The Rio Ferdinand Foundation hosted a sports and mental health workshop at William Hulme’s Grammar School in Manchester on Wednesday afternoon.

This event was designed to increase mental health awareness while finding better ways to talk about it and reducing the stigma surrounding bad mental health. It also helped to understand how sports can help as well as what personal triggers and protective measures can be taken to deal with mental health.

The day began at 9 a.m. with activities to help participants learn more about each other. The first activity was a name game to help get things going followed by a game of “Anyone Who” which help participants tell others more about themselves.

Activities that followed became more focused on developing teamwork among participants. These games relied on non-verbal communication and forced groups to really think about mental health and the stigmas that surround it. By the end of this stretch of activities, participants had a better understanding of different issues regarding mental health such as what to do when something’s wrong.

Following a 15 minute break, participants took a deeper look at their own problems and how to go about addressing them. Many were encouraged to answer important questions. What issues can I change? What issues do I have to accept? Who can help me to address these issues?

For the next hour, students took part in a Boxing Training session, designed to help them understand how sports can not only help with your physical health, but also with being mentally healthy.

After a one-hour lunch break, the participants gathered in a circle and passed a stress ball around to each other After everyone had caught it, a new ball was introduced and passed around at a faster rate, then another, and another. Many of the balls fell and rolled around. However, the exercise taught a very important lesson; as life gets more hectic, it’s important to remain present so that each issue we have can be addressed to the best of our ability.

Later on, participants channeled their inner thespian in order to learn how to handle difficult conversations about mental health. In groups of three, students created freeze frames with different characters. One would be going through something relating to mental health. Another character would support this person while another would not be as supportive.

Those who looked onto each of these scenes gave suggestions as to what they would do in these types of situations which led to a healthy dialogue on how these difficult conversations should be handled.

To conclude the session, facilitators encouraged that the participants give feedback about the session in regards to what they liked and what they thought could be improved upon. They also gave their opinions on what a possible session for boys would look like and how it might be different from the one given for the girls.

“I really enjoyed the drama parts of the workshop,” said one participant, “The expressive actions were challenging and fun.”

Another participant wrote “My voice was heard and not judged especially on popularity”

The Rio Ferdinand Foundation would like to thank funders, Sport England, for allow us to run this project.