Thursday, October 10 was World Mental Health Day, Norwich City Academy midfielder Zach Dronfield and PFA Representative Dave Palmer sat down with canaries.co.uk to discuss the importance of mental health in football.
Speaking on the mental struggle a player can experience, Dronfield revealed how the club helps the side to relax, especially knowing they have unconditional support from the staff around them, he said.
“The club put on quite a few workshops, we tend to do one a week. Whether they be on mental health, or just looking after ourselves outside of football by doing certain activities like coming to The Nest or doing yoga.
“The club really does support us in many ways by putting on these activities to help us relax or stay focused on the right things, and to not let our minds go into these avenues mental health can take. We've got a lot of people to speak to.
“Just little things like coming here to The Nest does really help because it takes your mind off football and allows you to think about other important things.”
For someone who trains nearly every day, exercise is a key aspect of Dronfield’s routine. Discussing the effect of exercise on mental health, Dronfield revealed how important his involvement in the Academy is to his head space.
“I think for me personally, when it’s the offseason and you’re not training as much, you can get quite lonely because sometimes you’re sitting at home for quite a few hours a day.
“When you come back to the academy, doing things like gym and football, or even when you’re out on the grass doing little things, it really helps clear the mind.
“You’re not thinking about the stresses of life, you’re just focusing on playing football and improving yourself each day.”
Also attending The Nest was Dave Palmer, a PFA representative, who told canaries.co.uk the importance of mental health in sports, and how they can help those struggling.
“We see a player’s mental health as well as the physical side of the game as really important because if their wellbeing isn’t positive then it’s going to have an impact on the playing situation.
“We treat mental health as very, very important. We provide provision across the country in a range of areas to support the players through their lives as professional footballers.”
The PFA are currently fighting the stigma of footballers not being able to speak up about their mental health issues. Touching on breaking down this barrier, Palmer has said there’s been improvement, but the message shouldn’t stop there.
“I think breaking it down is making more people aware that it’s good to talk, we’ve seen a huge increase in the last few years, with over 500% more players contacting us.
“That’s telling us that the message is getting out there, so we’d like to encourage that and see more players come forward if they need that support. But it’s also making players and clubs aware of how important mental wellbeing and health is for professional athletes.
“It’s really important to continue to make them aware that we’re there to support and there is that provision there if they are struggling.
“It could be for a number of different reasons, not just the playing side. Aspects such as injury or settling down at a club are just a few. There a lot of different issues around mental health that have a connection with that.”
The PFA have ensured that help is easily accessible for any player, with several ways they can be contacted if someone needed advice. Emphasising this, Palmer highlighted the work they do to ensure that is maintained.
“We’ve got a 24-hour helpline, so if any player is struggling, they can confidentially contact that helpline 24 hours a day. We’ve got a network of councillors across the country. We’ve also got a head of player welfare and several full-time staff that support that agenda.
“In terms of the support and networking, we’ve recently done a best practice day at St George’s Park, which some of the staff at Norwich attended, including all practitioners who play a part in the players development."