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EFL recognises the role football can have in improving mental health

On the Ball programme

3 January 2020

The English Football League recognises the role football can have in helping improve mental health - partnering with mental health charity Mind since 2018.

Lots of football clubs within the league run their own schemes to help fans - in particular men - to open up.

"Getting men to talk about mental health has always been a challenge and that's been well recognised," says Nigel Plant, who runs Notts County's On the Ball programme.

"We bring men from around Nottingham together to play football. But the focus really is on providing opportunities for people to meet and to talk.

"Many of the people that come along to the sessions have found themselves to feel socially isolated and out of touch with other people.

"But people are often drawn to football and drawn to professional football clubs.

"So that acts as a vehicle for us to be talking about mental health and wellbeing and to talk about things like social skills and mood and depression and anxiety."

A typical session might start with some drills with the ball - with professional coaches - and a five-a-side match. But it will progress into discussions about issues around mental health.

"We'll start our discussions very often around something that's been happening on the football pitch - it might be a manager who's looked stressed out on the pitch or an event that has happened on the pitch," says Nigel.

"And we might use that to talk about what we think's happening there and why.

"Then we'll use that as a vehicle to talk about our own lives and think about how we respond in similar situations and whether there's things that we can learn out of that."

Notts County has a separate programme that caters to women in the community and Nigel says the most important thing in both cases is creating a comfortable environment.

"Coming along to a project is a big issue for some people because it's the first step in recognising that you might have an issue you want to work with to resolve.

"We tend to talk about emotional health because talking to people about mental health often puts people off.

"They tend to think, 'This isn't for me, we're talking about something that's about mental illness - and I don't identify myself in that way'.

"If you talk to people about how they might improve their health and their wellbeing, how they may improve their mood or how they deal with particular situations, people feel that they can relate to that."

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