From Trauma to Resilience: How School of Hard Knocks Addresses Young People's Wellbeing Needs

Written by Dr Mikel Mellick

This year’s Six Nations tournament occurs at a time of increased financial anxiety, nationwide strikes and well-reported increases in wellbeing challenges across society. Within this turmoil, the Six Nations, and rugby more generally, can help remind us all of the valuable role sport plays in building ‘well’ communities. Rugby, at its best, promotes a sense of belonging and acceptance, and provides opportunities for pleasure through meaningful and purposeful relationships and structured play. This is achieved regardless of societal position. 

Many grassroots and community rugby clubs across the country are struggling, like many families, to keep the (flood)lights on and showers warm as the cost of living crisis continues to hit. This is in stark contrast to the perfectly pristine views of Cardiff’s Principality Stadium or England’s Twickenham that we will see over the coming month. It is this stark contrast that can perhaps help remind us all of the ongoing societal inequalities that have been exacerbated by Covid and the challenging financial conditions that are causing trauma to many.

School of Hard Knocks is a current collaborative research partner within the Centre for Health, Activity and Wellbeing Research (CAWR) at Cardiff Metropolitan University where I currently work as a Principal Lecturer in Mental Health and Sports Psychology. SOHK highlights that life is an uneven playing field - and their goal is to help level that playing field out for all in society, but particularly for our children.

The last three years have seen significant increases in mental ill health experiences with school-aged children. Child and Adolescent anxiety illnesses often accompanied by non-suicidal self injury behaviours are more prevalent than ever, with schools and child and adolescent community mental health services struggling to provide timely support for such trauma. School of Hard Knocks’ response to noticing this increased suffering has been an immediate and authentic desire to help the schools, clubs and communities by providing school-based life-skills development programmes. Using a strengths-based model of wellbeing the School of Hard Knocks programme works to support participants to move from trauma to resilience.  

The charity works through ‘The Trauma-Informed Practice Developmental
Model’ (Carter & Blanch, 2019) to address wellbeing needs in a systematic, evidenced informed, and meaningful way grounded within a social justice lens. It
is a developmental framework for a Trauma-Informed Approach to mental health and wellbeing awareness, support, and change at an individual, organisation (school), and community level - the underlying principle is a presumption of a previous or existing psychological trauma experience in all
of us.

Acknowledging the impact of trauma on student lives, School of Hard Knocks uses rugby and other physical and workshop activities to promote
psychological and emotional safety, empowered through skill-based task development and positive psychology informed group and individual student sessions.

Cardiff Met PhD Student and current Lead Behaviour Specialist in SOHK Wales Siân Edwards says “we provide ‘awareness’ training for school staff and students to the prevalence of trauma and adverse experiences in school children and their impact on student wellbeing levels. We explore with students the processes involved in helping them to better understand trauma-informed principles, causes, expressions, and ways to better cope”. Through this work, School of Hard Knocks is also impacting positively on changing school culture, routines, and processes to reduce classroom triggers of psychological distress or maltreatment for the most vulnerable students. 

As we watch the final stages of this year’s Six Nations, can we commit to not allowing our sense of compassion and social justice to desert us when we enter the turnstiles, turn on the TV or flick on the radio - instead  can we all take a moment to consider the role we can play in developing trauma informed and responsive communities to better ensure a more even playing field – especially for our children.

Written by Dr Mikel Mellick 

Mikel Mellik currently sits on the School of Hard Knocks’ Board of Trustees. He is a Registered Practitioner Psychologist and Principal Lecturer in Mental Health & Sport Psychology for the Centre for Health, Activity and Wellbeing Research (CAWR), Cardiff Metropolitan University.