Former Eels star builds self-esteem: Forging a better future for kids

By DALLAS SHERRINGHAM

WHEN Parramatta star David Gower was balancing his NRL career with life as a father of three, he came to realise that some children needed a help in life as they suffered a significant decline in self-esteem as they progressed through their school years.

It started him thinking about a project to assist young people with good mental health.

“I had a 10-year career and by the end of it, I’d seen a lot of teammates struggle with mental health and wellbeing,” he told Wide World of Sports (WWOS).

David said having a young family made him realise that the battle for mental wellbeing needed to start far earlier than adulthood or our teenage years.

“Watching athletes at the top of their game struggle with it I thought ‘you know what? I’m equally as concerned for my kids’ – and what better place to start than with young kids and students,” David said.

He retired from the NRL in 2020 and quickly turned his attention towards mental health – founding the organisation called Forge Wellbeing, which focuses on the wellbeing of schoolkids.

Forge Wellbeing has recently conducted the Weet-Bix Feed Their Belief Report, which found that declining self-esteem is one of the biggest mental wellbeing issues Aussie kids are facing.

“If we can embed positive aspects of wellbeing, we have a real opportunity of essentially having a generation of kids who understand the importance of good mental health,” David said.

He believes that education is trending in the right direction – and that the days of telling kids to have a stiff upper lip and get on with it are behind us.

“Everyone always says ‘just be more resilient’ but what does that even mean? It’s a learned skill, resilience and it’s made up of positive emotions, self-esteem, positive relationships – you can’t just wake up in your late teens and be resilient,” he said.

What good are academics if you don’t actually feel good about yourself?

“The earlier we start empowering our kids, the earlier we’re going to have kids that have the skills required to deal with adversity. These are extremely important steps – what good are academics if you don’t actually feel good about yourself?”

David’s time at the top – especially at a club like Parramatta where fans are craving success after a long title drought – came with plenty of teammates who he saw first-hand doing it tough.

“Everything associated with pressure and expectation. Athletes are no different to anyone else, but there’s all these things that are part and parcel of being a professional athlete that you aren’t immune from,” he told WWOS.

“Gone are the days of ‘real men don’t cry’. That is an absolutely archaic mentality that society has had for a long time, but I don’t think it’s still there, it is changing.”

That was his reason for starting Forge Wellbeing – and key research certainly backs him up.

“Our data provides an unparalleled insight into the wellbeing of Aussie kids. However, it sadly shows that a child’s mindset declines in positivity as they progress through their school years.”

“By sharing these insights in the Weet-Bix Feed their Belief Report, we’re hoping to help parents and caregivers understand the factors that impact their child’s ability to believe in themselves, feel positive about the world around them and ready to face the challenges life will inevitably throw their way”, he said.

The Weet-Bix Feed their Belief Report uncovers the mindset of 27,000 Aussie kids and provides tips to fuel their self-belief from parenting expert Dr. Justin Coulson.

  • 1 in 5 students already feel negative about their self-esteem when they enter high school.
  • 40% of Year 12 students don’t feel optimistic. 10% of all high school students say they don’t feel positive at all.
  • 80% of teenagers report positive relationships with parents and friends and strong values around social contribution

The Weet-Bix Feed their Belief Report found a significant decline of 35% in self-esteem, optimism, competence and positive emotions between Kindergarten and Year 12.

The report explores the current mindset amongst Australian children as they progress through school across eight key wellbeing domains: Positive Emotions, Meaning, Optimism, Positive Relationships, Competence, Engagement, Self-Esteem, and Social Contribution. multiple contexts and demonstrate positive and respectful adult relationships.

Image: David Gower in action for Parramatta.

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