“Suicide is the biggest killer of men in Scotland and we want to break down the stigma” | Michael Woods

Joining a new employer only weeks before the coronavirus pandemic struck is not ideal timing for anyone, but Street Soccer’s mental health worker for Glasgow, Michael Woods, believes that seeing the impact of our sessions over that period has helped shape how he would like to use his role going forward.

Ayrshire born, Michael relocated to Glasgow over a decade ago and started with Street Soccer in January 2020, after many years working with charities who supported adults with additional support needs, as well as voluntary roles abroad.

“During the last 10 years, I have worked closely with a charity called Stand International, who work with children in Romania. Up until lockdown, I had gone across every summer to support kids who had been in the orphanage system and were at risk of child trafficking. So my journey up until now has always involved helping others, and I am now at a stage that I can tie two passions together through Street Soccer with football.”

Michael has had his own personal battles throughout the years and continues to find new ways to learn, adapt and deliver techniques to support others.

“I have had my own personal challenges and dealt with mental health struggles many times. I started access courses to counselling around seven or eight years ago at college, as I knew I needed to do something with my life and create some ambitions for myself. I was starting to enjoy what I was doing at this point and knew I had a certain path ahead of me.”

During this time, Michael’s experience has also included working with the Scottish Drugs Forum and placements with SAMH and Rainbow House Rehabilitation Centre, which allowed him to achieve an SVQ2 in social care. These roles have allowed him a greater understanding in how to create positive relationships with those who are overcoming their own personal battles. In addition to providing personal care to adults with autism, downs syndrome and other additional support needs, Michael has a varied skill set to a level which can support Street Soccer players with both their physical and emotional needs.

When the role at Street Soccer was advertised, Michael was alerted to it by best friend and Glasgow regional manager Ross Alexander.

“Ross was the best man at my wedding, we’ve been close over the years and I was aware of the great work Street Soccer do. So, the job came up as a programme coordinator in Glasgow and I was lucky enough to secure the position. I’m passionate about helping others and this seemed like a really good fit for me.

Due to COVID, Street Soccer’s approach had to change and incidentally my role changed too. Although I was initially the coordinator, I moved in to the role as Mental Health and Wellbeing worker around this time last year. Of course, there was a lot of frustrations in that time as we were in and out of lockdowns but we adapted and done our best”

With restrictions lifted across Scotland, Michael’s work has now increased with more one to one support available for players and a brand new mental health and wellbeing session launched at Powerleague Glasgow.

“Previously, we delivered a lot of zoom programmes and found new ways to engage with our players. This was a great tool at the time and we felt like great relationships were developed across that time”, said Michael “Thankfully, with the restrictions now at an end, we are in a good place to offer our Mental Health and Wellbeing session and offer more support to our players in group work across the week.”

The session takes place every Wednesday and offers a blend of football, fitness and meditation based work. This session is completely free for anyone to join and is delivered at a pace to suit each player.

“The new session focuses more on mental wellbeing, stuff like mindfulness, meditation etc. Although we know all of our sessions have mental health benefits one way or another, we want to take our time to build trust with our players through these sessions, with no expectation, pressure or time-scale on how or when they do this. We want to raise awareness and break down barriers around mental health, providing a safe place for players and allow them an environment which has no judgement.”

Players are available to visit Street Soccer Scotland at Powerleague Glasgow across the week

Michael highlights that some players may suffer with anxiety issues, where larger groups may be more difficult to interact with. The steadier pace of this session allows players to feel secure, safe and comfortable.

“Each player will progress at a different pace but there is no expectation on if they do or if they don’t, but we have got some of the boys who have integrated in to the larger drop in sessions, which is really positive for their own journeys.

The sessions are a combination of a relaxed game of football with stuff like yoga, meditation and potentially stuff like drama therapy. We are an open book at this stage and want to be flexible to suit the players. There is no pressure for this sessions to grow arms and legs, as long as it works for the players and they can learn the significance of looking after themselves.”

With most of the world feeling the grips of lockdowns and restrictions over the last 18 months, Michael underlines that it is crucial for organisations such as Street Soccer to engage with as many players as they can.

“Suicide is the biggest killer of men in Scotland and we want to break down the stigma to teach these guys that it’s okay to come in and talk about your issues, if that’s what they want to do of course. It’s a big problem in the west of Scotland particularly and we want to be mindful for everyone who comes along, whether that’s through a referral or through their own choice. We want it to be safe and welcoming, and I think we’re doing that so far.”

With some positive stories arising from the sessions so far, Michael notes that each player is aware of the positive pathway and further opportunities available to them, if that’s what they wish to do.

We don’t place goals on every player but we want them to know that we can assist them with aspects of their lives. We’re planning on doing group work with the team to ensure that we all understand the significance of taking care of yourself and what can work, and this will eventually be led by our volunteers who have overseen the sessions so far.”

You can contact Michael Woods on 07487603705 or [email protected] if you’d like to find out more about our Mental Health and Wellbeing sessions that takes place at Powerleague Glasgow every Wednesday between 11-12:30pm.

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