Easier to build strong children than repair broken men

Rich Berry has been involved in rugby for 46 years.  He has played for, captained, coached and is now President of Old Bristolians. Starting as a PE teacher, he became a PE teaching deputy head and has just taken early retirement from being a head teacher in the specialist sector of social emotional mental health.

This is all experience he has brought to the role of club safeguarding & welfare officer, in his training to become a Play it Safe deliverer and as the Gloucestershire RFU’s Mental Health & Wellbeing Ambassador.

“From my day-to-day role, my understanding of neuroscience and how the brain grows has influenced my interaction with the children I teach and those I coach,” he says.

Rich understands more than most the issues surrounding  emotional mental health, having supported clubs who have lost both senior and junior players to suicide. That is why he believes “growing more resilience in our young people is fundamentally important.”

Currently, a Developing Player Programme coach in the Bristol Bears Academy, says Rich: “My own coaching has developed hugely as my knowledge from a professional standpoint has grown.

“Professionally I found I was delivering talks on how to grow mentally healthy young people in schools and yet on a Sunday I was seeing behaviours from adults as coaches and parents that didn’t support this.

“This prompted me to adapt my school-based presentations to reflect the need for a change in how adults coach kids and how parents support their children.”

Gloucestershire asked him to present to the County Committee and he was subsequently invited to be their Mental Health & Wellbeing Ambassador.

“I’ve now presented at a large number of clubs to both coaches and parents. I’ve supported clubs who have suffered the loss of a senior and a junior player to suicide and helped them signpost members to local support services.

“I believe my biggest impact is in supporting coaches and parents to understand how to grow more resilience in our young people.

“The talks have been so successful within Gloucestershire that I’ve now presented to clubs in Devon & Somerset, as well as being invited to speak at the Cornwall coaching conference. Other CBs and referees societies are now inviting me to present to them.

“My life has always been associated with rugby and I’m glad to be working with young people in the Bears Academy, developing their thinking about ways that they can be more resilient

“We need to remove the stigma around mental health and to be more aware that suicide is the biggest killer of men under the age of 45 in this country. If we can prevent one by being mental health aware then we are making a difference.

“We also have to be aware that 50% of mental health issues are manifested in young people by the age of 14 & 75% by the age of 24. I use a quote by Frederick Douglas that ‘It is easier to build strong children than repair broken men.’

“We need to grow resilience in our kids through our fantastic game by letting them develop and learn as players, by playing and having enjoyment.

“We have to help clubs to focus on taking out the negative behaviours like shouting, only playing to win, or not giving young people the opportunity to play where they want to play.

“Then we will we go a long way towards keeping them in the rugby family and helping build the resilience they need to become ………"