June 13, 2024

Foundation continues to raise mental health awarenes…

The Irish FA Foundation is continuing to work hard when it comes to raising awareness of mental health in football clubs across Northern Ireland.

More clubs than ever before are engaging with the Foundation’s programmes to tackle the issue of mental health and reduce the stigma around it.

It is using this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week – it runs until Friday – to highlight that promoting good mental health has been a crucial part of its work for several years now.

Kyle Robinson (pictured), a Club Development Officer with the Foundation, explained: “The work that we do around mental health within club development usually comes through the Ahead of the Game programme that was set up in 2017. It’s a workshop to promote positive mental health awareness within our football clubs across Northern Ireland.

“Ahead of the Game has had more than 600 participants within the past year, across around 60 clubs, and it has been really positive.

“It’s ultimately aimed at raising mental health awareness within football clubs, especially among coaches and volunteers, so that they can spot the signs of any mental health issues that players are experiencing.”

He noted that since the programme’s launch the engagement has been “brilliant”, with AOTG workshops delivered in numerous settings, however in 2023 all sorts of records were broken in terms of participation levels and the number of clubs that engaged with it.

Robinson pointed out that the Foundation’s club development officers are tasked with helping clubs to build capacity so they are more sustainable and better structured. There is predominantly an off-pitch focus as they help clubs with their governance, club accreditation, safeguarding and overall structures. And raising mental health awareness is part of the mix.

Another important contribution in terms of mental health awareness comes from the Mental Health Champions initiative.

Launched in April 2022, it involves a team of volunteer ambassadors who help clubs to tackle the issue of mental health and reduce the stigma around it. And they promote Ahead of the Game.

Robinson explained the champions have good contacts within their respective areas and are able to promote the Foundation’s work from the inside, within their own clubs and sports in their areas. They also provide information on mental health charities operating locally.

Initially 22 volunteers signed up to become ambassadors. Right now there is a consistent level of 14 or 15 spread across the country, with the Foundation hoping to recruit a few more in the coming months.

The Club Development Officer said that in 2024 the Foundation is looking to build and grow the level of participation among clubs and also to help clubs who have already run Ahead of the Game workshops to continue to highlight mental health.

“Ultimately mental health is a really important issue and a very important area that needs to be talked about and discussed,” he added.

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