Being released from a professional club can be one of the most challenging times in an player's career for any number of reasons…
- Mentally/Psychologically -> mental health issues such as anxiety and depression are often reported; lack of self-worth; drop in confidence; uncertain future.
- Financially -> loss of income.
- Socially -> removal of athletic identity and the social bubble of a football club.
- Physically -> lack of motivation to continue training and keep fit following release.
Research has found that athletes who are involuntarily released are more likely to experience psychological distress than those who are able to control the steps in their careers (Wippert & Wippert, 2010).
In 2020, a new study was conducted looking into the support offered to recently released footballers – the results were alarming…
· 72% felt they were not given enough support by the club that released them.
· 88% felt anxious or depressed since being released.
This coupled with the most shocking statistic of all…
- 99% of players who become a full-time scholar will be released or have dropped out of football entirely by the age of 21
… leads to a dangerous combination of an increased risk of mental and physical struggles amongst a remarkably high number of young footballers being released by clubs.
Despite all the negative headlines and statistics, it is possible to turn the disappointment of being released around. Some players have reported positive reactions, such as expressing enthusiasm for new opportunities for development (Blakelock, Chen & Prescott, 2016). There have also been a number of huge success stories from players who were released and gone on to have glittering careers in the game…
Javier Zanetti -> released aged 16 for being ‘too slight and weak’
-> became a bricklayer before moving to second division team in Argentina;
-> went on to play 858 games for Inter Milan, 143 caps for Argentina and win 12 major trophies
Franck Ribery -> released aged 16
-> moved to local fourth division side and worked in construction
-> won 9 Bundesliga titles, capped 81 times by France
Jamie Vardy -> released aged 15 for being ‘too small’
-> dropped to non-league whilst working as a technician
-> won the Premier League with Leicester and the Premier League golden boot, capped 26 times for England
Andrew Robertson -> released aged 15 by Celtic for being ‘too small’
-> joined local amateur side whilst working numerous jobs
-> Champions League and Premier League winner with Liverpool, captain of his national team
What is the secret to bouncing back from the setback of being released and creating a successful career like the players above? One thing is clear – support from professional clubs and organisations, like the FA and PFA, to help players in this position needs to be improved….
Wilkinson (2021) conducted a review of the Elite Player Performance Plan (EPPP) run by the Premier League and found it completely side-steps emotional and psychological support for players before, during and after their release.
So what can you do to best prepare yourself to move forward positively? Here are some tips to help support you in this difficult transitional period.
Players create an identity for themselves when they are part of a football club; once their career is halted, players can find it very difficult to understand who they are outside the game. They can experience anxieties surrounding their personality and experience feelings of loss (Wilkinson, 2021).
If you gain your self-worth and sense of identity solely from your sporting performance and achievements – you have a high athletic identity. This could lead to feelings of emptiness, low self-esteem and self-confidence when you have been released and your status as a player is removed (Tasiemski & Brewer, 2011).
How can you combat this? Of course, as a player you need to be 100% committed to your training and sport, but not at the sacrifice of other parts of your identity. Do not see yourself as one-dimensional and just a footballer. If you have been released from a contract, turn your attention to your other identities, such as a father, mother, son, daughter, brother, sister, best friend, gym buddy, golfing partner etc. This can help shift your attention away from the disappointment of your release, make you more likely to seek social support when needed and help you move forward quicker and more positively.
Research has found that the world’s best athletes possess certain psychological qualities, such as:
· The ability to focus
· A hard-work ethic
· High perceived social support
These qualities protect them during negative career events and enable them to manage a variety of stressful situations successfully (Fletcher & Sarkar, 2012). Ensure you work on these qualities in your day-to-day life, using some of the mental skills strategies outlined in previous blogs.
There are several coping strategies that can be used to help support you through difficult transition periods. These can be split into problem-focused and emotion-focused coping strategies:
- Concentrating on goals -> give yourself new SMART goals, for example, get 3 trials in the next month, or improve your baseline fitness during your time out of a club.
- Increase in practice -> use this time to look at your strengths and weaknesses and work on both to bounce back a better player.
- Planning for the future -> plan for different outcomes, for example, moving away from your current home to find a new club.
- Seeking social support -> use your support networks around you, such as family and friends, and seek new ones, e.g. Sport Psychologist, counsellor.
- Remaining confident -> one of the most important strategies to bouncing back quickly.… remain confident in your abilities to perform after setbacks.
Being released can be one of the most disappointing and emotionally challenging experiences of your career. Hold an accepting attitude towards the difficulties of the career you are trying to enter. However, do not let the 99% stat from earlier frighten you – see it as an exciting challenge to be a member of the successful 1%. With the right support, the right mentality, and the right coping strategies in place, you can bounce back from the disappointment of being released and give yourself a successful career in the game.
Blakelock, David & Chen, Mark & Prescott, Tim. (2016). Psychological Distress in Elite Adolescent Soccer Players Following Deselection. Journal of clinical sport psychology. 10. 59-77. 10.1123/jcsp.2015-0010.
Fletcher, D., & Sarkar, M. (2012). A grounded theory of psychological resilience in Olympic champions. Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 13 (5), 669-678. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.psychsport.2012.04.007
Tasiemski, T., & Brewer, B.W. (2011). Athletic identity, sport participation, and psychological adjustment in people with spinal cord injury. Adapted Physical Activity Quarterly, 28, 233-250.
Wilkinson, RJ. (2021). A literature review exploring the mental health issues in academy football players following career termination due to deselection or injury and how counselling could support future players. Counselling & Psychotherapy Research, 21 (4),859– 868.
Wippert, Pia-Maria & Wippert, Jens. (2010). The Effects of Involuntary Athletic Career Termination on Psychological Distress. Journal of Clinical Sport Psychology. 4. 133-149. 10.1123/jcsp.4.2.133.