Norwich City academy trio Tony Springett, Jon McCracken and Caleb Richards put themselves forward to become Mental Health Ambassadors alongside the Justin Fashanu Foundation in July 2020.
Working with both the academy’s player care department and the Justin Fashanu Foundation, the three players took on the role of providing alternative safe spaces for their teammates to talk to.
Speaking to canaries.co.uk, we caught up with the three players on how their roles have developed and how they have found their experiences so far.
According to Springett, the ambassador role has made it easier for his teammates to speak out about their problems, with the forward’s main goal in this role hoping to see this communication continue to grow.
“I just feel like as a collective team it’s become more of a safe environment now because as young adults, I don’t think we’re as confident to speak out about our feelings as much to the adults. I’m a really upbeat person, I’m happy most of the time, but everyone has downtime and negative thoughts, and I don’t mind speaking out about it.
“I want everyone else to be like that because I think it’s really helpful to speak to Clive [Cook, head of player care] or my parents about it. I think if it works for me, I should do everything I can to make it help for everyone else.”
Speaking on the impact the role has had on him, Springett says it’s made him more aware of what signs to look out for from his teammates in the dressing room, especially when he occasionally re-joins the Under-18s side.
“I pick up on body language and how they walk around the changing room. Even if it’s a 30 second chat seeing how they are or if they’ve not been picked for the squad telling them that it happens to all of us. I think since taking up the role, I’ve had to be more aware like that around the changing room”
“Because I’m not training everyday with the U18s, when I come back down, I have to catch-up with everyone. That means there’s automatically a conversation starter to see how they are, so having that easy starter opens up a wider variety of in-depth conversation, which has really helped me.”
For McCracken it’s a similar story to Springett, the goalkeeper praising the role in becoming a go-between for the players to the player care department and helping his team develop both on and off the pitch.
“If someone doesn’t want to speak to Clive or Wrighty then there’s somebody in the team who they can speak to who’s not on that level where they’ll feel uncomfortable or they don’t think they’ll understand it the way we would, so that was kind of the reason behind it.
“Dealing with situations that aren’t just football, it’s not like you’re in for training then back home and switch off, it’s not a job like that where you can switch off. You always develop on the pitch but off the pitch it’s just as important to develop. Dealing with different situations and circumstances that people speak to you about can only make you a better person.
As a player who’s experienced a long-term injury in the 2019-2020 season, McCracken says the role is a good way for him to use his experiences from recovery to help other players who may need support on their way back from rehabilitation.
“Touch wood, I’ve never had an injury where you’re out for 12 or 18 months, but I’ve had long enough injuries that can rule you out for six or seven and they’re tough injuries and you feel quite lonely when you’re in them.
“If you feel you’ve got people who you can speak to then it’s only going to help things. I’m not saying it speeds up the recovery process, but it certainly feels like a shorter time when you’re not alone.”
For Kidderminster Harriers loanee Richards, the ambassador experience has been translated to a brand-new team, the defender saying he quickly became someone his teammates could talk to about any issues they’re facing.
“At Kidderminster [Harriers], I’ve become close to my team in a short space of time, I feel like I am one of those guys that people can talk to over there too, even though I’ve not known them for too long.
“Kidderminster’s league has been suspended so anyone else might be worried about not playing games, there’s a lot of worry. Being in this position too, I can be that support for people.”
In any circumstance, it’s a worthwhile check to ensure his teammates are doing well for Richards, the player citing how any situation can have an underlying negative affect on a player.
“You can get good loans, you can get bad loans, you can be out of football and really happy, or in football and not happy at all. A lot of the time, it can be to do with circumstance, you might be on a bad loan and the new players don’t really like you, or you might be out of work and struggling.
“Sometimes it’s just how it is, and you don’t know why you feel down, so it’s always good to check up on someone, even if they might not necessarily be in a bad circumstance.”