Ben Smith: ‘Without sport, I wouldn’t be here’

YST ambassador talks about how sport helped him to ‘find his happy’ and support others on World Mental Health Day (10 October).

World Mental Health Day is a day to focus on the amazing work so many organisations are doing to help people that suffer from mental health issues.

I spent most of my adult life suffering from mental health issues brought on by my experiences of bullying as a child. With my confidence and self-esteem at rock bottom, I felt obliged to lead a life that others wanted for me rather than the one I wanted for myself. Constantly feeling anxious, scared and on edge, living on my nerves everyday it felt like there was no way out. I suffered a transient ischemic attack at the age of 29 and a year later was introduced to running through a friend.

For me, finding a community that didn’t judge me but supported me, didn’t laugh at me but encouraged me, didn’t put me down but told me I could, meant I found joy in my life for the first time in 20 years. Achieving things I never believed were possible meant that my confidence and self-esteem grew and I finally plucked up the courage to talk to a professional about what had happened to me as a child. Without sport, I wouldn’t be here, without sport I wouldn’t have found my place, without sport I wouldn’t have found my happy.

‘I use exercise to treat my body and mind’

On World Mental Health Day, I think it is vital we talk about the role that exercise and being active can play towards good mental wellbeing. It’s part of my everyday life now, even though I still don’t class myself as sporty. I use sport and exercise as a way to treat my body and mind. The feeling I get when I come out the gym, finish a run or bike ride, it’s my time away from the stressful bits of life, my time to think, my time to re-centre my brain, my filing time. Without exercise and being active I literally wouldn’t be able to do the things I choose to do in my life right now – it basically helps me live.

‘I was told sport wasn’t for me and to find something else’

Having never been the sporty kid at school, I spent most of my childhood avoiding sport at all costs, mainly because my bullies were in the main sports teams. On top of that, back when I was at school, sport was very much measured on whether you were good at it or not and because I wasn’t good at the main sports like football, rugby, cricket and hockey, I was told sport wasn’t for me and to find something else . Having found my love for running in later life I also found out that I was sporty, and it wasn’t defined by whether I was good at it or not, it was defined by the fact that I enjoyed it. Labelling young people can be so detrimental to their future development, we should be giving them the confidence to try different things and give them the space to decide whether or not it’s for them.

‘It takes confidence to believe in who you are, you don’t need to have it all figured out’

We are living on a planet full of ‘ifs’ with young people fearing for their future. I hope my message on World Mental Health Day through this article is simple, I want young people to have the courage to follow their own path in life. It may seem easier at the time to follow what others may want you to do, but in the long run you may find yourself at a crossroads wondering how you got there. It takes confidence to believe in who you are, you don’t need to have it all figured out, just have courage in your own convictions and you’ll ultimately give yourself the freedom to find your happy in life – that’s the ultimate goal, it just took me a little while to figure that out.

Ben Smith is a wellbeing ambassador for children’s charity the Youth Sport Trust.