Individuals from clubs and leagues across Northern Ireland last night took part in an online version of Irish FA’s flagship mental health awareness workshop, Ahead of the Game, sponsored by City Auction Group.
The session, which marked Mental Health Awareness week, was delivered via webinar and welcomed 40 clubs on to a session led by the association’s Gavin Nelson and Joe Donnelly from Tackling Awareness of Mental Health Issues (TAMHI).
The workshop explored a range of themes from coping with loss and suicide to promoting positive mental health through the prism of football. The unique challenges brought by the Covid-19 pandemic were front and centre as the group engaged via a range of exercises.
“Football is so important to me,” said TAMHI’s Joe Donnelly, who’s been leading on the programme for the past two years. “I’ve played, coached and now I work in the game from a mental health awareness perspective.
“Working on this programme has transitioned me from being a better player to being a better person.
“It fills me pride when I see the clubs in Northern Ireland, who have passed through this programme, and the work they are now doing particularly in light of the pandemic.
“We’ve seen foodbanks being supported, football kits being sent to Africa, Easter eggs being distributed in communities and a range of grassroots work being done in the community. Our clubs are stepping up to the mark in every way and keeping positive mental health right at the forefront of people’s minds.”
One attendee was Patricia McCullough, a fundraiser and social media volunteer for Ards Rangers Football Club, who said: “The webinar was very informative. I have been getting involved in the policies and procedures for the club and am supporting our Irish FA accreditation process. Joe was very easy to listen to and captured my attention throughout. He shared his own experiences whilst giving us a lot of information about the signs to look out for and the steps we can take to support the mental health of our football community.”
Nathan Woolsey a coach at Annagh United, was another who benefitted. "The webinar was extremely interesting and some of the topics mentioned really resonated with me. There exists a stigma around mental health, but this session with the Irish FA and Joe helped further my understanding of both the positive and negative sides of mental health," he said.
Having been highlighted as an example of good practice in UEFA's Football and Social Responsibility Report this year, the programme is continuing to develop and create more online resources for football clubs across Northern Ireland to access.
Michael Tomalin CEO of City Auction Group, and sponsor of the Ahead of the Game programme, said: “Given these unprecedented times, staying mentally fit and proactively looking after your mental health has never been more important so we’re delighted that the Irish FA has arranged a special Ahead of the Game webinar. We would encourage anyone who wasn’t able to make the first session to watch it back in their own time.”