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The Premier League wellbeing app: What we can learn

The Premier League have introduced a specialist app to help top-level footballers with their mental and physical wellbeing.

The app, created by the FA and PFA, has been trialled by 40% of players this season and will now be made available to the rest of the league.

It contains information on various physical and mental health subjects, including dietary advice, safeguarding, and information about equality and diversity.

Some of the advice is specific to the sport too, such as concussion protocol, the rules and regulations of football, and how to prepare for life after retirement.

In May, it emerged that a record number of players are seeking mental health support.

Recently, Arsenal’s Granit Xhaka revealed he had ‘reached boiling point’ after being booed by his own supporters and enduring repeated threats to his wife and daughter on social media.

What causes poor mental health?

The PFA Charity has also included mental health and wellbeing advice for players on their website. The topics covered include:

  • Change and anxiety
  • Contracts and stress
  • Performance and panic
  • Retirement and anger

Change and anxiety is something people in football can experience on a regular basis. It’s very rare to find a coach or player who spends their entire career at one club these days, so change is common.

This lack of grounding and fear of the unknown leads to anxiety. Even if a player is settled at a club, the arrival of a new boss or player can change everything in a very short space of time.

The stress of constant upheaval also applies to contract negotiations. For many players in the lower leagues, they are only offered one year contracts. This means that the player (and their family) have constant uncertainty about whether they’re staying, or whether they may have to move again.

Just like many people in their jobs, footballers feel pressure to perform at work. However, unlike most professions, football players are exposed to partisan, highly critical crowds on a weekly basis. If things aren’t going well, even their own fans can quickly turn on them.

In an industry where millions of pounds can depend on the performance of players, then this serves to amplify the pressure. In the modern era of social media, criticism is inescapable even long after a match is over.

Football players’ careers are notoriously short. Most players retire from playing in their mid-30s, which can be a huge lifestyle change considering they’ll have played since childhood and professionally since their teens.

This means they are usually not qualified to do anything else. While this will initially leave a large void in their lives, they will also feel the pressure of having to support their family without a steady income.

Some players are able to retrain as coaches, physiotherapists or other roles within sport. The more famous players can become pundits. However, for many, the future will suddenly become uncertain after years of being looked after by their club.

As a result, it seems that specialist advice and safeguarding has been a long time coming.

The advice is obviously geared towards those working within football, but the same anxious thoughts can be felt by anyone within their professional and home lives.

How can we apply the advice to ourselves?

We might not have an app dedicated to the jobs we do, but we can follow similar advice every day to try to manage stress, anxiety and other mental health-related problems.

Here at BounceBack, we put together our Resilience Routine to do just that. The Routine is a daily series of emails containing advice and easy exercises, that, when practiced regularly, can build up our resilience levels.

As resilience is a skill, the more we practice, the better we get.

Preparing for change

One of the things that can hold us back from being more resilient is the tendency to stay in our ‘comfort zone’.

This is when our activities and behaviour fits a familiar routine and pattern that minimises stress and provides a state of mental security.

It’s much easier to limit ourselves to the things we know rather than end up feeling uncomfortable or even hurt by something unfamiliar. That might sound appealing on the surface, however doing this will not benefit us in the long term.

A healthy amount of stress can push us and help us feel motivated. Too little stress leaves us bored, while too much stress leads to anxiety and burnout.

Making small changes and trying new things (even if very minor) can help us prepare for larger, more unexpected changes. Once you’ve experienced a tiny bit of stress and come through it, you’ll be able to handle a little more, and so on.

Tackling stress by building optimism

When faced with the possibility of something going wrong, it can be difficult to avoid thinking about the worst case scenario. They key to preventing this is by developing a healthy sense of learned optimism.

This isn’t simply ‘looking on the bright side’; learned optimism is grounded in reality, where you can learn from your past experiences in order to challenge negative thinking.

The pattern of thinking involves acknowledging how a challenging situation is making you feel. You can then explore this by working out what you feel the consequences will be. Once you’ve recognised this, you can draw upon previous successes to dispel negative beliefs.

To further build a sense of optimism, you can also start planning ahead. For example, if you feel stressed due to having to make a public presentation, use the time to practice what you’ll say in front of a friend. With positive feedback, you’ll feel more confident.

Performance-related stress

It’s only natural to worry about our performance at work, especially when faced with deadlines, targets and high workloads. However, it’s important to remember that most of the time we will be capable of meeting our goals.

While self-esteem can be described as your feeling of self-worth, self-efficacy is your belief in your ability to achieve your aims. Often, it can be described as “success breeding success”.

If you feel you haven’t had much success, then you can get caught in a cycle of negative thinking which can lead to you not wanting to try. The key is to break that cycle.

Start by realising that you have control over your own destiny. This can be easier said than done if things haven’t gone well in the past, but try not to dwell on that. Instead, understand that you can influence what happens in the future.

Learning new skills

As shown through footballers adapting to a new career after retirement, it can pay to learn new skills.

As well as providing a boost to your career prospects, it also increases self-confidence and self-esteem through a sense of achievement.

Learning new skills gives you an element of control over something in your life. You can choose what you want to learn, how to do it, and when you do it based on your own lifestyle.

Try the Resilience Routine here.

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