Manchester United Foundation’s Ability Counts participants have benefited from the mental health expertise of Manchester Mind by learning to channel their emotions in a positive manner while playing football.
Ability Counts is the Foundation’s PAN-disability football provision, offering young people aged 5-25 the opportunity to play football in a welcoming and inclusive environment, with a focus on players with a sensory, physical and neurological impairment or disability.
With some of the participants at the session experiencing complex difficulties, across multiple age groups, the Foundation has been working with Manchester Mind to gently introduce wellbeing tips for our young people to consider during sessions.
Manchester Mind is the city’s branch of the national mental health charity Mind, which offers information and advice to those who experience mental health problems.
The charity has been present for Ability Counts sessions for over a year, briefly breaking up more traditional football activities to step in and encourage children to think about how and why they experience a range of emotions while playing; both positives and negatives included.
That might include pre-empting children to reconsider how they will react if they fail to score a goal or successfully pass to a team-mate, by encouraging them to redirect any negative emotions they may feel, into a more positive outcome.
Anne Beagan, Wellbeing, Education and Outreach Worker for Manchester Mind, explained how she has aimed to provide a positive intervention through these activities while working with the Foundation.
She said: “After the pandemic there was a need from parents with concerns about their children and their mental wellbeing and how they were presenting.
“We’ve filtered strategies into the stuff the children are doing on the pitch. If they’re feeling disheartened, that they don’t get picked to be captain or don’t get to score a goal, it’s just so that they see the bigger picture.
“The sessions put a positive spin on mental health, so that we’re not sitting in a classroom, boring them with a presentation or talking at them. This way, they can think about something and then put it into practice straightaway. We’ve done it this way so it’s more practical than classroom-based.
“I’m hoping that the children can recognise when they’re feeling frustrated and they don’t have to act out in an angry way, but that they can utilise and channel their anger, and put it into being more determined and having more drive when they’re on the pitch, rather than getting annoyed and losing control of the ball or lashing out at their peers.
“It’s something that needs to become embedded, and we’ll reinforce it, week by week. It’s not just something they’re taught once and that’s the end of it, it’s a longer journey.”
Some of the participants involved also noted how the intervention had positively impacted them, even after only one session.
Stanley said: “I’ve learnt about my anger and channelling it into playing, but I also need to help others control their anger and make sure they are not disappointed when they make a mistake, or encourage them to do better next time.”
On what he had learned, another of our young people, Sergio, added: “That you should never give up, because you should always participate and you should always try.”
Find out more Ability Counts at mufoundation.org/abilitycounts.