Sports festival aims to start conversations about mental health

Simon Trower, founder of Brave Mind

Simon Trower, founder of Brave Mind, with last year’s Festival of Sport Young Ambassador, Ben Major - Credit: Brave Mind

When Festival of Sport returns to Norfolk this summer it will feature a host of international sporting stars and expertise. But the focus is not just about the physical development of youngsters - wellbeing and mental health is also at the heart of the weekend.  

Rugby has been a huge part of Simon Trower’s life. Unfortunately, so have depression and anxiety. And while rugby helped him to manage his mental health, he realised that it was only a “temporary fix” which is why he founded Brave Mind. 

A picture of rugby balls on a Brave Mind cushion

Brave Mind works with rugby clubs and schools to put mental health at the heart of their community - Credit: Brave Mind

This pioneering charity will be running sessions in the wellbeing area at Festival of Sport when it returns to Holkham Park from Friday, August 12 to Monday, August 15. 

The fact that the festival has a wellbeing area shows that its founders, rugby internationals Will Greenwood and Austin Healey, recognise how important mental health is to sports people. 

They are passionate about ensuring that the youngsters who come to try new sports and learn from world-class competitors are also taught about the importance of their psychological wellbeing. 

Brave Mind works with rugby clubs and schools to put mental health at the heart of their community. According to the charity, a quarter of those playing rugby experience poor mental health, and Simon wants to make it the norm for people in rugby to talk about mental health and support one other. 

This means combatting a culture of toxic masculinity in the men’s game, which drives self-reliance, and helping players to understand that it is not a sign of weakness to be vulnerable – it’s actually the brave and courageous thing to do when you are affected by something like depression or anxiety. 

Most Read

“Since an early age, I have experienced and still do experience different levels of depression and anxiety,” says Simon. “I have undergone various treatment methods, from trialling medication to attending sessions with a clinical psychologist. I live with it every day, through my personal experience I have designed a range of coping strategies, one of them being making sure that I talk to people or family when I feel low.  

“Rugby was always a good form of personal therapy. I left things off the field and enjoyed the release on it. Looking back on this now, it was very much a temporary fix for me. 

“I was putting on a front, hiding behind ‘the banter’, when deep down I yearned for real connections and to be myself.  

“Life is moving on and I am pleased to see that the stigma towards mental health is changing, especially in sport.” 

The relaxed vibe at the festival, which sees international sports stars teaching youngsters and rubbing shoulders with parents at the bar in the evenings, gives Brave Mind a chance to start the conversation about mental health at an earlier stage. 

And Brave Mind has been working with the festival’s other charity partners, which include the Matt Hampson Foundation, which aims to inspire and support young people seriously injured through sport. 

Its founder, Matt Hampson OBE, is a former rugby union prop who became paralysed from the neck down after a scrummaging accident when practising with the England under-21 squad in March 2005. 

Children running with rugby balls at Festival of Sport 2021

Festival of Sport's charity partners include Youth Sport Trust, which works to improve every young person’s education and development through sport and play - Credit: Festival of Sport

Completing the line-up is the Youth Sport Trust – the UK’s leading charity improving every young person’s education and development through sport and play. 

It runs inclusive and innovative programmes, brings together communities of educators and provides practical tools and resources with the aim that every child can enjoy the life-changing benefits of play and sport. 

And while the festival gives youngsters the chance to hone their skills in their favourite sports, or try out completely new disciplines, the overriding theme of the weekend is that “no one gets left on the bench”. 

The event kicks off on Friday evening with a warm welcome and open-air cinema, while Saturday and Sunday daytimes are packed with sessions ranging from rugby, football, cricket, netball and tennis, to kayaking, martial arts, boxing, archery, trampolining and much more, as well as fun runs, exhibitions and showcases.  

A yoga session during Festival of Sport 2021

Festival of Sport offers selected sporting activities for adults, including yoga classes - Credit: Festival of Sport

While the programme is mostly aimed at five to 17-year-olds, there are plenty of activities for pre-schoolers, including baby gym sessions and dance classes, and adults can take part in selected sporting activities themselves as well as yoga classes, expert talks or a sports massage. 

And, of course, it would not be a proper festival without live music and DJs to party to each evening, plus the chance to camp on-site. 

Day tickets are also now available for those who live closer to the action, priced at £185 for one adult and one child, with additional children £105 each and additional adults £85.  

Tickets for the full weekend are priced at £370 (1 adult + 1 child aged 5-17 years). Additional adult tickets £160, additional child tickets £210. Under-5s go free. Tickets include access to the event and full programme of sports sessions for all children plus entertainment on all three nights. Accommodation on-site starts at £70 for three nights for a tent or campervan pitch, ready-erected bell tents from £250 (3 nights, up to 6 sharing). 

Find out more about Festival of Sport’s charity partners: