Why It Matters | Kelly Brown

Why It Matters | Kelly Brown

On International Stuttering Awareness Day, Assistant Coach Kelly Brown tells us and the Guinness PRO14 why he's joining forces with Stamma to raise awareness across the country.

I’ve become a patron of Stamma, the British Stammering Association. I’ve been asked for the last couple of years if I’d become a patron, and I feel it’s important to raise awareness around the issue. It’s something I’ve managed my whole life and it’s something that I feel like needs to be talked about more. A lot of people don’t really understand stammering and perceive it as nerves or a weakness – I want to raise awareness and make it easier for stammerers in the future.

My first memory of stammering was a school assembly when I was about 11 or so. I’d been on a school ski trip the week before, and I was asked if I would stand up in assembly and speak about it. I had a script I’d written; I’d planned it all out, I stood up in front of 100 or so kids, and I completely froze. I just couldn’t say a word. The sound of silence was deafening.

My dad also stammers, so neither of us were very sure about the best course of action – I had a bit of therapy off and on, but it never really bothered me to be honest. I was fortunate enough that I was never bullied because of my stammer, probably because I was quite a big lad! A big turning point for me, though, was the 2010 Six Nations. I’d been picked to start for Scotland in the first game against France, and the BBC had asked to do an interview with me. I did it, and it was absolutely dreadful. It was so bad I went to the Scotland media manager and asked to make sure the interview never got shown. That was a real catalyst for me.

I enrolled in the McGuire Programme, and that was massive. Their big thing is assertive self-acceptance, which is a key message to get across. Stammering is a part of who you are, so to accept that is huge. Acceptance, and understanding of others is also important – you shouldn’t think less of others because they stammer, or look down at them. Learning to accept both yourself and those around you is key.

Part of the reason I enrolled in 2010 was that I didn’t want my stammer to hold me back. I felt like I could be a captain, and I could do x,y and z, so that’s why I decided to do something about it. I worked incredibly hard on it, and I continue to do so. I work on my speech every day and challenge myself, because I know that when I do that I’m in control of my stammer instead of my stammer controlling me.

The rugby family has been brilliant. Stammering has never been an issue for me throughout my life in rugby, apart from one time. I was waiting to call the coin toss with Nigel Owens when I captained Scotland against France in 2013, and [France captain] Thierry Dusautoir flipped the coin. I started trying to say ‘heads’ but had a block, and the coin bounced – I think it’s the only time in Six Nations history they’ve had to do the coin toss twice! I said the same the second time, and guess what? It was tails…

It felt like the right time to become a patron for Stamma. I felt like I owe it to myself and to everyone that has ever helped me and been supportive of me to speak out about it, because it’s something I’m hugely passionate about. Whilst I’ve been fortunate enough to never have been bullied because of my stammer, there are a lot of people who do. A lot of stammerers hide away because of the adverse reaction they receive from other people. It’s twofold, really – it’s about trying to raise awareness so other people understand what’s going on, as well as encouraging those who have a stammer to accept and embrace that as a part of themselves. You should never let it hold you back, because only you are responsible for your own destiny.

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