Rio Ferdinand and Owen Farrell have opened up on mental health, as a host of sports stars share their experiences as part of a a new series of films from the Heads Up campaign.
The former Manchester United and England defender spoke with England rugby captain Farrell about the effects of pre-match nerves while Ferdinand touched on the weight of expectations when he played for his country.
The pair also talked about the importance of communication and not to allow problems to manifest themselves but to seek support from friends, family or team-mates.
Rio Ferdinand has opened up on mental health in sport as part of the Heads Up campaign
The Heads Up campaign has been spearheaded by Prince William, The Duke of Cambridge
Watford captain Troy Deeney and Match of the Day pundit Alex Scott also took part in the six-part #SoundOfSupport series involving candid conversations as part of the campaign spearheaded by Prince William, The Duke of Cambridge, which aims to use the power and influence of football to change the conversation on mental health.
It comes ahead of the ‘Heads Up FA Cup Final’ between Arsenal and Chelsea at Wembley this Saturday, which is dedicated to the issue of mental health, which is expected to be an ongoing issue arising from the coronavirus pandemic.
While Wembley stadium will be silent, the conversation around mental health will be louder than ever, and fans will be urged to show the ‘sound of support’ – and to make sure it’s heard by those who need it.
Ferdinand and England captain Owen Farrell spoke about managing expectations in sport
‘As a captain, as an England player, the shirt was a heavy shirt when I played for England,’ Ferdinand told Farrell.
‘More so than Man United for different reasons, the expectation, the years of disappointment that had come before us and our era was called the “golden generation” which heaped more pressure on us at the time.
‘The big difference between wearing an England shirt and a Man United shirt is that I felt very comfortable and confident at Man United that we were on the right pathway to success whereas with England I didn’t necessarily believe it.’
Ferdinand added that the sort of pressure heaped on the shoulders of England players of years gone by has been addressed, with the BT Sport pundit praising Gareth Southgate for helping ensure his players are in the right headspace.
Farrell revealed how his England team-mates are open about how they feel before games
Rugby star Farrell spoke about how his team-mates hold frank and open discussions regarding their mindset before important games.
‘What the group’s very good at is not holding things back. Getting things out there,’ he said. We always have a chat the night before… just players, and I enjoy them. [They’re] run by the lads, it’s just open to see what they’re thinking.
‘The build-up to a test week can be a long week and you know everyone has got their own thoughts. The main thing for us is to speak what we are thinking. And if that’s something that makes you a bit more vulnerable then that’s good.
‘Because if you’re thinking it, I’d probably think a few more are as well. So to put it out there and come up with a solution together is a stronger way of doing it. Like a lot of things it’s never as bad as you think it is and talking about it goes a long way to making it better.’
Match of the Day pundit Alex Scott spoke about her struggles with social media abuse
The former England star spoke with Watford’s Troy Deeney about the importance of talking
Ferdinand recalled a time when he and former United star Michael Carrick spent time with the rugby squad, and remembers being astounded by the honesty and willingness to share concerns among the group.
‘I’ve been in the dressing room with you guys before and you guys seemed you were able to breathe, talk and communicate and that’s a big difference with our generation.
‘In my generation, [we’d] never like, go into a room on our own, sit there and go “Guys listen, Cup Final tomorrow, I’m so nervous”. Because everyone would sit there and go “What?”. And almost you’d look at him to say “He’s a weak link, he’s going to be a nightmare tomorrow for us”.
‘Whereas you guys seem more forward thinking. Now looking back, I think maybe I could have helped a few people through who would have helped us in the long run if I had been softer around those issues.’
Deeney revealed that having therapy while in prison helped put him on the right track
Meanwhile, Watford striker Deeney and former England star Scott discussed social media abuse and how talking to professionals has helped ease stress and mental pressure in day-to-day life.
‘I was that footballer where, when I retired [and was] getting trolled, I found that I was turning to drink to try and hide what I was feeling,’ Scott said.
‘I didn’t tell anyone – I didn’t tell my mum because I didn’t want her to worry. I’m very much that person – I can look after myself, I can deal with stuff – but then obviously sometimes that’s the wrong way. I got to a dark place and it was over Christmas that’s when I was like “I can’t carry on like this” – this is not me – I need to seek help.
‘Now when I talk about mental health, straight away I’m smiling. Because I know what it’s done for me to lead to that place. I’m content. I’m happy. And I feel like I want to give that to everyone else.’
He said that he was able to take a weight off his shoulders and could sleep better after talking
Deeney added that only after he went to prison and got therapy, he understood the importance of communication and how speaking to friends and family has made him feel ‘lighter’.
‘I stay off social media because when people say certain words and certain things it takes me back to my past of being more aggressive,’ he told Scott. ‘From the age of like 18, I was a proper loose cannon. I was fighting all the time, getting into scrapes. I was just in a bad place… but then when I went to jail, I had to do a therapy course.
‘It was only really when I came out that I’ve realised that I don’t talk…. So now when I have an opportunity to talk and have a conversation now, I grasp it and it’s kind of my own therapy, getting it all off my chest, and I feel lighter for it.
‘I understood when I started talking I slept easier, I used to sleep just 4 hours but now after therapy I sleep a good 10 hours.’
Launched in 2019, the Heads Up campaign aims to harness the power and influence of football to change the conversation on mental health, with a particular focus on men.
Heads Up is working with charity partners Mind, CALM, Heads Together and Sporting Chance to make sure everyone can find the support they need, and help others do the same. Visit http://www.headstogether.org.uk/heads-up to find out more.
For 24/7 support, you can text ‘HeadsUp’ to 85258 to connect with a trained crisis volunteer who will chat to you by text message. This service is run by ‘Shout’, powered by Crisis Text Line, and is a legacy of the Heads Together campaign.