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Our Mental Health Champion


“I would be the child who would sit in the car while my brother played football. My dad was a referee and I got dragged along to go and watch football.”

But, over time, through her family’s collective passion for the sport, Jennie has grown to love the game and become involved in Kent football in a number of different ways.

She is now the manager of the Lordswood Under-10s, the club’s secretary, a trained Mental Health Champion and a Kent FA Non-Executive Director.

Jennie never played football herself growing up but, when her two sons became interested, she found herself living in a “house of football” and wanted to share their passion so “just got stuck in.”

Her husband began coaching their eldest son’s team and they found there wasn’t a soccer school for younger children, aged four to six, to start out in the game at the club - something they wanted for their youngest son.

“I said ‘well, how hard can it be?’ so, having not played football myself, I went on to do my Level 1 coaching because I wanted to - as I don’t do things by halves.

“I wanted to do the best that I could and understand as much as I could.”

After coaching the soccer school, she then took on the manager role for Lordswood’s Under-7s, who are now the Under-10s and recently became cup winners.

“I’m really, really proud of the team.

“Some of them have been there since that soccer school was set up as well, which is really lovely that they’ve stayed with us all that time.”

The girl who would sit “half doing homework, half watching my brother play football” would never have believed football would one day become such a central part of her life.

She began to become more involved in the club by training in safeguarding and eventually taking over as secretary, which introduced her to other elements of football such as working with leagues, keeping across other teams and helping to organise fixtures.

Despite the many hours of her time it takes up each week, and the challenges and obstacles she often comes up against, Jennie finds being involved in the club to be incredibly rewarding and has found the knowledge she’s gained on coaching courses to be invaluable.

“Of course it's about football but, for the younger ones, when I started the soccer school, it's about the physical aspects - getting kids out and away from their computer screens. 

“There's a real social element as well.

“Some of the children are meeting others from different backgrounds, different schools and different friendship groups.

“And there’s very much a psychological element - encouraging them, giving them opportunities, learning different things.

“And then of course there is the technical, tactical side of things.”

But the most important thing to Jennie is looking back at the end of a session and knowing the children had fun.

She often feels she’s in the minority as a female coach and has found, on occasion, some male coaches don’t know how to greet her - going in for a kiss on the cheek or a hug when she just wants to be treated the same as other coaches in the group.

“I was very clear with them that a handshake would be absolutely fine, as they did with the other male coaches that were with me. 

“My style is different and males have different coaching and managerial styles, so I think it is just appreciating the value in everyone for the diversity that they bring.”

Some of the children she coaches have only ever experienced being part of a team with a female coach and she hopes that by showing women can manage a team, it will continue to attract more females to join the club.

Jennie is part of the Kent FA’s Female Volunteer Forum, where she has met women coaching at other clubs across the county, developed friendships and had opportunities to share ideas.

“The forum’s been amazing from the very first session I went to.

“In that room there were a number of females who had lots of different roles - from club secretary roles to league roles, to manager roles. 

“It’s a good opportunity to share stories and share experiences, which has always been really valuable to me because sometimes you can feel quite alone as a female coach, like you’re the only one.

“It’s been nice just to be able to talk, swap numbers and keep in touch with people because it's across the county, so I'm coming across managers that are not necessarily in my area.”

In January, Jennie was appointed to Kent FA’s Board of Directors after spotting a post on social media advertising a vacancy for an independent non-executive director to join the board, with experience in HR and People Development.

“I saw it and thought, ‘this is like all my worlds coming together’.

“It involved my day job, because Director of People and Wellness is my title at work, and another whole part of my life that’s centred around football coming together.

“I applied, went for the interview and was successful, so I was really pleased.”

She also became one of Kent FA’s first Mental Health Champions when she undertook training in how to signpost players to professional support when needed.

The training programme was delivered in partnership with digital mental health support provider Kooth and the Tommy Cush Foundation, which was set up in memory of 17-year old footballer Tommy who took his own life.

Jennie was one of just over 50 people to complete the initial course and she is still in regular contact with the rest of the group.

“Becoming a Mental Health Champion was another moment of my worlds colliding in a really positive way because at the time I was working at Kent and Medway Partnership Trust, which is the provider of adult mental health services across Kent and Medway. 

“So I’d seen first hand in the NHS what having good mental health support means to people and I thought ‘I can help bring that to football’, even if it’s just raising awareness among a small number of people.

“Just making sure that we're encouraging children to talk if there are things that they want to talk about, whether they’re going through their GCSEs or Eleven Plus, or family circumstances change - whatever it might be.

“And a big part of that is around adults as well - encouraging adults to speak up if there's something they need help and support with. 

“It's never about promising to fix anyone's world but about being there to listen and to signpost, as I think a lot of the time people aren't really sure where to go.

“I've seen the difference mental health services can make in people's lives and I thought if I could do just a fraction of that, then it would be amazing.”

She joined forces with Medway United FC’s Mental Health Champion, Ryan Abrahall, to organise an awareness event around Mental Health Awareness Week, which included a match between their Under-13s teams - something they hope to expand on together in the future.

And the role has also led to her very first on-the-pitch appearance in a mental health charity football tournament.

“I really enjoyed it, so much so that last year we said, off the back of the Euros, let's have a female match as well.

“We cajoled lots of really eager mums and had a women's match first, then we followed that with a men's match and again raised money for a local mental health charity.

“It was an opportunity to be a role model for females in football and to see if we could get younger girls interested as well by reaching out and showing the message around mental health.

“There’s definitely power in joining forces with another club and making a big impact so I’m really looking forward to next year and to doing more work together.”

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