Hello there, I am Callum Rivett, and welcome to this instalment of my articles. Today, I will be looking at a subject close to a number of footballer’s hearts: the mental side of the game.
One hears many a
manager saying the game is “played in the mind” and some may wonder what
that means. It is one of the reasons that there are upsets. The reason
why teams are able to win games that perhaps they shouldn’t. They either
had a fantastic game plan, or they were prepared enough mentally to go
out and challenge. The opposition (let’s call them Champions) may well
go into the game against the Underdogs thinking they will be 3-0 up by
half-time and it’s an easy three points.
However, if the Underdogs
come out and attack, it puts the Champions mindset under threat. This
isn’t the team they were expecting. They thought they would be able to
stroll to an easy victory. The Champions were not adequately prepared
mentally. The Underdogs set up to frustrate and annoy the Champions, get
stuck in, and subsequently win the game.
That was purely a figment
of imagination, but it happens every week. Norwich 1, Arsenal 0 last
week. Middlesbrough 4, Manchester United 1 in 2005. The list goes on.
These are just notable examples I can drag up from my memory banks.
There is also a mental side to the game that the supporters and media do not see. The side of depression.
Dean Windass and Darren Eadie are just two ex-pros who admitted that
they were suffering from depression after leaving football, and in my
opinion it is easy to see how it can happen. You grow up with football:
football is your childhood, as it is mine. You don’t know anything other
than kicking a ball around grass into a net. Your whole mental mindset
is being focussed on the weekend, on the next game. That is what your
week builds up to as a professional footballer.
When I step onto
the football pitch, I become a different person. Every thing bad that
has happened in the week is forgotten when you cross that white line in
the grass, when that first whistle blows. You are absorbed in the game,
you and it are one. Every kick, every goal: you feel it. You feel the
emotion running through you, and you love it, you crave it.
is taken away - either through retirement or injury - you lose a part
of yourself. You lose the part that everyone knew, that everyone saw.
Your whole life hinged on playing football, then it’s gone.
can match the thrill of adrenaline that football provides, it is
unique. It doesn’t require the type of courage that throwing yourself
out of a plane does. It isn’t the bravery of saving a life. It’s
something entirely different, yet entirely simple.
Football fills you with a determination: I will win that header, I will make that tackle.
Football relieves stress. Whilst exercising, neurotransmitters are
stimulated, and these are responsible for producing sensations such as
happiness, or the feeling of stress relief. Endorphins are produced,
which target the limbic and prefrontal areas of the brain; the areas
associated with emotions and feelings. Footballers run many kilometres a
game in total, and these endorphins produce a phenomenon called
But endorphins are also related to addiction. Drug
addicts have been shown to have high levels of endorphins, according to a
paper published by the neuroscience journal Impulse.
means is that football is a drug. It is an addiction, and when it is
taken away, players often feel low, depressed. Watching a game live does
not quite replicate the feeling that playing does, so offers only a
temporary reprieve. Footballers may have to make do with coaching, but
sometimes - in the sad case of Gary Speed - it is not enough.
different approach, injury can also cause depression. Injury is a lonely
place: your fellow professionals are outside, kicking the ball around,
whilst you are stuck in the gym trying frantically to build up your
muscles and match fitness. Depression can hit even the player with the
To conclude, more support needs to be given to
players who have retired and are struggling, or are out injured for long
periods of time. Whether they are in the Ridgeons Premier or in the
Premier League, there needs to be support give by the PFA. Depression
can affect everybody, and the best possible support needs to be given to
those suffering from it, either in football or someone from everyday
Follow Callum on twitter: @CJRivett12. You can find more of Callum's work here.