Michael's Coping Through Football journey

Anonymous 27 July 2016

Our Coping Through Football project, which began in 2006, continues to attract acclaim from health and sports organisations. Through working in partnership with NELFT and Leyton Orient Trust we use football to improve the lives of those with mental ill health. Whilst football is the principal activity the project is more than just delivering activity sessions, it is a recovery model that supports service users back to education, training and employment and helps them to re-engage with society.

Here is Michael’s story of his involvement with the project and how it has helped to change his life.

I experienced bullying at work and it had a negative effect on me which led to me developing symptoms of depression and anxiety. I was doing some work on managing my anxiety when I saw an advert for Coping Through Football in the local paper and made an appointment with my care co-ordinator. I was in a bad way with the anxiety then, stuck at home not going out, not seeing my friends. It sounds funny but at CTF I saw people that were suffering more than me and I thought we could support each other to get better.

When I first came to CTF I was hesitant to tell people outside of the project that I had a mental health problem because of the stigma and I cared what people thought about me. At CTF I tried to help and support the new people and staff that came. I would be friendly to them give them a few tips just make them feel welcome.

For the first two years CTF gave me some structure and I got used to expressing myself in the team situation. The way that you play reflects how you feel inside. Sometimes you feel upbeat and you’re not thinking about anything and you’re just going for it. Other times you feel down and can’t be bothered. The thing about CTF is we were all in the same situation. We all have our problems but we tried to understand each other, just let people be and feel how they feel without judging them.

The Project Co-ordinator encouraged me to think about developing a career. I was confident about my football skills so I completed the FA Level 1 and Level 2 Football Coaching course. The Level 2 was more challenging as I had to find a practice placement. I contacted lots of people and no one responded so I got a bit fed up. The coach and the Project Co-ordinator encouraged me to keep trying and LPFF linked me up with one of their projects to keep young people playing sport. Passing the Level 2 in Football Coaching and the experiences I gained at CTF gave me the confidence to progress and to think about what career I wanted to do.

I chose to do the Level 1 Teaching Assistant course as I had enjoyed teaching football. On the first day at college I was nervous but I knew I’d get through it. Just like at CTF I got to know the people and got used to them and my anxiety dropped. I completed that course and started the Level 2 Teaching Assistant course which meant I needed to find a placement at a school. The school that took me on selected me above the other candidates because of my coaching qualifications, they wanted someone who could coach the children at football. So this time around people wanted me because of my knowledge and my football coaching skills. My new career as a teaching assistant with young people who have learning needs has directly been because of my experience and the support I received from CTF.

At the school I work with children with range of issues: difficulties concentrating, behavioural issues. My role is to support them to focus on their work and develop confidence. The school is fantastic. I have been given the responsibility to coach one of the football teams. We have done very well and went to Hyde Park for an exhibition match. I have liaised with the Leyton Orient Community Liaison Officer and arranged for Leyton Orient professional players to come and visit the school. So you can see I have come a long way.

CTF brought me out of myself and I apply what I learnt at the project in my work. I think about the positive ways to improve the children’s confidence like I did at CTF. Now I’m not hiding from anyone, I don’t care about the stigma. I’m happy to tell people about CTF and my journey to where I am today.

(Michael is pictured with former Arsenal and England player Paul Davis)