Today, as the #21by21 campaign is launched to provide 21,000 UK sports coaches and volunteers with mental health training by 2021, a new research report makes the case for training sports coaches in Mental Health First Aid to improve young people’s wellbeing. The ‘Sport For Better Mental Health’ [1] report, published by national youth charity StreetGames in partnership with Brunel University London, emphasises how sports coaches can play a central part in young people’s lives, not just as facilitators of sporting talent, but as trusted role models who can support emotional development and better mental health.

The report includes findings from a UK survey of 14-24 year-olds commissioned by StreetGames [2] that confirm this ‘trusted role model’ view of coaches among young people:

  • Nearly half (43%) of the 14-24 year-olds surveyed from across the UK said they would turn to their sports coach for emotional support and advice.
  • 1 in 5 (20%) said they would confide in a coach about something that’s worrying them; 21% said they’d turn to a coach for motivation for school, college or university; 15% for career advice; and 10% to talk about problems with friends.
  • Despite this willingness to talk, 6 out of 10 (67%) agreed it is much harder to talk openly about their mental health than their physical health because of the stigma attached to mental health issues. The older the young person, the more they agreed - 74% of 22-24 year-olds, compared to 69% of 19-21 year-olds and 65% of 14-18 year-olds.

More young people living in households with an annual income of £20,000 or less (the bottom 20-30% as defined by England’s Index of Multiple Deprivation) said they would confide in a coach, compared to higher income groups in the survey. Disadvantaged teenagers are also three times more likely to endure mental ill health than their more affluent peers [3].

Findings from Brunel University London research [4] into the impact of the ‘Safe, Fit & Well’ programme delivered by coaches trained in Mental Health First Aid are also shared in the report. The national StreetGames programme piloted the provision of sport for better mental health as a direct response to feedback from coaches and professionals from across the UK.

Jane Ashworth, Chief Executive of StreetGames, explained: “Coaches across the country tell us that they regularly see signs of mental ill health in their sports projects - young people experiencing depression, anxiety, alienation and sadly sometimes self-harm and suicide. They say that they want to help but feel ill-equipped, not knowing what to say or how to direct youngsters to appropriate specialist support.

“We know that some 75% of lifetime mental health disorders have their onset before age 18, with peak onset of most conditions occurring between the ages of eight and 15. Through our work with businesses and over 1,000 community organisations in the StreetGames network, our aim is to make Mental Health First Aid training for youth sport coaches and volunteers across the UK as commonplace as physical first aid.”

The Brunel University London research team concluded that Mental Health First Aid training not only equips coaches to deliver sport that improves mental health outcomes for young people, it also helps to encourage youngsters in disadvantaged areas to be more active.

While over three quarters (77%) of the 14-24 year-olds from across the UK surveyed by StreetGames said they take part in sport or physical activity at least once a week, 1 in 10 (11%) said they don’t do any sport/exercise at all, and reported inactivity was almost double (21%) among those living in households with annual incomes of £20,000 or below.

The report makes encouraging reading for #21by21 campaigners who believe in the power of sport to drive positive social change. Including supporters Dame Kelly Holmes, who heads-up her own national charity to support athletes and young people living in disadvantaged communities, The Dame Kelly Holmes Trust, and TV doctor and former Gladiator Dr Zoe Williams, whose Fit4Life organisation encourages children to lead healthier lives.

Dr Zoe Williams said: “With celebrities and even members of the Royal Family now talking openly about mental health, the message is starting to get through to young people that it’s okay not to be okay and to seek help. But we know that GPs aren’t always the first point of call for young people - they often confide in adults they trust outside of a healthcare setting. It’s great then to see how #21by21 is helping to support trusted adults in community sport, increasing understanding of mental health conditions and knowledge for helping young people in distress.”

Dame Kelly Holmes said: “I know from personal experience that sport has the power to support young people to develop emotionally as well as physically. It builds self-esteem, confidence and often life-long friendships. Making sure that everyone delivering sport for young people can spot signs of mental ill health and provide appropriate help when it’s needed adds to its benefit.Whether it’s for a professional coach or a mum or dad helping out on the sidelines, mental health first aid training in community sport helps to support better mental health for young people.”

About the #21by21 Campaign

#21by21 is a national campaign that brings together UK sport organisations with business and policy makers in a pledge to provide 21,000 community sports coaches and volunteers with mental health awareness training by 2021. The campaign is being co-ordinated by The Sport for Development Coalition. Over 200 individual organisations and 40 national and regional sports agencies have signed-up to support the campaign including: UK Coaching, The Premier League, The Rugby Football Union, Swim England, Sport Wales, FAW (Welsh Football) Trust, The Dame Kelly Holmes Trust, Mind, Training in Mind, Mental Health First Aid England, Time to Change, West Midlands Combined Authority, Edgehill University and York St John University. Visit to find out more about the campaign and mental health awareness training options for sports coaches and volunteers across the UK.


[1] ‘Sport For Better Mental Health’ StreetGames and Brunel University London, May 2019
Download here.
[2] ‘Youth Sport & Mental Health’ UK survey of 1,000 14-24 year-olds, One Poll, April 2019.
[3] Reiss F (2013) Socioeconomic inequalities and mental health problems in children and
adolescents: a systematic review.
[4] ‘StreetGames: Safe, Fit and Well – Case Study Research’ September 2018, Dr Alistair John
and Professor Louise Mansfield, Brunel University London, Sport, Health and Wellbeing
Research Group.

About StreetGames

StreetGames is a national youth charity that harnesses the power of sport to create positive change in the lives of disadvantaged young people across the UK. The charity was chosen by the Duke and Duchess of Sussex to receive donations from their wedding last year. There are over 1,000 organisations in the StreetGames’ network providing sport and physical activities to children and young people, aged 14-25.

About Mental Health First Aid

Mental Health First Aid training gives an understanding of common mental health conditions, the confidence to talk about them and the knowledge to support people in distress. Practising Mental Health First Aid and having conversations about mental health in our daily lives, as we would with physical illness, helps to break down the barriers of stigma and discrimination. ‘Pay It Forward’ Mental Health First Aid benefit for employers StreetGames’ Training Academy provides Mental Health First Aid training for community sport coaches and volunteers across the country, as well as for employees of private businesses, public and voluntary sector organisations. When employers bring Mental Health First Aid into their workplace through StreetGames’ ‘Buy One Give One’ initiative, they also fund training for sports coaches and volunteers working with disadvantaged young people in the UK.

Visit for more on StreetGames Mental Health First Aid

Spokesperson and case study interviewees available:
● Jane Ashworth, Chief Executive, StreetGames
● Paul Jarvis-Beesley, Head of Health & Sport, StreetGames
● Sports coaches and young people in sport projects/clubs in London, Essex, Manchester
and Wales, available for interviews, filming and photography
Media contacts:
Martha Robinson, Brave PR, [email protected] Tel: 07786 905499
Matthew Pilkington, StreetGames, [email protected] Tel: 07951 419836

- Photography credits -

Image of Dr. Zoe Williams by James Cannon
Image of Dame Kelly Holmes courtesy of the Dame Kelly Holmes Trust