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Using Sport To Cope With Life For Better Mental Health

08/06/2017 12:58
Tom Shaw - World Rugby via Getty Images

Following mental health awareness week, Dallaglio RugbyWorks founder and former England rugby captain, Lawrence Dallaglio talks about mental health and how sport was his saviour.

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Recognition and awareness of mental health has increased significantly in the past three years, and it is now seen as a normal topic of conversation. With it being mental health awareness week last week, it was interesting to see the vast amount of coverage showcasing the many stories of sportsmen and women struggling with mental health issues, but more importantly how many have found their own coping strategies.

Clearly, sport can be used to help cope with mental illness along with speaking out which is one of my key focuses within Dallaglio RugbyWorks programme, as many people do not speak out for fear of being judged. Yet, much of the advice we see today around how to ease the feelings of depression, stress and anxiety draws attention to making sport and exercise a priority but little is for the combination of sport with a strong, encouraging support network.

We work with teenagers who have been permanently excluded from mainstream education and enrolled in Alternative Provision (AP) schools. We teach them the rules of rugby; respect, achievement, pride and teamwork and how these skills can be applied to life. We offer them a safe environment and structure to allow them to learn from mistakes on the field, whist encouraging them to realise their dreams and ambitions. We use the RugbyWorks programme as a way to engage some of the UK's most hard-to-reach young people with life-skills that they have previously struggled to understand whilst helping them cope with life for better mental health.

The feeling that your profession demands 100 per cent of your time never leaves you, along with having all of these extra pressures which are intense and draining and can be hard to cope with. When I lost my sister in the Marchioness tragedy in 1989, I felt lost and completely misunderstood. As a messed up young man, I made some poor life choices that led to me getting in trouble at school. Sport was actually my savour as Rugby came at a time when I badly needed guidance and support.

I recognised the power that rugby had in transforming my attitude, behaviour and aspirations by setting goals and I have since channelled that power into the development of RugbyWorks.

Mental health is not about being tough, it is about having resilience which is often instilled in sports men and women. This is a behaviour we try and encourage at RugbyWorks. You are, what you are exposed to and this is something we strongly believe. We endeavour to expose our young people to new experiences, tap in to their aspirations and guide them down the path to realise them; often breaking the family cycle of unemployment or crime.

The impact RugbyWorks is having on our young people is proving clear to see in the eyes of those not only closest to them, family, teachers, support workers but also others such as
employers like Halfords, Bidvest Logistics, Burberry and Lexington Catering. Our young people are beginning to understand the impact of their experience which includes equipping them with the necessary life skills and reducing the negative perception held of them. Over and above the reports of changed attitudes and behaviours, we're already starting to see the real-world benefits for our participants and for society from this three-year programme.

I am constantly impressed to see our young people succeed, they have true determination and strength to be able to recognise their problems and better themselves. Participating in a new sport which is built on a foundation of encouragement and support really can offer a winning combination. The real question now is, what can these young people teach us?

Find out more about Dallaglio RugbyWorks here

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