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May 17, 2019

UK sport for development non-profit StreetGames, in partnership with Brunel University London, this week announced the #21by21 campaign which plans to provide 21,000 UK sports coaches and volunteers with mental health training by 2021.

The announcement coincided with the publishing of the ‘Sport For Better Mental Health’ report, which emphasises how sports coaches can play a central part in young people’s lives – not just as facilitators of sporting talent, but as trusted role models who can support emotional development and better mental health.

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The report includes findings from a survey of 14–24 year-olds across the UK commissioned by StreetGames that confirms the ‘trusted role model’ view of coaches among young people:

  • Nearly half (43%) of the respondents said they would turn to their sports coach for emotional support and advice.
  • 1 in 5 (20%) said they would confide in a coach about something that’s worrying them; 21% said they’d turn to a coach for motivation for school, college or university; 15% for career advice; and 10% to talk about problems with friends.
  • Despite this willingness to talk, 6 out of 10 (67%) agreed it is much harder to talk openly about their mental health than their physical health because of the stigma attached to mental health issues.

Findings from Brunel’s research into the impact of the ‘Safe, Fit & Well’ pilot programme delivered by coaches trained in Mental Health First Aid are also included. The national StreetGames programme tested the provision of sport for better mental health as a direct response to feedback from coaches and professionals from across the UK.

“Our research shows that the wellbeing of some of Britain’s most disadvantaged young people can be significantly improved by training their community sports coaches in mental health awareness,” said Professor Louise Mansfield, Professor of Sport, Health and Social Sciences at Brunel.

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Jane Ashworth, Chief Executive of StreetGames, explained: “Coaches across the country tell us that they regularly see signs of mental ill health in their sports projects - young people experiencing depression, anxiety, alienation and sadly sometimes self-harm and suicide. They say that they want to help but feel ill-equipped, not knowing what to say or how to direct youngsters to appropriate specialist support.

The Brunel research team concluded that Mental Health First Aid training not only equips coaches to deliver sport that improves mental health outcomes for young people, it also helps to encourage young people in disadvantaged areas to be more active.

The report makes encouraging reading for #21by21 campaigners who believe in the power of sport to drive positive social change, including supporter and Beyond Sport Ambassador Dame Kelly Holmes, who heads-up her own national charity to support athletes and young people living in disadvantaged communities, The Dame Kelly Holmes Trust.

Download the ‘Sport for Better Mental Health’ report – and find out more about Brunel University London's Welfare, Health and Wellbeing research theme.

Learn more about Beyond Sport’s commitment to using sport to promote mental well-being by reading about our upcoming Stay in the Game Forum here.