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Residents at Wetherby Young Offenders Institution have been participating in Offload, a ground-breaking programme devised by RL Cares in partnership with State of Mind Sport that utilises the experiences of sporting professionals to help tackle anxiety and depression and develop a positive mindset.
The young people are also being supported by Super League players from Wakefield and Huddersfield, who are giving up their own time to act as mentors at the prison.
During the Offload fixtures, former players and officials relate their own experiences of coping with stress, adversity and poor mental health, and share the techniques they have used to manage them successfully.
The Offload presenters are all State of Mind facilitators and include former Super League referee Ian Smith an ex-players Phil Veivers, Danny Sculthorpe and Jimmy Gittins, whose promising career was ended in 2002 when he broke his neck in two places.
The programme has been running at Wetherby for the last few months and is already having a profound impact on the behaviour of the young people involved.
Andrew Dickinson, the Governor of Wetherby YOI, said: “On behalf of the young people and all the staff here at Wetherby I would like to thank Rugby League Cares, Wakefield Trinity and Huddersfield Giants for giving up their time to deliver this fantastic programme.
“We have begun to see significant changes in both the behaviour and outlook of many of the young people who have attended the Offload ‘fixtures’ and spent time with the players. Our staff have also gained a great deal from hearing how professional sportspeople cope with the stress and pressure they face and have taken key learnings into their own roles.
“The vital skills learnt here – leadership, discipline and confidence – will continue ‘through the gate’ to have a lasting impact on supporting participants’ rehabilitation, thereby reducing the risk of reoffending and benefitting these young people and their communities.”
Chris Rostron, the Head of Rugby League Cares, said: “It has been a real privilege for the charity to deliver Offload to the young people at Wetherby.
“We are delighted that the fixtures are making a positive difference to everyone involved and that both the players and the young people have enjoyed their involvement in the programme.
“Offload has been hugely successful since we began delivering fixtures at three professional clubs in the North West, and the results we are seeing mirror the feedback we have had from the hundreds of men who taken part.”
Wakefield Trinity Welfare Manager Stuart Dickens said: “The players have found the experience of mentoring the young people at Wetherby and building trusting relationships with them very rewarding and are keen to continue to provide what support they can.
“By sharing their own experiences and encouraging them to make better life choices, the players are making a positive impact upon the young people’s lives.
“Engaging with the young people on a voluntarily basis ensures that we are all kept grounded by understanding the difficulties others may face on a daily basis, especially for the players who may have had similar experiences as youngsters.
“Having such a positive effect on the young people and seeing them grow as individuals is great to see. We genuinely believe the workshops delivered by Rugby League Cares and the mentoring follow on support provided by our Super league players/mentors is, and will continue to make a positive impact.”
The success of the Offload programme was celebrated at Wetherby this week when Tony Adams, the former Arsenal and England footballer who will become President of the Rugby Football League later this month, presented certificates to all the young people and the players involved.
The celebration event concluded with a stirring haka performed by Huddersfield assistant coach Willie Poching, Wakefield player Pauli Pauli and Huddersfield player Suaia Matagi.