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14 Mar 2024 516

Play and child-first coaching key to supporting children and young people's mental health

Play Their Way backs youth social prescribing to tackle mental health crisis through child-first coaching.

On National Social Prescribing Day, UK Coaching, as part of the Play Their Way campaign are recognising the role of coaches delivering socially prescribed activity to support the mental, physical, and emotional health of young people – amid a concerning increase of poor mental health and growing waiting lists for mental health services.

UK Coaching is spearheading the delivery of the Play Their Way campaign and is proud to be part of the 17-strong Children's Coaching Collaborative (CCC) – a collective of like-minded organisations, who want to create a nation of child-first coaches. 

Child-first coaching, where coaches focus on championing every child’s voice, choice and journey in sport and physical activity, aims to ensure positive experiences for every young person through the people who know them best – their coaches.  The approach is seen as critical to increasing enjoyment levels for all children and young people and helping them stay active for life but has particular benefits for young people experiencing poor mental health. 

Nationally, more children than ever need mental health care as NHS figures show nearly half a million are awaiting treatment.

‘Social prescribing’ has traditionally been used to help adults and older adults find non-medical ways of combating lonliness and stress, but now in young people, mental health and emotional well-being is the most common reason for referrals.

However, an emerging approach of ‘youth social prescribing’, pioneered by CCC partner StreetGames via the creation of a Social Prescribing Youth Network, is now directly supporting many children and young people referred to mental health services - many of whom face long waiting lists, often leading to a deterioration in their mental health.

As part of activity sessions, coaches are collaborating actively with young people to co-create activity that helps them as an individual, embedding a child-first approach to best understand their individual needs and respecting their voice.

The number of children referred to emergency mental healthcare in England has soared by more than 50% in three years – inclusive physical activity, delivered by coaches that take a child-first approach and priortise wellbeing, is now helping young people manage their mental and emotional health and guiding a younger generation to experience the widest benefits of being active.

Speaking at a social prescribing activity session run by yourtrust in Rochdale, Chair of the CCC and StreetGames Director Hannah Crane reflected on the incredible positive difference made to the lives of young people:

The Play Their Way campaign is celebrating the profound positive impact child-first coaches can make on the lives of young people. Youth social prescribing is a really significant area where a huge difference is being made for our children and young people – in this form of physical activity, it is even more essential that coaches take a child-first approach which can potentially help reduce hospital admissions and pressure on the NHS.

"StreetGames have founded our Youth Social Prescribing Network with the aim of delivering the approach for children and young people across every Primary Care Network in England. We are proud to support and celebrate the amazing people delivering physical activity that gives every young person a voice and a choice.

"Via the Play Their Way campaign, we want to further unlock the potential of coaches to directly support the wellbeing of children and young people – and that starts with taking a child-first approach."

Heather Douglas, UK Coaching's Head of Coaching and Policy said:

Mental and emotional wellbeing of children and young people must always be prioritised. We know that physical activity, delivered in the right way, has a hugely positive effect in supporting young people to be happier and healthier. There is an growing need from young people to receive support and guidance around their mental health – coaches are perfectly placed to make a positive difference.

“Socially prescribed activity for young people is already making a positive difference. This is an opportunity for the sector to ensure that whatever the activity they are taking part in, every child’s individual needs and wants are respected and valued as part of their journey. 

“We fully support and celebrate coaches who take a child-first approach. Whatever physical activity it may be, it is so important that we ensure those all experiences are positive, uplifting, and promote active lifestyles.”

One parent who has seen first hand the benefit for their child experiencing child-first coaching to help support their individual needs, said:

My son has really struggled with his mental health and social anxiety but since attending the sessions every week, he has come out of his shell and his confidence has grown enormously. He looks forward to it has made lots of friends. I think it is so important that we help young people with their mental health. Sometimes they may feel like that they can’t talk to people about it so to have coaches who they can talk to and somewhere where they can go and be active in this way can be lifechanging.

The Play Their Way campaign was launched last year to transform the way children and young people are coached in by prioritising their rights, needs and enjoyment in a ‘child-first’ approach. The campaign is funded by Sport England and The National Lottery and is led by the 17 partner organisations that make up the CCC.

To learn more about the campaign, access resources and sign up to join the biggest grassroots movement to transform the way we coach our children and young people visit  www.playtheirway.org.

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