After being made redundant during the middle of the pandemic in 2020 by the Football Association in England, I have to focus more on delivering mental health first aid courses to support my family and our homelife.
It was great to deliver these courses at this time because I really felt that I was making a positive difference to the delegates who attended the courses, because they were expressing to me how much the lockdowns had negatively impacted them and their families and friends. It was especially heartening to hear that they found the courses helped them to support the young people in their lives, which is something that I have strived to effectively do through my whole career.
But after the last lockdown had finished and children and young people headed back to play sports, it was evident that they were not in a very healthy place regarding their mental health and well-being – and this deeply concerned me.
I decided that I couldn’t sit back and watch what was happening and I promised that I would create some basic training and education to support teenagers and grassroots sports coaches to become more effective facilitators of delivering coaching sessions from a mental health and well-being perspective.
With my good friends at Sports Connect we rejigged their existing NCFE CACHE Level 1 in Mental Health Awareness to include a sports leadership element to it.
I have become convinced that society is negatively impacting the mental health and well-being of our young people, and that we need to take effective measures to ensure that this slows before it becomes out of control. Anecdotally, I have heard stories of young people within schools who are permitted to leave a challenging lesson when they feel the slight bit anxious. Other children won’t return back to their sports clubs or other activities because they have developed bad habits during lockdown and are now demotivated to attend and reconnect with their friends.
Through my education and training as a football coach, coach developer and mental health instructor. I have learned that we need to equip our young people with the knowledge and skills to take ownership and responsibility for their development. I posted a Twitter thread that has a series of short videos and posts that outlines my full approach.
I outlined ‘why I do what I do the way that I do it’, and how one research paper has helped shape why I believe the role of a sports coach is to ensure that the athlete’s well-being play’s a vital role in how they develop a love of sport. This model has helped me to design coaching resources that encourage me to develop my own behaviours so I can role model this to my player’s and also to highlight to other coaches and players that I live what I believe.
My ‘4 Corner Player Profile‘ model has helped me to focus on developing the characteristics and behaviours of my players within training and match day. Additionally, my coaching method guides me on how I use a player-centred approach to help me collaborate with the players to meet their needs and wants. Utilising my coaching method ensures everyone is included, and they are able to measure their development based on their previous best and not in comparison to others who are on their own unique development journey.
Grassroot sport and physical activity has some much to offer young people regarding protecting their mental health and well-being. I want to support young leaders to learn and develop the knowledge and skills to facilitate player-/athlete-centred coaching sessions which enhance the participants love of their sport or physical activity.
It can help them to become more self-aware of when they are functioning at their best, and help them recognise when they are not. It can also, support them to develop positive citizenship skills that will serve them well in any area of life they wish to live and work in. And it will enhance their communication skills and help them to manage conflict in a positive non-violent manner. Finally, it will most importantly support them to deal with challenging situations that require innovative problem solving skills to overcome. Being able to work through these challenges alone and with team mates will provide them with transferable skills that any future employer would welcome.
Post-pandemic, our young people need to be supported to recapture their enthusiasm for playing with others, and sports coaches with the right training and education can play a really positive role in helping them to achieve it.
We need to also support parents to understand that they need to let their children embrace challenges, solve problems, negotiate the most effective solutions to utilise, be responsible for their own self-care and development, and to become determined to be the best they can be with the skills and attributes they currently have.
None of this information is new, but we need to reinvigorate grassroots sports and coaches to utilise the very best elements of the games we love to ensure we empower young people and not allow them to detoriate further.
Simon Millington is football coach developer who has worked within sports organisations. He is also a Mental Health First Aid England courses tutor.