Four years ago an under-16 football player in Northland took his own life at the end of a successful season.
Northern Region Football Far North area manager James Coleman had just met the player at a prize-giving and took the news of the death hard.
“It really resonated with me, I felt really bad, I sorta had a sick feeling in my stomach about the fact that I’d met this guy the week before,” Coleman said.
“It made me think if it is effecting me like this, how must the coach be feeling about it, he has worked with the player throughout the season. He must be feeling simply dreadful about the whole thing and questioning himself as to what he could have done or what he might have seen or if there was anything he could done to prevent that.”
Coleman said coaches were the mentors and role models to young players during the season and he wanted to find a way to help them be better prepared for dealing with the mental state of players alongside the physical and tactical development.
With Okaihau College teacher and Paihia FC member, Sarah Morgan-Caswell, Coleman put together a youth suicide prevention programme to educate coaches and equip them with the tools to help any players they are concerned about.
They launched a pilot of the programme for coaches from the Kerikeri Football Club once the football season resumed after the lockdown and the local federation through to Oceania Football have taken notice.
“Mental health is a real issue throughout the country and with the right tools, resources and knowledge everybody involved in delivery of sport can make a difference,” Coleman said.
“What we were trying to do is get them to look at the children’s behaviour in a slightly different way.
“If they have a player they know is a very good footballer, loves his football, turns up every week but then the dynamics start to change. He doesn’t show up every week, when he does come he’s moody, he’s not listening, he’s not engaging and he’s not talking to his friends or teammates think about what the reasons might be behind that. It might not just be because he’s being a moody teenager there’s very often something else going on.”
Coleman said the 30 minute presentation was aimed at giving the coaches the tools and resources to ask the question, the confidence to talk to the player and ask if there is anything they want to talk about and engage with them in a slightly different way than they normally would.
The relationship between player and coach can be different to the relationship with parents or teachers especially in the Far North, Coleman said.
“Travel is pretty big up here on a Saturday morning to get to games and the coaches become the taxi drivers as well and very often go with a car full of players to a game and very often conversations even then just in the car can give you little inclinations and ideas on anything that might be going wrong in a person’s life.”
Coleman acknowledged there was a risk of potential coaches shying away from taking on the role if they thought there was too much pressure on them to also take on a social worker role.
He said volunteers were hard enough to come by in all sports and the programme was designed as an aid not an additional responsibility.
“Some of the coaches we spoke to up here they’re fairly young themselves, they’re barely out of teenage years, they’re older players but they coach younger teams so they may not have the confidence to embrace the subject.
“But what we’re trying to get across to them is they think ‘Johnny on my team seems to be having real difficulties but I don’t know what to do and I don’t know how to handle it’, at least then they can talk to somebody else about it and try and get help for the player.
“We’re also at pains to let people know that with the best will in the world we are never going to stop people committing suicide, it’s going to happen, but if we can prevent just one or two lives being taken then we’ve made a difference.”
Where to get help:
· Need to Talk? Free call or text 1737 any time to speak to a trained counsellor, for any reason.
· Lifeline: 0800 543 354 or text HELP to 4357
· Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 / 0508 TAUTOKO (24/7). This is a service for people who may be thinking about suicide, or those who are concerned about family or friends.
· Depression Helpline: 0800 111 757 (24/7) or text 4202
· Samaritans: 0800 726 666 (24/7)
· Youthline: 0800 376 633 (24/7) or free text 234 (8am-12am), or email firstname.lastname@example.org
· What’s Up: online chat (3pm-10pm) or 0800 WHATSUP / 0800 9428 787 helpline (12pm-10pm weekdays, 3pm-11pm weekends)
· Kidsline (ages 5-18): 0800 543 754 (24/7)
· Rural Support Trust Helpline: 0800 787 254
· Healthline: 0800 611 116
· Rainbow Youth: (09) 376 4155
If it is an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111.