The Holy Grail of Players Mental Health & Well-being
I recently put out an announcement on LinkedIn to see if I could get any help writing this blog on mental health, well-being and player care. I wanted to discuss with a seasoned scout or coach about the options players have when they are released, which unfortunately happens to a large proportion of players. I never thought in a million years I would land a titan of football, but I did. I somehow managed to get a conversation with Chris Turner, the ex-professional football player who has many accolades including playing for Sheffield Wednesday and Manchester United. His CV was more than impressive, and he is highly qualified to speak about this issue. If you were wondering who he is or what he’s done in football, there is very little that he hasn’t accomplished. Not only was he a player with an impressive history, he was also heavily involved in recruitment, coaching and more recently appointed the chairman of Wakefield AFC. I am also ashamed to say that I didn’t do my research thoroughly enough before speaking to Chris, and to him on this point I must humbly apologise. It was a great honour to speak to him and to hear his insights on such a hot topic at the minute in football.
So, I started with a question on player care---for anyone that doesn’t know what this means, it’s basically in layman’s terms what options players are given by the clubs when they are released. For instance, if you are 16 years old and released, the club could potentially put you on an education programme or have some form of shadow development academy you could join, giving the player the option to get better, and then rise back up to the first team academy or even play first team football. Chris gave a very astute answer that these player care options have definitely improved over time, and that in his day there certainly weren’t as many options available for players. Within this answer one of the main paradigms of thought was that both players and parents are uniquely told a dialogue from all staff in the process, and in this sense the responsibility of parents is enormous in understanding what options the players may face in the future.
For instance, imagine being a player in a professional football team and playing there since you were 10 years old only to be released at 18, the fall out could be vast if not dealt with correctly. Some personal experience Chris had, actually centred around a parent’s expectations of their child, essentially putting a lot of pressure on a child and not really considering the statistics of how many players actually make it. After all being a professional footballer is not just about training and then playing a game once or twice a week. It’s a life style, the right diet, training every day, having a work ethic that is second to none, having an attitude that makes managers and coaches notice you and much more importantly having the desire to do well in ALL that you do!
With this said, this was all a nice segue to discuss mental health and well-being of players who are released. Chris began his answer discussing his remarkable footballing career as a player, and how comments like ‘’he is not mentally tough enough’’ were common place and seemed just part of the process. Now the game has evolved, and the topic gets a lot more attention, which Chris said was rightly so. He went on to state some useful advice for players in the modern game. Chris said that if he could give one piece of advice to players these days it would be not to create a social media account of any kind. He went on to say that he sees it all the time, a player finishes a game and will get 49 positive comments on his performance but the 1 comment that’s negative will stay with him or her. This effect is quite profound and is worth considering, after all what does a player want to achieve with a social media account? This rhetorical question is certainly worth thinking about, especially if you are an up and coming footballer.
Chris continued to discuss how psychologists play a role in larger clubs, and other organisations/lower league clubs do what they can to help with players and their mental health / well-being, but it’s an ongoing issue and certainly there is room for improvement in this area. Chris went on to say that a mentor scheme could be quite useful for players mental health / wellb-eing as the mentor could take the young player under their wing and help them. This idea I thought was great, and I hope clubs try to do this with players. I am sure they may well do this, and certainly there is a lot of great work by coaches, managers, staff and even chairmen as my chat with Chris would indicate.
My time was coming to an end with Chris, and the conversation had not failed to captivate me and I hope you as a reading audience. The insights were so valuable and Chris’s amazing playing history and current project with Wakefield AFC were equally fascinating. However, we did start to discuss talent identification and what he has seen over the years as one of the top most talented players. I always get captivated with this question ‘’what are the common traits you see in successful professional football players?’’ Chris answered with the very incisive answer of ‘’desire’’. He went on to say that the top players want to do more, they want to train extra, they want to be the best in all that they do, they want to be in the gym, they want to win every ball in training and they have an unwavering desire to want to win the ball in the game situations too. It seems though that this attribute is not in all players or indeed people, and training someone to have desire is nigh on impossible--you either have it or you don’t. This I thought was something very interesting for any potential football player to think about--- are you in love with the destination or are you in love with the journey?
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