males Mental Health and Sport Project Manager. Vanessa has over 20 years of project management experience in the Education sector and she is responsible for overseeing and assisting in management and organisation of the project.

Professor Tony Okely

Professor Tony Okely is the Director of the Early Start Research Institute at the University of Wollongong. He is a leading authority on promoting physical activity through community based interventions and the benefits of physical activity during childhood. His roles on the project include providing expert advice on project implementation, sitting on the project Advisory Committee, and overseeing Ahead of the Game’s program to prevent adolescent males from dropping out of organised sport.

A/Professor Chris Lonsdale

A/Professor Chris Lonsdale is a researcher at the Institute for Positive Psychology & Education at Australian Catholic University. His research specialty is participation in physcial activity in a variety of contexts, with particular emphases on the factors that influence physical activity and the impact of physical activity on mental health and well-being. His role on the project includes providing expert advice and overseeing the implementation of the coach training program.

Joanne Telenta

Joanne Telenta is a Program Manager for the Centre for Health and Social Research with extensive project management and research experience in both social marketing and clinical trials. Jo’s research interests include vulnerable populations and community engagement; she has managed a variety of projects including a student emotional wellbeing campaign, a healthy liver campaign for people who inject drugs and a campaign to increase blood donation in the African migrant community. Her role in the project is overall management of the messaging campaign including development of formative research guides and messages, analysis, and campaign implementation.

Professor Sandra Jones

Professor Sandra Jones is an ARC Future Fellow and the Director of the Centre for Health and Social Research with more than 20 years’ experience in the development, delivery and evaluation of social marketing interventions. Her research focuses on the relationship between media and health, including the impacts of advertising on health and the use of social media marketing to improve population health. Her role in the project is to oversee the social marketing component of the intervention and provide expert advice on the application of social marketing principles and practices to the development of the intervention.

Dr Katherine Boydell

Dr Katherine Boydell is Professor of Mental Health at the Black Dog Institute, UNSW and an Adjunct Senior Scientist with the Child and Youth Mental Health Research Unit, Research Institute, Hospital for Sick Children, Toronto. She has extensive international experience with community-based interventions for mental health, with particular expertise in knowledge translation. Her role in the project is to provide expert advice through the project Advisory Committee and to oversee the development of the knowledge translation strategy.

Professor Simon Eckermann

Professor Simon Eckermann is Professor of Health Economics at the University of Wollongong.He has extensive experience undertaking original methodological and applied research with health economic methods in Health Technology Assessment (HTA) and practice. He is a CI on competitive research grants totalling more than A$22 million and internationally is recognised for developing methods and teaching methods for optimising joint research, reimbursement and regulatory decisions. His role on the project will be to conduct a comprehensive evaluation of the potential cost effectiveness of the program interventions and to provide expert advice through the project Advisory Committee.

Professor Frank Deane

Professor Frank Deane is the Director of the Illawarra Institute of Mental Health and a Professor of Psychology at the University of Wollongong.  He is a leading researcher in mental health help seeking, service utilisation and adherence, as well as the effectiveness of services and treatments for mental health, drug and alcohol problems. His role on the project includes providing expert advice on the implementation of community based mental health programs, sitting on the project’s Advisory Committee and consulting specifically on the development and delivery of the adolescent Help Out a Mate workshops

Dr Andrea Fogarty

Dr Andrea Fogarty is a postdoctoral research fellow at the Black Dog Institute, UNSW. Her research to date has focused primarily on public health programs, with particular emphases on men’s mental health, depression and using digital technology to provide mental health services. Her role on the project includes supporting project implementation and developing the project’s knowledge translation strategies.

Dr Drew Miller

Dr Drew Miller is a lecturer with the School of Education at the University of Newcastle. His research interests include improvements in teaching quality for physical education, improving physical activity outcomes for primary school students developing the role of mentoring for physical education teachers. His role in Ahead of the Game will be to provide expert advice, support project implementation and oversee the project in community-based sports clubs in the control region.



“The Movember Foundation's commitment to changing the face of men’s health means we invest in projects that help ensure men and boys are both physically and mentally healthy. We’re pleased to collaborate with this expert team as part of our record investment into men’s mental health in Australia. It’s an exciting new initiative that tackles adolescent male mental health and we look forward to seeing the program rolled out across community sports clubs."

Paul Villanti,
Executive Director,
Movember Foundation

Black Dog Institute

“Black Dog Institute is proud to partner with Early Start Research Institute on this exciting new project. Ahead of the Game has real potential to improve the mental health of young men, through the combined expertise of the research team and the strong partnership with the national sporting organisations. We are pleased to be involved and are looking forward to the 2016 season!”

Scientia Professor Helen Christensen,
Director and Chief Scientist,
Black Dog Institute


“The Centre for Health and Social Research is delighted to be involved in this innovative Movember campaign to promote the mental health and wellbeing of young men. By engaging the sporting community to work in collaboration with the dedicated research team on this project, we hope to encourage young men to have meaningful conversations about mental health."

Professor Sandra Jones,
Director and ARC Future Fellow,
Centre for Health and Social Research

University of Newcastle

“University of Newcastle is excited to be part of Ahead of the Game’s innovative approach to adolescent mental health. Sport and the club environment can be great support structures for positive mental health outcomes, and the support of young people as they participate through these clubs. The development of sustainable structures built on evidence is a very exciting process to be a part of, and we can’t wait to get started!”

Dr Drew Miller,
School of Education,
University of Newcastle

Swimming Australia

“Swimming Australia is proud to support the Wollongong University Movember Sports Project and recognises that sport has a major role to play in creating stronger, more vibrant and healthy communities. The health and welfare of all swimmers, coaches, officials and administrators within the sport is of utmost importance to Swimming Australia. We are delighted to be involved with this project and believe it is a step in the right direction to improve the mental health of young men, within sport and within society in general. This project aims to increase the understanding of mental health literacy for athletes, coaches and parents to recognise the warning signs and know how to act.  Swimming Australia is pleased to be involved in such an important project.”

Melissa Backhouse,
General Manager Participation and Sport Development,
Swimming Australia

Football South Coast

“Football South Coast is proud to be associated with this project.  With many young men playing the round ball game here on the South Coast, this is a great opportunity for our community through our players, coaches, parents and volunteers to address awareness around mental health issues.  There are many social benefits of involvement in sport and this project will go hand in hand and we look forward to the positive outcomes this will entail.”

Ann-Marie Balliana

CEO Football South Coast