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Supporting young people during physical activity

Coaches, volunteers and leaders play an important role in supporting young people’s mental health when providing physical activity sessions. Working with young people and coaches, we have co-produced resources to upskill the workforce. These provide information on how to better support young people experiencing, or at risk of experiencing, a mental health problem.

How to support young people during physical activity

River, Paddy and Elsa draw on their lived experience, to share how to support young people in physical activity.

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Top tips

Young people from Mind’s Steering group co-produced the following tips and suggestions to help you support them during your sessions.

Young person focused: Find out what each young person wants to get out of a session. Allow them time to set achieveable goals and review regularly so they can reflect on their progress and personal achievements.

Observe: Observe and listen, before during and after a session, to spot
changes in a young person’s behaviour. Focus on their thoughts and
feelings.

Understand: Aim to better understand mental health problems that
affect young people. Learn more about key issues young people face,
such as discrimination, body image or the impact of social media.

Non-judgemental questions: When checking-in, avoid closed or intrusive
questions. Instead use open, non-judgemental language. For example,
“Is there anything you’d like support with, or is there anything I can do to help?”.

Give encouragement: Don’t force or suggest a particular course of action.
Empower the young person to make their own decision by signposting
them to a range of options they can choose from. For example, “Would you like some more support or can I point you in the direction of some options?”.

Personalise: Everyone is different and has different experiences of mental
health. Put young people first by tailoring and personalising your
sessions to meet their individual needs.

Engage: Follow up with young people you have offered signposting
guidance to. You may not have all the answers but checking-in reminds
a young person you’re there.

Openness: Normalise talking about mental health. Make time to warm up
and cool down mentally, in the same way we do physically. For example,
get young people thinking about how they’re feeling by asking them to
describe their feelings in one word or an emoji. Make this optional so they
don’t feel pressured.

Praise: Focus on positive progress. Avoid shaming or comparing young
people. Instead celebrate wins however small they may be. A young
person may have missed a catch but you could praise their positioning,
or how they judged where the ball was going.

Learn: Get feedback. Ask how you can make sessions more welcoming
and wellbeing focused. Check how young people would like to be
supported. Invite a group to help create or adapt a session plan.

Enjoyment: Make sessions fun and adapt activities so every young
person can experience the positive impact of physical activity.
Focus on enjoyment and how each individual feels.

Download Top Tips (JPG, Portrait)

Download Top Tips (PDF, Landscape)

Handbook for coaches

We've co-produced a pocket-sized handbook guide for those providing physical activity sessions to young people. It contains guidance on the following:

  • Mental health problems and symptoms that young people experience.
  • Spotting changes in a young person's behaviour, thoughts and feelings. 
  • How to check-in and start a conversation.
  • How to signpost to a range of support options.
  • What to do if a young person in an emergency.
  • How to look after your own wellbeing and access support. 

View handbook spreads

If you are interested in piloting our handbook at your club or organisation, please email [email protected] to express your interest. 

Important information and links

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