Winning the Mental Game

November 12th, 2009: German international goalkeeper Robert Enke committed suicide. A world-class athlete who seemingly had everything going for him, but was battling for three points every day off the pitch. Enke’s tragic death has become a contributor to a higher awareness of mental health for those in football through the publishing of A Life too Short: The Tragedy of Robert Enke (2011) by Ronald Reng and the creation of The Robert Enke Foundation, a foundation committed to raising awareness of critical mental health issues. Enke is not the only player to suffer in this battle. Gianluigi Buffon, Andres Iniesta, and Aaron Lennon are just a few examples of players who have been vocal in their struggle. In recent years, an effort to remove the stigma has become more powerful, but we understand it is not always easy. Football is a results-based industry, the pressures faced are massive and we are usually unable to control most situations. 

Practices to Stay On Top

Before I go on with suggestions, I must disclaim that I am not a sport psychologist, I am simply a performance analyst who sees a psychologist and deals with depression and anxiety. The suggestions in this article are thoroughly researched and further information will be available at the bottom of this article. These suggestions are purely an effort to offer ideas to not just players and staff at a football club, but anyone who may be struggling and looking for some options to regain control of his/her own mental health. 

The first suggestion is taking back control of your sleep schedule. Laura E. Juliff, Shona L. Halson, and Jeremiah J. Peiffer published a study titled “Understanding Sleep disturbance in athletes prior to important competition” in the Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport which found 64.0% of elite athletes reported difficulties falling asleep, with 59.1% of team sport athletes reported having no method or strategy to fall asleep. In a 2016 study supported by the National Institutes of Health, Kimberly O’Leary, Lauren Bylsma, and Jonathan Rottenberg found that a lack of sleep disrupts emotion regulation which can evolve into the development of mental health issues. So with this correlation, how do we get a healthy night of sleep? Famed sleep coach Nick Littlehales discussed in a 2015 interview on The Guardian how important a routine is to establish. No individual has the same routine and it can be tough to establish one, but when you find something that works, it is important to keep the routine going. One way to ease sleep is the regulation of technology before sleep. We live in a digital era and it is easy to find yourself laying in bed with a smartphone in hand for an extended period of time, but it is important to try and avoid exposure to the blue light created by electronic devices, which has been proven by many studies to disrupt melatonin, which is the body’s natural hormone that makes you feel tired. 

With a regulated sleep schedule, you will be able to stay on top in a battle with mental health easier, however, there are other methods available. One is the use of social media. I’m sure we have all felt it before and can relate to this scenario. You open up an app such as Twitter or Facebook and you scroll through your timeline, you feel a negative feeling from what you see. As great as social media is, there are certainly downsides, and you feel this as a staff member of a club or as a player. No matter what you and your team do, there will be someone who is unhappy. The bigger the stage, the more likely you will see criticism of achieving anything less than perfection. It is easier said than done, but it is absolutely crucial that you try to avoid searching your own name to see what people think of you or reading through the replies to your club’s performance (especially after a loss.) Not everyone will be pleased, but you can only control what you can control. A method that I have found to personally work well for me is selecting one day a week to unplug. I try to avoid checking social media, I typically will mute group chats for 24 hours, and I just try to enjoy the day without distractions. 

With sleep regulation and social media regulation comes one more practice that may help you; meditation. Meditation is a broad practice that has been proven in studies to help a number of situations, including but not limited to; sleep quality enhancement, lowered stress and anxiety levels, along with improvements in concentration. A number of resources are available for free online on how to meditate properly. Along with that, I have included in the resources section of this article a short video introducing the different types of meditation so you can select which one is best for you. 

These suggestions are just three of a wide variety of ways to maintain mental health. These may work for some and may not work for others. That is okay. Remember to have hobbies so you can have time away from work. Find what works best for you.

Resources

Contact Information for those in a Mental Health Crisis, Available 24/7

  • United Kingdom: 116 123 (Samaritans)
  • United States: 1-800-273-8255 (Mental Health America)
  • Canada: 1-833-456-4566 (Crisis Services Canada)
  • Australia: 1300 22 4636 (Beyond Blue)

Selecting the Right Type of Meditation

Regulating Sleep

In addition to these resources, I understand that sometimes you may not want a professional offering help, but just need a friend to listen. You can find me on Twitter @ARDataAnalysis with my direct messages open. I am always available for a chat that will remain private. 

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