Football was everything to Paul, and through the loss of a friend and former team-mate he now hopes to create a positive sport environment for the pupils he will soon teach.
Paul lost his friend and former football team-mate Chris to suicide last year. The pair moved through the ranks of professional football together, both starting out playing at youth level at Falkirk FC.
Having grown apart, Paul was shocked to find out about Chris’ death aged 27:
“The sad news came through last May and we found out the extent of what he went through. As a friend I wonder if I missed those opportunities when I met him, could I have done anything?
“He was such a larger than life character and it was so unexpected. He had a -supportive family, and it is still hard to get your head around.”
Paul left professional football aged 21. Now 27, he graduated this year from a PE teaching degree at the University of Stirling. Paul talks of the pressure experienced by football players to keep a brave face.
“Football is seen as a man’s game, and thought of as soft to talk about your feelings. The sport is definitely trying to approach these issues and get people to talk about what is going through their heads.
“Many players think: ‘why would I talk about my feelings, my manager will think I’m not ready to play in the team.’
“You are competing against each other for your livelihood. That can be quite difficult, and can have an obvious mental impact on feelings of self-worth and self-esteem.”
Motivated by the loss of his friend Chris, Paul hopes to inspire his pupils to consider their mental wellbeing as well as their physical.
“We need to develop an awareness of how mental, emotional and social influences can have a huge impact on how pupils perceive and participate physically in PE, placing an importance on all aspects of wellbeing when providing lessons.
“I want to teach pupil that instead of saying ‘I can’t do it’, we say ‘I can’t do it yet’.
Paul would like to see mental health training for all teachers, both before they qualify, and after.
“As a PE teacher, I see training in mental health as crucial to providing pupils with important skills for life – teaching them about things like focus, concentration, decision making and problem solving, so that they grow up able to manage their own wellbeing.
“Teachers should no longer be seen as the drill sergeants of previous school life, but as a positive example to the pupils they teach.”