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09 Oct 2020 156

Thought leadership article: Why coaches are fundamental to the mental health of the nation

UK Coaching's Director of Coaching Emma Atkins's thought leadership article ahead of World Mental Health Day on why she thinks coaches are fundamental to the mental health of the nation.

Tomorrow is World Mental Health Day, a moment to stop and reflect on your well-being and check on those around you. This year’s theme is ‘mental health for all’ – something which will be absolutely vital throughout the coming months.

You only have to read your latest LinkedIn feed to be reminded of how important physical activity is in supporting mental health and the impact of social connections on well-being.

A key role which wraps up both physical activity with connection is that of a coach. They encourage us to keep active and stay connected and are therefore fundamental to the mental well-being of communities.

Mental health is now being spoken about more than ever and for us at UK Coaching, it was important that coaches were confident discussing the topic, spotting the signs and knowing where they can help and when they need to signpost someone to specialist expertise. That’s why we have continued to provide a discounted rate for our ‘Mental Health Awareness for Sport & Physical Activity’ eLearning course in partnership with Mind and Sport England, which over 35,000 people have signed-up for since the UK went into lockdown in March.

However, the mental health of our coaches must not be overlooked.

When the pandemic hit, coaches were struggling most with their inability to go out and coach – giving back to communities massively contributes to their own mental well-being.

Curious Coaches' Club

This focus on connection was vital to us and as a result, we launched the Curious Coaches’ Club, which has been a huge success in allowing coaches to continue communicating during this time. We also continued to ramp up the products and support tools through ukcoaching.org not just to encourage coaches to learn but to encourage coaches to stay connected.

There has also been a lot more connection online between coaches and parents and guardians. In fact, they’re probably talking more than ever before and this can only be a positive thing. The narrative is primarily around the safety of returning to sport but I hope there’s a wider conversation that allows the coach to be open and honest so we can see a reduction in the activity that really upsets coaches, like poor touchline behaviours and similar misunderstandings that we know drives people away from coaching on a regular basis. There’s been more communication because of the pandemic and I hope this continues.

Proud to be involved in the coaching family

As the country heads into the winter months in various states of lockdown, coaches are going to be more crucial than ever. They will be the positive voice and motivators to get people active, which we all know is massively linked to positive mental health.

Coaches have always been aware of the importance of connection – I think that’s why we’ve seen so many of them continue to coach online in lockdown. I have had the privilege over the last few weeks of being part of the judging process for the UK Coaching Awards 2020, and have felt truly proud to be involved in the coaching family. The stories of what coaches have done over the past year have been amazing. It’s also why we launched UK Coaching Heroes – medals that will be awarded to those who’ve gone above and beyond to support their communities throughout COVID-19.

I don’t think a lot of coaches have been conscious of the impact of their work on people’s lives and mental health. I began coaching, many decades ago now, out of love for the sport of tennis and it wasn’t until a lot later that I realised the impact I was having on the individual both on-and-off the court plus those on the side of the court too! Hopefully, in a positive way. Being aware of this is so important and that’s why mental health is now at the top of every coach’s agenda.

Coaches are a massive injection of positivity and always focus on the ‘can’ rather than the ‘can’t’. I’m looking forward to seeing how coaches keep adapting and supporting us as we move forward.

So, my message is this – be kind, support one another and stay connected. And don’t forget to thank your local coach for the positive impact they’re having on people’s lives.


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