This week the tragic news of former Manchester City youngster Jeremy Wisten sadly took his own life, shortly after being released. Reflecting on the tragic news, I am sure many of us are questioning how this is still happening across youth football. Are youngsters in football academies receiving any type of support?
This is not the first time a young player has taken their own life due to battles with mental health, and not playing the sport they love. Josh Lyons, a former Spurs and Crawley Town player was another ex-footballer who took his own life after being released. What was eye-opening however was that during an inquest into Josh’s death, it was said that he went into a deep depression and his confidence was also affected.
The question many are asking themselves, is what aftercare is actually in place for these youngsters following their release? You can understand why many players would begin to struggle with mental health-related issues and why an effective aftercare plan is crucial. Imagine this, you’ve been training since a kid to become a star and it’s simply snatched away from you. Football can be seen as an important part of these youngsters livelihoods. They are pressured to make it into the starting 11, get that scholarship, the lucrative deals and of course to break into the first team.
The way the academy system works is tough on young players, I certainly believe that changes need to be made to resolve this problem. After being around players who play for high profiled academies, I have witnessed first hand how some coaches and clubs completely disregard the emotional well being of players. Opposed to seeing them as kids they are often viewed as porential assets for business.
Clubs will often pick up these players as early as eight years old, and even at this age, they do not hesitate to let them go if their standards are not met. You can only imagine how difficult it can be for these kids, especially when support is not in place.
So what can clubs do to prevent tragic incidents like this one happening again? Is it investing into the welfare system? Should it be compulsory to offer extensive counselling? How about providing 1 to 1 support for these kids playing at such a high level? Playing at such a high level brings extreme pressure on the youth, which needs to be acknowledged.
We hope that clubs and league representatives understand the repercussions their actions may have on the youth. Ensuring the welfare of young players has to be recognised as the main priority. Surely a happy player means a better player going forward? Forget how much money these youngsters will bring or how much success they can potentially bring to the club. These are young adults who are balancing education, football and all the other stress life brings. Support our youth.
My message to players who may be going through similar circumstances is simple, keep your head up and working hard. However, if you’re at breaking point don’t be afraid to talk. We’re here for you. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself, football maybe all you know but understand you don’t have to struggle alone. More importantly talk to those close to you about the issues you are facing, because it is okay to not be okay. Support is available to help you enjoy life and find the passion you once had for the sport you love.
Our condolences go out to Jeremy and his family during these difficult times.
Love and Guidance