SPORT HELPS A YOUNG REF’S RECOVERY

As we wrote earlier this week, it is Mental Health Awareness Week In The UK. 

We thought this story of the inspiring young referee, Lucy Briggs needed to be heard – never has the need for good mental health been more important.

Lucy is also a Leisure Leagues Partner, and here she tells the LL website, about how sport was integral to her own recovery and how she is desperate to give something back.

Her inspiring story gained national interest as she made the TV in the UK, and we think it is important to hear throughout the world. 

If you want to learn more about how a Leisure Leagues Franchise could do the same in your country, email samjones@soccafederation.com

The wonderful weather, as we “enjoy” lockdown in some of the hottest day’s May has offered for years has – literally – been a bright spot in the bleakness of Covid-19.

For Lucy Briggs (pictured with Watford star, Troy Deeney), there’s a practical reason to be grateful for the sun too. When we speak, she has just finished a shift as a Lancashire Post Lady: “Yes,” she laughs, “it’s not so bad on days like this!”

As a metaphor for her life, the sunshine of the present is equally applicable. These days she is the proud operator of two Leisure Leagues in her hometown of Garstang, Lancashire – as well as an Assistant Referee in the Women’s Super League (the elite level of Ladies Football in the UK). You can see her on the TV in games with the likes of Chelsea and Manchester City – but it hasn’t always been as good for Lucy, who saw her life blighted by depression from her teenage years.

Looking back at when she was at her lowest, seven years or so ago, Lucy described the spiral: “You feel like you’re a burden ….and you don’t want to tell people because you feel like the feelings will pass on to them.”

Of course however, the situation affected her family too, with her brother’s saying: “She’d end up in all sorts of places just trying to get away”. This uncertainty surrounded Lucy through two attempts on her own life and four of the toughest years imaginable.

But then, came the escape.

Football.

She had already made huge strides on towards becoming a referee, and in those dark days, it was the light at the end of her tunnel. “Getting back onto the football pitch was my main aim,” she confirmed. “The feeling I get from reffing, I can’t explain it. I couldn’t wait to get back on the pitch.”

She speaks glowingly of what she calls the “community” of referees, saying: “it is like a family – getting back out there and doing a game, that’s all I looked forward to.”

Lucy, though, once she’d realised the positive aspects of sport and how they’d helped her in her recovery, was keen to give something back to others.

And that led her to a Leisure Leagues Franchise. With her two leagues in her hometown, Lucy has given hundreds of people the opportunity to play football and made it possible for untold numbers to benefit like she did.

This, though, is about more than sport, as Lucy explains: “As much as the fitness, it’s about meeting other people, the chance to have conversations, with mates and family, the chance to have a focus and do something communal. That’s what football gives and that’s what the leagues are for as much as anything.”

Those things are something we have all missed, in the two months of lockdown, and Lucy admits its tough. “It’s difficult, people need that connection, and I can’t wait to get back to my leagues. I miss the teams as much as they miss playing!”

The town of Garstang is halfway in between Lancaster and Blackpool in England’s North West, and the remote nature of the town means sport is ever more vital, with Lucy sharing: “Yes, its very rural here, people work long hours, and they don’t have a lot of time to think about their mental health. The football and the rugby is really important to them.”

The theme of togetherness comes up again and again when we talk, and even when you ask Lucy what she’s looking forward to when things get more relaxed, she doesn’t go quite where you would think: “You know,” she ponders. “I just want to not have to cross the road when you see people, I want to be able to talk to people in person again!”

There is a more personal reason for wanting the end to lockdown though, with the 24-year old explaining: “Me and my boyfriend are due to move into our first home together, and I am really looking forward to it. I haven’t seen him for two months with this isolation. We’ve been talking on Messenger and Skype and things, but I can’t wait to begin this next adventure.”

It seems like a good place to end the chat with Lucy, as she looks forward in a way that perhaps didn’t seem possible just a few years ago, with her job, her leagues and her refereeing, things are looking up and, as her brothers explained: “It is nice to see her doing so well, and using her passion for the game in such a positive way. It does make me very proud.”

Her equally delighted mum urged anyone else in the same situation to seek help saying: “There doesn’t have to be a reason, even someone with the perfect life can suffer mental health problems.”

The last word, though, needs to be with Lucy herself and there is no more positive note to end on than this, as she stated: “I love my job, love my family, when you’re in that mindset, you just think its never going to get better, but it does.”

To find out more about the Leisure Leagues Franchise Scheme click here: https://leisureleaguesfranchise.net/

To find out more about Mental Health, click here: https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/campaigns/mental-health-awareness-week