Yesterday proved no ordinary training session for Assistant Head Coach Richard O’Kelly and Brentford winger Sergi Canós. To mark World Mental Health Day, the duo ran a unique football coaching session for adults with mental health problems at Brentford’s training ground.
The players are members of the Hounslow Hawks FC, run by the Brentford FC Community Sports Trust and West London NHS Trust, and West London FC Football project, which provides football as therapy for patients who are living with a mental illness. The initiative, run in partnership with West London NHS Trust and Brentford FC Community Sports Trust, has been credited with improving the patients’ wellbeing and supporting their mental health recovery.
Playing on Brentford’s hallowed turf at Jersey Road, the players from Hounslow Hawks and West London FC were thoroughly impressed with the expert training they received from Assistant Head Coach Richard O’Kelly.
Loni Cericola, who has been part of Hounslow Hawks for about four months, said: “Coming down to Brentford’s training ground today and not feeling embarrassed or judged about my illness means a lot to me. If this event today can make just one person realise that they are not alone and that there is help out there, then we have achieved something.”
Commenting on the impact the Hounslow Hawks project has had on his mental health, Lori said: “Being part of a football group with a group of guys in a similar situation to me is great because I am never judged. One day I might be running around energetically the next day I might feeling down, but that doesn’t matter. The guys in my football group understand because they have days like that as well.”
With one in four people experiencing a mental health condition at some point in their life, the session aimed to tackle the stigma around mental health and highlight how sport can be instrumental on the road to recovery.
Assistant Head Coach Richard O’Kelly, who led the session, said: “It was fantastic to be involved with an initiative like this for World Mental Health Day; all the players had loads of energy and enthusiasm. It was a first-class event and the players were excellent at supporting each other throughout the training session.”
And with the EFL launching a new partnership with the mental health charity Mind this year, the championship club are leading the way in raising awareness of mental health both on and off for the football pitch.
Michelle Nielsen, Occupational Therapy Technician at West London’s NHS Trust, said: "We have been running the Hounslow Hawks project for eleven years now and it’s remarkable the impact it has had on the players’ confidence and self-esteem. By playing a ‘team sport’ the players have been able to share experiences and make new friends – reducing the sense of isolation that so many people with mental health illnesses have.”
The Hounslow Hawks project has already cemented its reputation for its pioneering work within the footballing world; the project won the FA’s Community ‘Best Inclusive Project Award’ back in 2017.