How did the Sheffield Inclusive Golf project come about?
It came about because we worked with a few people in the Special Needs Schools in Sheffield who wanted to play golf and to participate in the Special Olympics. We had a meeting with the young people at the golf club at Moorview, and we decided we should try and help them achieve their dreams. We set up a constituted group and opened a bank account to try and get some funding and Golf Roots assisted us with this.
Initially we held a Super Sixies golf festival and invited 50 young people from local schools and collegues to play golf, then we selected 16 young people aged 11 – 25 with mental health difficulties and learning difficulties to join in weekly sessions as athletes for a new Special Olympics golf club in Sheffield that provided performance pathways and exit routes into the Special Olympics National Games that are to be held in Sheffield in 2018 and Liverpool in 2021. This vulnerable population mainly from deprived backgrounds and an inconsistent home life chose to participate in the golf lessons and were keen to learn new skills. Confidence soared at the sessions.
We meet up twice a week as a group and some of the young people come to my Moorview driving range sessions for extra training input. The project is a huge success in terms of achieving our aims. It is wonderful to be a part of the fully accessible/inclusive, high quality and engaging golf sessions. Watching children and young people with mental health difficulties and Special educational needs and disabilities playing golf in a fun and enjoyable environment is very heart warming.
What impact has the Sheffield Inclusive Golf project had?
The project has already made a real difference to their lives and regardless of ability they have started to lead safe, healthy and fulfilled lives. Their Mental Health has improved and their Self-esteem has been boosted, they have a sense of ownership and value in what they have achieved. It is extremely fulfilling and rewarding to all involved as staff and participants have many positive memories from their experiences.
The young people and their families are delighted that they have succeeded at their own level in Golf. They have gained a much greater sense of community ownership which is accessible to all and relevant to their needs. We didn’t expect the families to have such a positive response to the project.
How can golf have a positive effect on people with mental health issues?
The young people’s communication skills and personal interests have developed practically through the golf sessions, which have offered everything to a developing young person, in terms of a new challenge and they have given everyone, regardless of ability, opportunity to experience new activities, develop skills and fulfill potential as active citizens.
An unexpected outcome is that 8 young people are trained up as leaders and they have made a real difference in their communities and developed compassion by helping others. These responsible citizens have developed skills for life and made a positive contribution to society, leaving a legacy of participants and volunteers who can stay involved in Sport for life. They are still working hard to improve and develop their leadership skills and the skills required to work together as a team. This has positively impacted on their mental health. As they feel valued and part of something good for the first time in their lives.
The golfers have applied to be part of the Special Olympics Summer Games 2021 and they have made tremendous progress in a number of different ways. As a group they are learning many new skills apart from those needed to play golf. Socially they are much more confident and have made new friends through the sessions and we can all see their confidence improving. They have become a hard-working team who will help and support each other with the different challenges that golf puts in front of them. Individually one student has become much more vocal, talking about his swing and shots with both the coaches and the other participants. This is something the school sees very little of in the classroom situation. Staff have also seen a general improvement in the behaviour of one student in particular and we all agree this is mainly due to his involvement in the golf sessions. In summary the golf lessons have made a real difference to the lives of all the young people involved. I am passionate about helping and supporting people with mental health as I can see first hand the improvements that can be made through playing golf.
How important is it to highlight the issue of mental health during Golf and Health Week?
It’s extremely important to highlight how playing golf can tackle mental health issues by improving self-esteem and self-worth, reduce stress levels and improve mood.
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