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'The Huddle' - a partnership between Samaritans and the GAA


By John Harrington

Plans are underway for Samaritans volunteers to visit GAA clubs across the country for a ‘Huddle’, a post training talk emphasising the importance of mental and physical fitness to players and their management team.

Samaritans-GAA Partnership Coordinator, Majella Canty, has already held ‘Huddles’ in a number of clubs around the country and is passionate about the positive impact these talks can have on those who take part.

“Essentially 'The Huddle' is a team-talk,” Canty told GAA.ie. “But as opposed to speaking about match performance we'd chatting about mental health. How we can be aware of it, how we can improve it, how we can nurture it, and, most importantly, what to do if all isn't well.

“For every single player, coach, and supporter who walks in the gates of the GAA club, there will be a time when they have to manage and take care of their mental health.

“The idea behind the huddle is that we would normalise the conversation around mental health. We would make it okay to talk about our mental health.

“Make it as common-place as a conversation around nutrition or injury-prevention.

“We would say to our players that in order to perform to the best of our ability we need to look after our physical fitness. But the same has to be said for our mental fitness.

“We cannot perform to the best of our ability on and off the pitch unless we are physically and mentally well.

“I suppose 'The Huddle' is all about raising awareness on how do I know if I'm mentally well, what do I do if I'm concerned about my mental health? What are the signs to look out for? What do I do if I'm worried about a team-mate? What steps can I take? What supports are in place?

“Within the partnership the real focus is on the fact that within your GAA club there are supports, there are mechanisms to seek help. And if you seek help you will be supported.

“Nobody should suffer alone. We would encourage everybody within our GAA clubs to reach out and talk to somebody. That is the key thing, to talk.”

Majella Canty pictured holding a 'Huddle' talk with players from Cobh GAA club. 
Majella Canty pictured holding a 'Huddle' talk with players from Cobh GAA club. 

The Samaritans and the GAA are celebrating five years of teaming up together to tackle the stigma of mental health and urging young players and members who are struggling to cope to seek help.

Canty, herself a very active member of Cobh GAA club, believes that the GAA club is the perfect setting to have open and honest conversations about mental health.

“Here at the GAA club is where we learn some of life's most valuable lessons,” she said.

“You don't always get the referees decision, you don't always win the match, you don't always make the team. And that's difficult. And that's synonymous with life. Life can be difficult sometimes.

“When we talk about mental health, having good mental health is not about feeling happy 100 per cent of the time or always being on top of the World. Good mental health means having the resilience and the coping skills to cope when life is difficult and when things don't go to plan, because that is life.

“Every single person who walks through the club gates has mental health. The player, the coach, the supporter, the parent, the grandparent, we all have mental health. It needs to be nurtured, it needs to be protected, it needs to be mind. And, most importantly, we need to know what we can do when things go wrong.

“And this is the perfect place to learn those skills. I suppose the reason we talk about the huddle is, you know, you're with your team-mates. And what better place to seek support than with the people you train with, the people you work with towards a common goal.

“These are the people who will support you and these are the people that you can also support. In your GAA club there are so many people that you can talk to. Nobody is alone.

“You know, ask for help. Don't be afraid to talk. You don't have to be alone, there is always somebody to talk to. The message from Samaritans is very, very simple - your life is worth talking about.”

Majella Canty and Samaritans will contribute to a ‘Mental Fitness’ workshop at the GAA’s annual Healthy Club Conference in Croke Park on Saturday, October 5th, where delegates will get a chance to experience ‘The Huddle’ first hand. Tickets are free but you must register at www.gaa.ie/community

You can contact Samaritans 24 hour freephone helpline on 116 123, text 087 260 9090 (RoI only) or email jo@samaritans.ie in the Republic of Ireland or jo@samaritans.org from Northern Ireland.

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