Newman University aims to improve mental health through football

Updated on: 01/08/2017

Staff and students from Newman University have worked with the Aston Villa FC Foundation, and colleagues at Birmingham MIND and Sport Birmingham, to improve the mental health of people in Birmingham.

In recent years the awareness around mental health has increased, with members of the Royal Family campaigning to end the stigma around mental health and even speaking about their own experiences. With the aim to get people talking about mental health problems and to also seek help if needed, Newman University understands its importance within the community to improve mental health of those within the region.

With this in mind, Newman began work on a project with Aston Villa Football Club Foundation, Birmingham MIND and Sport Birmingham. The project sees a weekly session held at the indoor football academy at Villa Park where people within the local community can meet with others, have an hour’s football training, followed by 30 minutes of social interaction.

Projects which link sport with mental health are extremely important as research shows that there is a great link between exercise and positive mental health. Exercise releases endorphins within the body which then interact with your brain to reduce the perception of pain and also trigger positive feelings in the body.

The sessions also give individuals the chance to meet with local mental health advisors who speak with participants and offer support or signposting if necessary. The project aims to welcome society’s most vulnerable and encourage them into their local community to build new social relationships and engage with people who can provide support and hope.

Aston Villa Foundation’s coaches run the sessions with the assistance of Newman Sport students Luke Shail and Mohammed Ali.

Luke commented "As soon as I heard about the opportunity to work with Aston Villa in a community project, I jumped at the chance because Aston Villa is a huge club and has a great reputation. This also links with what I want to do as a career; a sports officer as I feel I can offer a lot to communities so I was also looking to gain as much experience as possible.

When attending the projects we would introduce ourselves to all the participants so they knew we were friendly and eventually developed a bond with all the players as they knew if they had any problems or concerns then they could share those with us. I personally would help out during 99% of sessions due to my background in coaching and this helped me develop that bond further with the players. Our overall aim is to make sure the players are enjoying the sessions so we take on board their opinions and ideas of what kind of sessions they want to do and we put those into practice.

So far the Project has been a huge success and I am learning more and more every day."

To date, the project has seen 45 participants register from across Birmingham and the hope is that further funding will become available for the project in order to extend participation to more members of the community.

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