A rugby and football festival, organised by an East Ayrshire teacher and aimed at raising awareness of suicide among young male pupils has proved a hit with pupils across Ayrshire.
‘Talk A Good Game’ was split into two days and almost 200 S3 pupils turned out to play in the first rugby event held at Kilmarnock Rugby Club with some big sporting names attending.
Maths teacher Jamie Houston, who is also Head of rugby at Grange Academy, set the event up, after he was asked to speak at the funeral of Liam McGhee, a 15 year old pupil in September 2018.
He said: “Liam’s funeral coincided with his team’s u16 rugby tour and we returned to attend the funeral. Understandably, his team-mates were devastated and, as I saw how incredibly they pulled together to support each other, I decided to do something to help young male pupils who might be contemplating taking their own life.
Talk a Good Game was the result, designed to change the perceptions about mental health and the effects that bereavement, stress, money, relationships, isolation, self-image and countless other pressures can exert on young people.
Jamie continued: “Big boys do and should cry. We need to make it normal for young men to seek help with and share their problems with family, friends, teachers, coaches – people they can trust.
“Recognising we need help and asking for it is not a sign of weakness, but a sign of emotional intelligence and courage. When someone is struggling with their mental health, we want them to understand that it really is okay to not always be okay.”
Talk A Good Game was attended by schools from the three Ayrshire Local Authority Areas, with workshops hosted by practitioners and agencies, all focused on helping young men recognise and respond to mental health issues – as well as taking to the field and playing rugby!
It was opened by Al Kellock, former Scottish Rugby International, who told the pupils about his own experiences with mental health, the fears he faced in playing and how he coped with the trauma of realising his playing career had come to an end.
His words of encouragement were echoed by Scottish International Chris Fusaro, who told pupils he still suffered from nerves before every single game and cried when experiencing disappointments.
From the world of football, former Scottish International Andy McLaren hosted a workshop for the pupils, sharing his own experiences of being banned from football after a positive drug test when playing for Reading Football Club in 2000.
After working hard to overcome his addictions, he resurrected his career with Kilmarnock later the same year and gained a national cap when Scotland played Poland in 2001.
Councillor Fiona Campbell, East Ayrshire Council’s Cabinet Member for Skills and Learning said: “Talk A Good Game is a brilliant idea.
“By combining rugby and football with helpful, practical and supportive workshops, young male pupils can take the team spirit they have on the pitch off field and learn to look out for each other in school and socially.
“It’s admirable that pupils are also being encouraged to reach out to others too, perhaps encouraging someone they know to come forwards and get the help they need.
“It’s one of those fantastic sporting events where everyone really is a winner, on and off the field and I’m thrilled to learn that it might become an annual event.”