Beat The Stigma

It has been refreshing over the past week to see so much support for Aaron Lennon in his battle against mental illness. As men, it is often unnatural for us to open up to each other about our feelings or struggles but as each high profile sportsman or celebrity speaks out it may become more closer to the norm for men to feel easy about discussing these matters.

In the context of a football team it is often difficult to gauge how a team mate is feeling ‘inside himself’. The majority of us turn up at training and games, have a quick chat, get ready and then get to work. Such an environment doesn’t lend itself to individuals being comfortable to speak about any stress or worries they may have in a locker room atmosphere. This is for a variety of reasons but most notably must be a fear of becoming a figure of fun amongst the boys. It’s much easier to put on a brave face for two hours than it is to speak up or speak out and risk the laughter.

As a football manager I am not afraid to say that I have suffered  behind closed doors as a result of the role I undertook. I never knew how difficult a job it would be to run a successful amateur team and how lonely a place it would be. Winning trophies is the ultimate high in football but it is the hard and often unnoticed work that goes on behind the scenes that can cause a mental struggle. I have spoken before about having to manage your own disappointment when you are let down time and time again by your players. Standing on a cold December night in the driving rain coaching nine players is soul destroying. You go home that night having made your mind up that enough is enough and you can’t put yourself through that anymore. You lie awake for hours contemplating the repercussions if you quit. Will the team fold? Will players quit? Will someone else take over? Will I regret it? Your head spins for hours until you eventually get a couple of hours sleep. In the next few days you give yourself a shake and you decide to go again.

Disappointment is only one of the issues though. Putting pressure on yourself to win every week is another. Maintaining standards, doing all the admin, washing the strips, planning training, booking pitches, phoning refs, league meetings, taking in money, texting players. Everything adds up and contributes to stress. Doing all this as well as your full time job that pays your wages and spending the rest of the time with your family is a tough balancing act. I get that this paragraph may seem like I’m looking for praise or seeking my own sense of self worth but it’s not. I just want others to know that they aren’t alone out there in doing what they do. Stress is very real in any sport and if it isn’t dealt with and left to fester it can easily lead to depression which is not so easy to treat. We put so much pressure on ourselves because we want our team to be as successful as it can be. It’s a hobby but for big periods it can be a very unenjoyable hobby. I’ve said before, running an amateur football team is a full time job without the pay to go with it.

The stress that I’ve personally put myself under has been unreal at times. I’ve turned up at games before literally shaking having run around all morning organising all manner of things to make sure I’ve had a team to put on the park. As I said I’m not alone in this either. Anyone who runs a team will be the same. We all go above and beyond the call of duty to keep things running smoothly. I’m not ashamed to say that I haven’t always coped with it and it’s difficult to find someone to talk to. The wife doesn’t want to hear it as she would rather I never went to football anyway. You can’t really speak to your players about it because they are a big part of the reason you get so stressed in the first place. So you keep it all bottled up and hope that a win on a Saturday will make it all better….it doesn’t.

When you can find someone to speak to who is neutral and removed from your own life it feels so much better. Getting everything off your chest in a controlled and calm manner can do wonders for your mental health. We shouldn’t be ashamed about it either. In every walk of life people are exposed to things that can have a damaging effect on their mental health. It just seems that in sport and in particular with men in sport there is a stigma that we should be strong enough to deal with it. It’s not the case. If you are having problems then there are people out there who can help you. Don’t underestimate the difference it can make to your health and your life.

Its good to talk.

The Gaffer

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