September 24, 2023

Healthy About Liver

Masters of Health

Ulster and Connacht rugby brothers using their ‘Noggin’ to break stigma in sport

Ulster and Connacht rugby brothers using their ‘Noggin’ to break stigma in sport

Having been involved in sport from a young age, Conor and Kieran Joyce were all too familiar with the ‘macho environment’ which led many men to shy away from the topic of mental health.

Suffering from poor mental health themselves during their career, the pair decided something had to change.

Moving from his birthplace of Solihull to Belfast at the age of 17 after being accepted into the Ulster Rugby academy and onto the First Team Squad, Conor also studied for a degree in business at Queen’s University.

Read more: Young NI entrepreneur who turned University project into unique business idea

His passion for wanting to make a change in the world of sport led him to create his own business with his brother Kieran, a fellow professional rugby player formerly with Connacht and now with Seattle Seawolves in America.

Conor explained: “Being involved with rugby teams in the professional era for the last 10 years I observed there was still a culture of masculinity and a macho environment.

“I wanted to smash down these barriers and break the stigma that surrounds the topic of mental health, especially in sport. This then led me to set up Noggin Sport, a community interest company dedicated to raising awareness of mental health in sport through the selling of a unique clothing brand and custom headwear range.

“I started Noggin with my brother Kieran, after both struggling with mental health ourselves, we founded Noggin as a way to raise awareness for mental health within sports, as well as to fund donations to mental health charities across the UK & Ireland.”

Conor Joyce in action for Ulster Rugby in 2013
Conor Joyce in action for Ulster Rugby in 2013

“We initially enrolled into Queens University’s Business Entrepreneurship Programme which helped us brainstorm an idea, identify its target market and finally develop a business plan. At the end, we then had to pitch Noggin in a Dragon’s Den style approach who would artificially invest in our brand.”

Since then Noggin has made a huge impact in the world of sport and is helping to start conversations daily about mental health.

Conor said he is incredibly proud of what they have achieved to date having donated thousands to mental health charities across the UK & Ireland and also thousands of custom hats to clubs and schools too.

He told Belfast Live: “We are not just any hat brand, we receive messages how our hats have helped create a safe space for teams, clubs, universities and schools, where individuals can start a conversation about their own mental health. We have also worked with mental health charities such as Kaleidoscope Plus Group in building a mental health chat line and supporting staff.”

“I’m incredibly passionate about Noggin and as a company, we are striving the lead the way on the topic of mental health within sport. It’s something that cannot be ignored in today’s society and receiving some daily heartfelt messages on how we’re helped individuals, I know we are having an impact and this has been the driving factor behind the brand.

“We all have such an opportunity to help others by checking in with one another. If we can help in a small way to change the way we talk about mental health I genuinely believe the world will be a better and more positive place.”

After five seasons with Ulster Rugby, Conor moved to the sunny island of Jersey to play for Jersey Reds in the RFU Championship and then onto Doncaster Knights.

Conor Joyce modelling Noggin sportswear
Conor Joyce modelling Noggin sportswear

Asked what advice he would give to any other young person thinking of starting their own business enterprise, the 28-year-old said: “Personally, I learnt so much from the mistakes I made. It’s important to not be afraid to make mistakes, but quickly learn from them. This is also true for other entrepreneurs.

“Read the start-up stories of others on websites, in books, or at events for people starting a business. Every successful entrepreneur makes tons of mistakes and they’re often prepared to talk about them with the benefit of hindsight. I’ve learnt so much from books such as Lean Start-Up by Eric Ries’.

“Also, join Student enterprise programmes and benefit from the organisation’s training, peer-support, and networks for start-up entrepreneurs. Queens University helped connected me with so many other businesses that got Noggin off the ground. There are individuals who want to help young entrepreneurs, but you can’t be afraid to ask.”

With his brother based in USA, Conor hopes that is the next big expansion for their business, something they are working daily to achieve.

“We’d love our message as many people as possible and to have an impact not only in the UK and Ireland but internationally. Kieran is playing for Seattle Seawolves in the USA at the moment and that would be our obvious next route of expansion.

“We are constantly planning new clothing lines to promote our positive message and brand. However, we don’t want to just any clothing and headwear company, we want our messages to be the driver of what Noggin is about and to empower people to be the best version of themselves.

“We’re trying to break down the stigma that surrounds mental health. One bobble at a time.”

You can find out more about their business HERE.

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