As part of Mental Health Awareness week, today we turn to Malawi to spotlight how we are using our football drills to deliver messages around better mental health. Coaches from our partner, YONECO, are running a mental health programme in three areas: Nkhotakota, Zomba and Lilongwe. TackleAfrica provide the coach training for field sessions, and YONECO provide mental health counselling and information, and referrals to treatment for cases of mental illness.
Football coaches drawn from partner organisations such as YONECO are at the heart of everything we do at TackleAfrica. Football coaches are the trained and trusted role models, providing accurate and judgement-free advice to their players who look up to them. Football coaches are our link to the communities in which we work. They are the “face” of TackleAfrica. At YONECO, using a series of specially designed football drills, their TackleAfrica football coaches are trained to deliver fun, memorable football sessions, each one with an message to promote good mental health that unfolds as players play. In this time of COVID-19 and during Mental Health Awareness week, these drills seem more relevant than ever.
Take this drill for example, called “Time To Shine”. It’s a shooting drill, where players learn techniques to become better strikers of the ball. In this drill, players are learning not to rush their shot, to choose accuracy over power, and the correct shooting techniques.
As players practise and improve their shooting, the coach cuts down the amount of time the player has to shoot, giving them just 5 seconds to score. Under the added pressure, this means players might struggle to score, or make worse decisions. Players have to get better at coping with the increased pressure as they play, and some might not be able to manage.
Once players have practised shooting, feeling the difference between scoring without pressure, and then scoring under pressure, the coach moves on to add the Mental Health representation and message. In this drill at the start, the strikers are under no pressure, representing someone who is living a life without stress and due concern, allowing them to realise their potential. If a players scores, that represents someone realising their potential, free from stress and ill mental health. As the time available to shoot is reduced, it represents someone being put under more and more pressure in their life, resulting in stress, poor mental health and even mental illness. People may feel unable to cope with the situations they were finding easy before.
This simple mental health message, demonstrated through a football drill, is discussed at the end of the session, along with a debrief allowing coaches and players to ask questions freely about mental health issues and concerns. We spoke to Programme Manager Peter Diaz who runs the YONECO TackleAfrica component, and asked for his thoughts on linking mental health work with football. Peter said, “issues discussed in the program includes: what is mental health? How can mental health be maintained? Why is mental health important? And signs of mental illness and how to get support if you do show signs of mental illness. Personally I would say, using football as a tool to reach out to people with mental health information is very effective as it is really fun and at the same time educating. It is also an added advantage, as to maintain your mental health you also need to exercise and associate with other people. Using football as a tool for mental health education is very different to all other ways – this one is really fun and provides a very safe environment for people to discuss issues and help each other.”
Wishing you a happy Mental Health Awareness week, and good mental health for all. To find out more about the resources available, a good place to start is MIND, the mental health charity: https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/your-mental-health/looking-after-your-mental-health