Mental Health Athlete Mentorship Announced For Secondary School Pupils

Hundreds of secondary school pupils are to benefit from a dedicated Mental Health Athlete Mentorship programme delivered by Lidl Northern Ireland as part of the retailer's established 'Sport for Good' initiative which aims to tackle mental health head on.

With 45% of young people in Northern Ireland stating that their mental health has been impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic, the Lidl Northern Ireland Sport for Good initiative delivered in partnership with Youth Sport Trust, the UK's leading sports charity, is focused on teaching secondary school pupils about the long-term physical and mental health benefits of sports participation.

From local sporting heroes to Irish Olympians, the workshops are being led by an inspirational line up of athletes at the top of their game who will lead sessions focused on helping students to increase their confidence and resilience while also providing them with tools to help manage their own mental health into adulthood.

Year 8, 9 and 10 students at St. Columba's College, Portaferry were among the first to receive a series of dedicated mental health mentorship workshops earlier this week, delivered by Olympian and women's field hockey international Shirley McCay.

Hailing from Drumquin in County Tyrone, Shirley began her sporting career at the tender age of thirteen whilst studying at Omagh Academy and training at Omagh Hockey Club. Now, 'Ireland's most capped sportswoman' is passing on her wealth of knowledge to pupils across the county as part of Lidl Northern Ireland's flagship Community Works initiative, Sport for Good.

Commenting on the workshops, Shirley McCay said: "When I was a pupil at Omagh Academy, my passion for hockey helped me through a lot of the challenges that many students face. Whether I was dealing with the pressure of exams or issues in my personal life, sport was always an escape for me.

"Lidl Northern Ireland's Sport for Good initiative has been a hugely exciting opportunity for me to get involved with local communities and supporting youth sport. In delivering the workshops, I want to show these young adults that there is more to sport than the physical benefits. From gaining confidence in your abilities and building resilience when things don't go to plan on game day, these are vital skills that will transfer to their everyday lives."
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Established in 2019, Lidl Northern Ireland's Sport for Good initiative has supported more than 80 schools and sports clubs, providing over £220,000 in funding to encourage more young people into sport.

Earlier this year, the retailer announced 25 winning schools – hailing from every county across the region – who were selected for the Mental Health Athlete Mentorship programme following a call out for competition entries in October last year and nominated by local shoppers. Each winning school also received £1,000 worth of brand-new sports equipment.

St. Columba's College is just one of seven schools in County Down participating in the programme along with Blackwater Integrated College, Downpatrick, Glastry College, Ballyhalbert, Movilla High School, Newtownards, St Louis Grammar School, Kilkeel, St Malachy's High School, Castlewellan and Sullivan Upper, Holywood.

The sessions are being led by a stellar line up of eight leading local athletes including four-time Paralympic athletics champion Michael McKillop, Olympian steeplechase gold medallist Kerry O'Flaherty, Olympian hockey heroes Shirley McCay and Eugene Magee, Northern Ireland netball international and Armagh Ladies' Gaelic footballer Caroline O'Hanlon, and female rugby union champion and Olympian Ashleigh Baxter.

James Hay, Principal of St. Columba's College in Portaferry, said:

"Mental health is an important part of our curriculum, and we are actively engaged as a community in supporting initiatives to break down mental health stigmas and in promoting education to better manage mental health challenges.

"The Sport for Good Mental Health Athlete Mentorship workshops have really helped build confidence in our students and provided them with the tools to help manage mental health challenges which will be invaluable to them as they continue to grow and develop.

"Led by some of the region's top sporting heroes, we've been really impressed at the calibre of mentors. Shirley has been an inspiration to our pupils who have fully immersed themselves in the series of workshops and connected with Shirley on a personal level to really get to grips with the importance of maintaining good mental health and how sport can play a big role in that.

"On behalf of the entire school community, we would like to express our thanks to the parents and local Lidl shoppers who voted for St. Columba's College. I would also like to thank Lidl Northern Ireland and Youth Sport Trust for investing in our community and delivering this vital programme to help support our pupils with skills for life."

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