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Ahead of the game: how the Irish FA is helping to confront mental health problems

About UEFA Members Hattrick

An IFA initiative part-funded by UEFA’s HatTrick programme is using football to help people tackle mental health issues

Irish FA: Ahead of the Game with Kenny Greenhill

With mental health issues on the rise during the pandemic, the Irish Football Association (IFA) has stepped up its efforts to help those affected through its dedicated football social responsibility programme, Ahead of the Game.

The course helps football clubs and volunteers to challenge the stigma around the topic and to promote positive and preventative measures. Ahead of the Game had been delivered via face-to-face workshops at clubs prior to the pandemic, before switching online, and the first webinar was delivered in May 2020. Since then, the IFA have delivered a further 14 webinars to over 350 volunteers.

Club and Community Development Officer Gavin Nelson said: "Throughout the last year it has been brilliant to see so many volunteers wanting to get involved in our Ahead of the Game programme. So many clubs across Northern Ireland are doing amazing things to promote positive mental health and wellbeing within their clubs and wider communities."

Figures from the Youth Sport Trust

The COVID-19 pandemic has led to more than a third of children reporting that they are more worried (38%), sadder (37%) or more stressed (34%), while 83% of children with pre-existing mental health problems believe that their issues have worsened.

'A wonderful resource'

Aoife Downey, General Manager, Warrenpoint Town Football Club said: “The webinar has started a very important conversation at the club among the coaches. Mental health and wellbeing are very important to us as a club and it was fantastic to get more support and information about this issue. This is a wonderful resource being delivered by the Irish FA and I would recommend it to any club.”

Kenny Dalglish Greenhill – named after the legendary Liverpool forward – was a beneficiary of the Ahead of the Game programme which has helped him deal with anxiety, brought on by the death of his parents. Kenny turned to football to help him cope, volunteering for the Irish FA and as secretary of a local amateur league and at Portavogie Rangers.

“Getting involved in a football club has helped me dramatically with my mental health,” he said. “There have been many challenges along the way, but I feel that I am better prepared to face such challenges. I have learned and achieved so much being involved in the football fraternity and cannot wait to see what the next few years bring.”

Ahead of the Game is funded in part by UEFA's HatTrick development programme, which channels revenue from European Championships to national associations for investment in a range of football development activities. Since 2016, the programme has supported more than 90 football social responsibility initiatives across Europe.