The following is an open letter by Josh Smith, the Wrexham AFC club chaplain.
Dear everyone connected with Wrexham AFC,
Back in March I first wrote to you all and it was great to have such a good response. The community of Wrexham AFC is wonderfully diverse and it was great to hear from people passionate about our club from around North Wales and further afield.
I wanted to write to you all again to focus on something that is of a great concern to me and is also something which Wrexham AFC feels strongly about, the issue of mental health. I am a trained mental health first aider like many of the chaplains around the UK, this doesn’t mean I’m an expert but here are some things I have learnt due to that training and role.
The Hardest Part of the Season
The more people I talk to the more I realise how important looking after our mental health is, particularly during this period of lockdown. It very much feels like we’re all in the Christmas January time of the season where players are fatigued and injuries seem to hit most severely.
Mental health is that it is something that we all have. I find it helpful to think of our mental health in the same way we do physical health. When a player is injured, getting fatigued or not performing to their usual standard, clubs take measures to get this player back to full fitness. Our mental health is the same, we all need to be making sure that we are not falling into habits that damage our mental health and that we proactively incorporate some habits that benefit our wellbeing.
Address Issues & Improve Your Game
In football, this is something that is vital. Some of the most successful teams and managers are those that can identify an issue within their game and address that. This may be a particular player that needs substituting, a system or formation that is not working or highlighting mistakes that need cutting out. With our mental health, this is a good approach. If you’re struggling, try to identify areas that are causing stress, anxiety or concern, this can mean simply openly telling those closest to you that you are struggling, seeing a doctor to discuss how you’re feeling or changing habits of living e.g. an unhealthy work-life balance or poor sleeping patterns.
It is important to see the role of hope here too. An injured player or a struggling team always looks forward to a time where they’ll return to the pitch or see success. Just with physical injuries that can improve our mental health struggles can improve too with the right help.
Don’t be a Lone Wolf
I’m sure like many of you I have recently been watching the last dance on Netflix about Michael Jordan & the Chicago Bulls in the 1990s. It is very interesting I found to see that even though Michael Jordan has been one of the greatest basketball players since he was a rookie in the NBA, the team was only successful when other great players were brought in to compliment his game. This is the same in football, I grew up a childhood Liverpool fan with Steven Gerrard as my idol. Throughout his career, he carried what was mostly a very average team. When other great players were brought in however that was when he really seemed to thrive. It’s also hard to wonder how successful he would have been in a team with more players of his calibre.
I think we have to look at life the same way. We’re not meant to live alone and solitarily carry our burdens ourselves. Reach out to those closest to you, other supporters, or seek some external help. I’d be happy to talk with any of you who feel like you are overwhelmed or struggling and I can direct you to some other sources of support.
Once again I hope you find some comfort in these words but more than that I hope we can all be working together during this time to improve our mental health. Below are some links to other sources of support for mental health issues but I’d love to hear from any of you if you feel like you need advice or someone to chat to so please do send me an email.
Samaritans - Available 24/7 on: 116 123. Welsh language number: 0808 164 0123
Anxiety UK: Charity providing support if you have been diagnosed with an anxiety condition.Phone: 03444 775 774 (Monday to Friday, 9.30am to 5.30pm)
Men’s Health Forum: 24/7 stress support for men by text, chat and email.
Mind: Promotes the views and needs of people with mental health problems. Phone: 0300 123 3393 (Monday to Friday, 9am to 6pm).