Mental skills training is not just for athletes

Friday, 25 October 2019 - 12:59pm

Dr Mary Quinton and Dr Jennifer Cumming from the University of Birmingham tell us about the My Strengths for Life™ programme developed to help young people experiencing homelessness to recognise and develop the personal strengths needed to gain independence, build confidence, and achieve their aspirations.

The best athletes draw upon a well-trained set of mental skills to help them cope with pressure and perform their best under the spotlight, but it’s not just athletes who can benefit from developing these skills.  These also happen to be the same skills that can help anyone successfully navigate through the challenges of daily life, recognise their own unique strengths, and reach important life goals and aspirations. 

Since 2014, young people who are supported by St Basils have had an opportunity to receive mental skills training through a unique programme co-developed with Sport Psychologists from the University of Birmingham called My Strengths Training for Life™ (MST4Life™). 

Strengths-based ethos

The focus of MST4Life™ is on nurturing talent and focusing on young people’s many strengths, rather than highlighting problems or issues. As a result, young people feel more resilient and confident in their ability to take on new challenges, face difficulties and overcome setbacks. The programme creates meaningful and fun opportunities for them to identify and apply their strengths, helping to foster personal responsibility, problem solving skills and self-regulation. This supports young people’s well-being as they navigate through their day-to-day lives, whether it’s entering new social situations, handling relationship issues, or writing a job application. 

Programme structure

MST4Life™ involves ten group work sessions, followed by a four day trip to the University of Birmingham’s Raymond Priestley Centre in the Lake District. For many young people this trip can initially push them outside of their comfort zone. They try out the mental skills they have developed in a variety of outdoor activities such as mountain walking and high ropes courses. It provides them with the opportunities to achieve in the face of real challenges and leads to the greatest transformations. 

The programme is delivered in a psychologically-informed style with a hands-on approach from participants.  Through learning from doing, MST4Life™ creates empowering and affirming experiences with long-term benefits for its participants. 

Evidence and impact

MST4Life™ has reached over 600 homeless young people living in St Basils’ supported accommodation in Birmingham. Evaluation of the programme has found significant improvements in their resilience, self-worth and well-being after taking part. Young people have told us they are more physically active and, in some cases have reduced their substance use and self-harming behaviour. 

“MST has been an experience that I simply cannot compare to anything else. Only in hindsight, as the sessions panned out, it became apparent the strong link between a healthy state of mind and the activities we were involved in. And it truly has helped me to make sense of different aspects of my life, helping me with things such as organization, timekeeping, communication and social skills. Perhaps most importantly, MST has given me the self-assurance I would do okay on my own; it has reaffirmed my faith in this world around me.”

There is compelling evidence that participating in the programme adds value to the psychologically informed wrap-around/case management support offered to young people living in St Basils supported accommodation.  A cost benefit analysis found that young people participating in MST4Life™ were 30% more likely to be engaged in education, employment or training when exiting homelessness.

What’s next?

MST4Life™ has shown that mental skills are just as important and applicable for success and personal well-being in everyday life as they are in sport. 

The University of Birmingham has teamed up with St Basils, Youth Voice, and Homeless Link, to co-develop a toolkit that will be available soon.  The initial draft of the toolkit will be launched at a workshop event on 11th November in Birmingham. Get more details and sign up here

Mary and colleagues will be delivering a workshop on the MST4Life™ programme at our Young & Homeless Conference 2019 on 6th December, where delegates will be able to access the finalised toolkit and other resources. Book your place now.