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Footballers being hit hard by coronavirus lockdown says sports psychologist


Footballers could be hit particularly hard by ­the ­coronavirus lockdown, sports psychologist Steven Sylvester has warned.

They are used to routine, dressing-room banter, training and games.

And the current crisis could leave them isolated and lonely.

“For a footballer, their very identity is being threatened,” said Sylvester, who helps elite players and has worked with Sheffield United and AFC ­Wimbledon.

“There are different ­approaches but players want to keep fit, they want to finish the season and that’s how they are. That’s a part of their identity and if they’re suddenly told they can’t do it then it will feel very alien.”

Sports psychologist Steven Sylvester says it is vital footballers talk to somebody as they deal with the impact of isolation

Former England captain Wayne Rooney raised mental health as being a “big topic” and admitted “players will be tested by the loss of routine”.

Those in the Premier League are at the other end of the spectrum compared to the lower divisions, where there are worries about whether wages will be paid and whether there is enough money to cover bills.

Sylvester, who has a ­practice in Buckinghamshire and has spent 20 years working in sport, believes talking is vital.

“If you think about how much loneliness and isolation there is in society anyway and now it’s even worse,” he said.

“Players are used to routine, that’s how they live their lives: training, games and so on. Now suddenly super fit athletes with nothing at the end of it.

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Wayne Rooney highlighted mental health as being ‘a big topic’ during the coronavirus lockdown

“People in sport work hard physically, but how much do they talk every day? What’s going on in their lives? How are they feeling generally?

“By talking, it provides some alleviation and prevents people being more anxious.

“You’re a physical machine trying to get ready and in this period where there’s no certainty with anything, it’s important to have this time to talk ­because stress levels are very high.

“It’s the same with any walk of life. If you trained and then couldn’t play, the stress levels are ­increased and causes ­avoidance as well. We avoid difficult conversations and situations.

“People don’t know what’s going on, you worry about your family, if you’ve got parents, ­elderly parents and, while it puts football into ­perspective, footballers are being stopped from what they love doing.

Sylvester says positive thinking has played a big part in Chris Wilder’s success as Sheffield United manager

“What I’m seeing through my discussions, is we get some perspective and a bit of hope. I just hope we will get some clarity about this pandemic but until then it’s so important to talk rather than be stuck in ­isolation.”

Sylvester, 51, works across ­industry and ­football. ­Recent ­successes have been at ­Sheffield United, with a focus on positivity and strong ­mentality.

Now the challenges are ­different.

“I’ve worked in football for a good while and much of my work is with individual players in the top two leagues,” said ­Sylvester.

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“It’s brilliant how Chris Wilder and the guys have done. A lot of that comes from positive thinking and mentality.

“I’ve worked with a lot of players who retire and they are no different from ­executives who retire – they are anxious about a lack of identity and there’s stress in going from what you know into the ­unknown.”





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