Sharing good practice for mental health support structures

By Sported |  13th December 2021

Our network of community sport groups is fully aware of the difficulties young people face with their mental health. In recognition of that, Sported created the Time in Mind project to help our groups improve their knowledge, understanding, and confidence so that they could create the appropriate environment and support mechanisms to benefit young people’s mental health.

Sported’s latest research was designed to capture the outcomes and learning from the Time in Mind project, where 23 pilot projects trialled different approaches to supporting young people’s mental health in their communities. The objective was to identify those elements of the projects that might usefully inform a model of good practice for other community groups interested in developing mental health support structures. It then aimed to propose a potential model of good practice based on this learning for consideration and use by the sector.

The research revealed, firstly, that young people who took part in activities organised by groups in the Time In Mind project benefitted in multiple ways:

  • The young people gained increased resilience, self-confidence, team building, and communication skills (especially relevant as young people emerged from Covid-19 lockdowns). 
  • A positive outcome was that the activities enabled young people to identify and replicate mechanisms for self-help outside of the community group environment, encouraging good habits for supporting their mental health in the future. 
  • Young people also found that involvement in the organised activities increased their confidence to engage in conversations about mental health, both with adult group leaders/support staff and their families and friends, many of whom had not been aware of the problems young people faced. 
  • The activities also had an impact further afield than initially anticipated, as they helped young people  recognise where their friends  were struggling with mental health problems and helped build peer-to-peer support structures.

Secondly, there were many learnings around what worked well:

  • In-person sessions were identified as especially effective: they brought young people together face-to-face, after long periods of lockdown and online-only communication.
  • In-person sessions facilitated better and more open conversations about concerns young people had, even if the session wasn’t explicitly referred to in mental health terms.
  • Several groups developed programmes that were light touch in their approach to mental health support i.e. informal support that wasn’t overtly advertised as mental health support but which encouraged connections and conversations between young people and support staff/peers. Groups reported this worked very effectively, as it put young people at ease and allowed them to open up on their own terms.
  • Almost all groups focused on small group or one-to-one activities, noting that it helped build better conversations, increased interactivity, and reduced the pressure on those taking part.
  • Empowering young people to take ownership of sessions or building roles for them within the mental health support structures at clubs was a prominent positive from the projects. 

Lastly, groups involved reported the benefits of third-party support with their activities:

Where groups engaged with outside support, group leaders reported it as vital in the success of the projects. Groups valued external support because of the expertise/knowledge in mental health support of third-party partners, the variety it offered to the activities (for example, young people engaging with new faces), the networks of shared knowledge it created, and the fact that it made it easier to direct support to other appropriate agencies where necessary. 

Hayley Jarvis, Head of Physical Activity at Mind: 

“Sported’s Time in Mind report is a timely and insightful window into the important role community sports groups play in supporting young people’s mental health. The report shows how projects run by sport and physical activity groups can help in a variety of ways. From upskilling staff and empowering young people to build social networks with friends and peers, to providing safe spaces for them to talk about their wellbeing, and ultimately helping achieve positive change in their lives. 

“We know from our research at Mind that the sport community can play a powerful role in supporting mental health. In our recent Physical Activity Impact Report 2018-2021 we recommended promoting success stories and examples of good practice in this sphere. The Time in Mind report does just that, revealing the brilliant work done by the project groups and exploring key learnings that can – and we hope will – inform other models of mental health support among community groups in the future. We have free resources available to support and they can be found on our website”

Nicola Walker Sported CEO

Nicola Walker, CEO Sported:
“Mental health is the number one issue that group leaders believe young people are facing in their communities. Encouragingly we know that young people feel they can talk to their group leaders/coaches; but this can place additional responsibility on community groups already handling so much. 

Sported’s Time in Mind report reveals the innovative practices that have been developed by our members in their desire to respond positively to this challenge. The report aims to provide learning into how these groups can best support the mental health of young people. It also reveals what outcomes occur as a result of such support and highlights the vital role of building relationships with local mental health organisations for signposting young people to further mental health support. 

We are pleased to share it with the sector and really hope that the proposed model can help inform the work of other organisations on a mission to support young people in similar ways.”


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