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15 Oct 2021 | 11:11

Mental health charity Mind hailed the progress made by the sport and physical activity sector during a landmark conference at the Kia Oval cricket ground. 

Bringing together delegates and keynote speakers from across the sector – including the Coalition’s Executive Director Ollie Dudfield – the Mental Health in Sport and Physical Activity Conference showcased new research, learnings and good practice from the world of both sport and mental health to celebrate the positive impact made over the past six years. 

The conference precedes Mind and the Coalition launching a policy brief and report on the role of physical activity, sport and sport for development in supporting positive mental health following Covid-19. The policy brief will be published during November 2021. 

Mind conference
Ollie Dudfield, Executive Director of the Sport for Development Coalition (second left), addresses Mind's Mental Health in Sport and Physical Activity Conference.

The conference was chaired by Mind’s Director of Network and Communities Karen Mellanby, and key themes from guest speakers included how the sport and physical activity sector can empower more people to be physically active as a way to support their mental health and how the sector can address the current mental health crisis helping people to recover and stay well.

During the event, Mind unveiled its ‘Moving Towards Better Mental Health’ report which explores the impact of its work with the physical activity sector since 2018. The evaluation highlights the advances the sector has made around the culture of mental health and progress made on tackling stigma, and presents recommendations for how the sector can build on the progress to date to create an environment where everyone feels comfortable and confident to be physically active, as well as where people working and volunteering in the sector thrive. Its author, Dr Florence Kinnafick from Loughborough University, is also co-author of the forthcoming policy brief from Mind and the Coalition. 

Delegates heard contributions from a range of experts from across the sector included a panel event chaired by Gary Bloom (sports performance psychotherapist and talkSPORT host), with Clarke Carlisle (Mind Ambassador, retired professional footballer and former PFA Chairman), alongside Andrea Corbett (coach, personal trainer and British champion Bodybuilder).  

Other speakers included:  

  • Nigel Huddleston MP - Minister for the DCMS who recorded a keynote speech to open the conference.  
  • Trevor Birch – Chief Executive, English Football League  
  • Chris Jones – Chief Executive, England Athletics 
  • Mike Diaper – Executive Director of Children and Young People, Tackling Inactivity, Sport England  
  • Caroline Fisher – Communications Director, ASICS  
  • Dr Brendon Stubbs - Specialist Physical Activity & Mental Health Researcher  
  • Sam Cumming – Head of Mental Health, English Institute of Sport  
  • Ollie Dudfield – Executive Director, Sport for Development Coalition  
  • Dr Florence Kinnafick – Senior Lecturer in Psychology, Loughborough University  

Mind infographic

Clarke Carlisle, Mind Ambassador, retired professional footballer and former PFA Chairman, said: “The sector has changed drastically over the past six or so years that I’ve been an Ambassador for Mind. The football clubs that I’m working with now simply wouldn’t have been as receptive six years ago to the preventative approach to mental health support of their players and staff. That change has been thanks to lots of things, including initiatives by organisations like Mind, academic research, and social activism by high-profile athletes and celebrities to tear down the stereotypes of what it is to live with mental health issues. 

“From the Mental Health Charter for Sport and Recreation (2015) onwards, we’ve seen a change in dynamic away from ‘we need to talk about mental health’ to what we’re seeing now, which is a lot of motivation and good intentions being put into action. The change we need to see now is the collaboration of those efforts. We need to collate and conflate these support systems across sport so that they’re uniformly delivered and so uniformly accessed.” 


Mike Diaper, Sport England’s Executive Director of Children and Young People, Tackling Inactivity, said: “It’s been essential that the sport and mental health sectors have come together. While sport has all of the expertise in how to get someone active or to play a sport, Mind and other mental health organisations bring that level of trust and lived experience to the audience we are talking to.  

“I think the biggest impact of the Mental Health Charter for Sport and Recreation has been that it’s really raised the profile of mental health and got people talking about how the sport and physical activity sector can play a really positive role. What the Charter is now beginning to do is drive change and I’d like to see that really accelerate over the coming years. 

“For me, the next step is to mainstream these changes and build mental health awareness into the sector so that it becomes a natural thing for, say coaches for example, to feel confident in knowing how to support or signpost people when issues arise.”  

Related news: Watch ‘Sport tackles the Wellbeing Crisis’ webinar from Mind and Sport for the Development Coalition.