In late 2015 the World Players Union published a study that revealed mental health issues are significantly more prevalent and widespread among current and former footballers than the general population. This study would shock most people even the avid football watcher. The idea that athletes, especially those in top physical form, have good mental health is a myth. The correlation between physical fitness and mental health needs a bridge, an anchoring resolve. Football has a reputation of uniting people from all over the world and creating a team bond, a sense of camaraderie and a unified hope. Getting on the pitch and doing what you do best is supposed to be therapeutic and an escape from reality; however that is not always the case especially in today’s world where access to a 11 on 11 football for most is extremely limited.
The two leading causes of mental health issues in football are injuries and the isolation of players from their clubs. As we continue to grapple globally with restricted access to family, friends and outside resources, the pandemic initiated lockdown could potentially amplify feelings of isolation. Many familiar coping mechanisms have been reduced as entertainment, health clubs and social gatherings have become either prohibited or limited. Resources for dealing with elevated levels of stress have dwindled, as organizational cutbacks and government-imposed safety measures increase. It is imperative for youth players to look for alternatives that give the same sense of comradeship and peace of mind that the game of football provides. Whether it be basic things like playing warzone with your mates or taking 5 minutes a day to meditate, just clear your mind and refocus! It is important to take some form of action towards self care. Your mental health depends on it.
Players join the academy structure very young and from there on their whole life and social network is based upon making it to the next level. Footballers, like fans, must remember they are humans first then footballers. It is important to share what is going on in your head and to speak about any issues or challenges you face mentally with someone. Maintaining the dialogue, is something we can all improve on. Seek proper council. Get sound advice. Use your resources. Think well of your self. Just as there was life before we all touched a football, there is life after football. The possibility of not getting your next contract or not making it by the age of 21 is there. If everything came easy there would be no joy in accomplishments. There is beauty in the struggle and the reward is well worth the effort.
We have seen youth stars like Michael Kinsella who started his career with Liverpool and was destined for fame and glory, playing alongside greats like Jamie Carragher, end up being released by his club. He then decided to replace the buzz that football provided with illegal activities which ultimately led him to prison. Michael failed to realize there was more to life than football and when that was taken away his life spiralled out of control. No matter your talent level, football is not the be all and end all of everything. Happiness, peace of mind and self-worth are stigmas that are not talked about in the world of sports nearly enough.
Luckily our youth program has the tools to prepare teens for the next level of football as well as their next steps in life. Whether it be our managers, our mentors or the BTEC education program, the London Rangers have your back every step of the way. The first step in dealing with mental health is talking about the issues at hand and remembering you are human first, then a footballer.