Coaches’ awareness of mental health

A recent study conducted in Australia analysed coaches awareness of mental health in youth sport as well as their ability to help support young people’s mental health. Although this study was not in the UK, it supports the idea that football-led interventions has the potential to contribute towards better mental health.

Semi- structured interviews were conducted (5 females and 8 males) which allowed qualitative data to be analysed alongside demographics and quantitative data. The study focussed on three areas: identifying concerns, facilitating help-seeking behaviour and, most relevant to my research question, promoting engagement in sports. This article was very detailed about the questions asked and did not provide definitions associated to mental health until coaches provided their own interpretation. This ruled out any bias in data collection and provided accurate responses.

There were lots of supportive and interesting points raised about mental health and exercise too. Exercise reduces anxiety, depression and negative mood while improving confidence, cognitive functioning and emotion regulation (Callaghan 2004; Fox 2000), and the reciprocal social support that occurs in sport is an important factor in promoting physical and mental wellbeing (Carless and Douglas 2008). Crust (2007) suggested that young people with greater mental health deal with adversity and pressure better which preps them with more consistent cognitive and physical performance in sport. The correlation between mental health and exercise provides more scope for coaches to be a part of young people’s mental wellbeing through sport.

Recommendations included: Further training for coaches in mental health would boost their ability to support young people confidently and effectively. This would lead to further growth in the role of a coach. A pilot study was conducted based on this recommendation and the results were very promising, suggesting that coaches felt more confident playing a supportive role. The reasons to support this include an assumption that young people tend to confide in people they already know and trust. I agree with this idea as football clubs and coaches play a big role in young people’s lives which would make it easier to reach individuals for recruitment. Concerns were raised over the skills and knowledge of coaches to take on such an important role, however an initiative named ‘Mental Health First Aid’ proved to be extremely helpful and something which football led programmes could adopt.

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