Mental Health

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Being a professional with in any sport doesn’t come without a cost; that cost is called “Pressure”. In my time as a footballer I have directly experienced what it’s like to come under extreme pressure, not only from fans and managers, but also from family and friends.

The pressure of playing in front of thousands of people can be difficult to deal with, some deal with it better than others, and some in fact take that pressure and use it to their advantage.

I first started playing football in Spain when I was 11, I joined a friend who was playing for my local club, Atletico Benamiel. Even at a that age, some parents put extreme pressure on their kids because they want them to become the next Ronaldo, or in goalkeeping terms, Iker Casillas. I was lucky enough not to have that, and truth be told, I’m extremely glad I didn’t. I just wouldn’t have enjoyed it.  As a parent you need to let your kids make their own choices, and parents often get caught up in what’s their dream, and not their sons or daughters one; so be mindful.

Playing for Atletico Benamiel was a real eye opener, I mean it was do or die. We’d have our manager “Luke” shouting abuse at us from the touchline, but we all took it in our stride. I was always extremely nervous and even scared leading into a game, still to this day I don’t know why. Was it because I knew the manager would shout at us after if we lost? Was it because I didn’t want to let my team mates down? Or was it because I wanted to be the best? To this day those were the best days of my footballing career. I don’t like blowing my own trumpet but even now I’m older, I doubt I could pull of some of the saves I did back then!

Those of you that have played football at a young age will undoubtedly agree with me when I say ‘you simply can’t beat kicking a ball in the park with your mates’. Apart from that, which I did every afternoon after completing my homework, playing for Atletico Benamiel gave me that satisfaction.

As I grew up and signed for Notts County in 2010 the pressure carried on building. After signing my two-year scholarship and further on, my professional contract I knew that this was the path I had taken, and I needed to be successful. Not only that, but every family member,friend and Facebook contact you can think off would ask  “how’s football going?”.  That was all good when things were going well, but when they weren’t, it was a tough question to answer.  I kept on building that pressure inside my head and when things didn’t go to plan, I would literally beat myself up in anger and frustration. I’d  feel as though I let other people down.

After some impressive performances as a 19-year-old in the first team, I was riding on a high. I was linked with some big club’s, but I believed it to be speculation. I used it as a driving force until I found out it was true after a MOM performance against Crewe Alexandra. The Chairman came up to me and said “You must’ve known Man U were watching you today!” I certainly didn’t!

As quick as things come in football they can also go away. A quick turn around in managers at the club, a lack of games and a difficult time outside football, left me lost. I was a different player, I couldn’t explain what had happened, simply because I had no idea. I was anxious even in training and found no enjoyment in what I was doing. Performance is all that matters in football and when you don’t perform, the pressure builds and builds.

My family found a sport psychologist, for whom they paid a lot of money. I refused at first, simply because I thought I would find a way back, but that would have never happened. I always knew I had my families support, but this again built pressure.

After several sessions Phil told that I was in fact suffering from a mild depression. It was the first time everything made sense to me. The mistakes, the anxiety, the loss of enjoyment and the change in my moods.Just from talking I realised I always said the word “quite”, I mean what even is quite?  It shows a lack of confidence.  I now realise I was only one of many others, just look at these figures from October, 2015:

  • 38% of 607 current players and 35 % of 219 former players sampled reported suffering from symptoms of depression and/or anxiety.
  • Sleep disturbance (23% and 28% respectively), distress (15% and 18%) and adverse alcohol use (9% and 25%) were also reported.
  • Among current professionals, players who had sustained three or more severe injuries during their career were two to nearly four times more likely to report mental health problems.

After using a technique called brain spotting, my moods lifted, my confidence was high and I started to have a smile on my face again. I was released not long after, which dampened my mood but didn’t leave me to despondent. I consequently moved to the English Riviera and signed for Torquay United on a wage that couldn’t sustain my food and petrol. It was the best I could get! I was living on my savings and thought that because I was confident again, my talent would shine through. This wasn’t the case and the anxiety and mood swings soon crept back it. I now understand why and it was simply because I did something, that I in truth, I didn’t want to do.

Suffering from depression is nothing to be ashamed about and it’s a very common theme within high pressure environments. You can often feel a failure or let the opinions of others change who you are. Although many see it as a sign of weakness, I in contrast now use that experience to my strength. It has taught me an awful lot about myself as I person. Whilst before I was often going against my gut instinct and following advice from others, I now realise that the only way to live up to your true potential is by doing what makes YOU happy – only I know whether something is right for me. I’ve taken initiative and decided that whatever I do is my choice only and if I’ve made a wrong decision ,there’s always a way to change it, but I made it based on what I thought was best for me . But honestly, do what makes you happy.

Whilst my depression was only mild, and the most notable changes happened on a football pitch, it can be a lot worse. Some changes I mentioned seem easier said than done, but I encourage everyone who feels in a certain way to talk about it. There are more good people than bad people around, and most will be willing to try and help you.

I am one, and whilst this post is mainly football related, it can happen to all of us .So whether your a footballer, athlete or genuine person, I’m always happy to give some help and advice.

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