Olympic hockey star Eugene Magee partners with Lidl Northern Ireland and Youth Sport Trust to deliver mental health workshops to pupils in St Paul’s High School, Bessbrook 

Secondary school pupils across the country are benefitting from the Lidl Northern Ireland Sport for Good Schools Programme, a dedicated mental health athlete mentorship programme delivered by Lidl Northern Ireland as part of the retailer’s established ‘Sport for Good’ campaign which aims to tackle youth mental health head on.

The programme, developed in partnership with the Youth Sport Trust, first launched in 2021 and has since supported more than 5,200 secondary school pupils across Northern Ireland. Survey feedback from last year’s programme revealed that 83% of participants felt Lidl Northern Ireland’s programme boosted their overall confidence and 100% of teachers committed to changing the mental health support programmes in their schools as a result.

Sporting heroes from across Northern Ireland have been specially trained by Youth Sport Trust to deliver workshops that help students to proactively manage their mental health, as they progress into adulthood, through the vehicle of sport and physical activity. The mentors provide students with the tools and encouragement they need to support themselves and their peers in school, at home and in their wider communities.

This week, students at St. Paul’s High School, Bessbrook received their first workshop in the dedicated series of mental health mentorship workshops, delivered by Olympian and men’s field hockey international Eugene Magee.

Hailing from Ballela in Co Down, Eugene made his debut representing Ireland in 2005 and retired from an astounding career international hockey with 295 caps – earning him the title of Irish Hockey’s most capped men’s player. Now, Eugene is passing on his wealth of knowledge and experience to pupils across the county as part of Lidl Northern Ireland’s flagship Community Works initiative, Sport for Good.

Commenting on the programme, Eugene Magee said:

“When I was a pupil, my passion for sport and being part of a team really helped me through a lot of the challenges that many students face. Whether I was dealing with the pressure of exams or issues in my personal life, sport was always an escape for me.

“Lidl Northern Ireland’s Sport for Good initiative has been a very exciting opportunity for me, especially now that I’ve retired from hockey as it gives me the chance to get back out into the community to show young adults that there is more to sport than the physical benefits.

From working as part of a team, gaining confidence in your abilities and building resilience when things don’t go to plan on game day, these are vital skills that will transfer to their everyday lives.”

Established in 2019, Lidl Northern Ireland’s Sport for Good initiative has supported more than 100 schools and sports clubs, providing over £320,000 in funding to encourage more young people into sport.

Earlier this year, the retailer announced 25 winning schools – hailing from every county across the region – who were selected for the Mental Health Athlete Mentorship programme following a call out for competition entries in October last year and nominated by local shoppers. Each winning school also received £1,000 worth of brand-new sports equipment.

The sessions are being led by a stellar line up of leading local athletes including four-time Paralympic athletics champion Michael McKillop, Olympic steeplechase athlete Kerry O’Flaherty, and Olympic hockey heroes Shirley McCay and Eugene Magee.

Jarlath Burns, Principal of St. Paul’s High School, Bessbrook said:

“Sport is a significant part of our school identity here at St. Paul’s and we’re very lucky that our pupils are always keen to get involved – either by playing or by supporting the teams. For those who aren’t athletic, this programme has provided a different perspective in showing pupils that you don’t have to be good at traditional sports to get active – you can always go for a walk, run or swim to avail of the benefits that sport participation can have on your physical and mental health.

“The Sport for Good Mental Health Athlete Mentorship workshops have done a fantastic job in breaking down the stigmas associated with mental health and have provided our students with invaluable life tools to manage challenges they may face as they grow and develop and shown them how sport can play a big role in that.

“Led by some of the region’s top sporting heroes, we’ve been really impressed at the calibre of mentors. It was a delight to see our pupils really engage with Eugene, who has been a true inspiration to them all.

“On behalf of the entire school community, we would like to express our thanks to the parents and local Lidl shoppers who voted for St. Paul’s High School. I would also like to thank Lidl Northern Ireland and Youth Sport Trust for investing in our community and to their mentor Eugene for delivering this vital programme to help support our pupils with skills for life.”

For more information, please visit lidl-ni.co.uk/lidl-community-works