THIS week is Mental Health Awareness Week, and of course, the issues surrounding mental health have been brought into sharper focus given the impact of Covid-19.
Mental Health issues can affect absolutely anyone in society – including professional footballers and those aspiring to be professional footballers.
The Rangers Academy, therefore, have created a ground-breaking ‘Player Care Team’ which brings together a multitalented group of both club and external staff to look after the mental wellbeing of the club’s young players.
One member of the Player Care Team is Arlene Sinclair, Rangers’ Child Wellbeing and Protection Officer, who has been explaining more about her role within both that, and the club as a whole…
Give us an idea first of all about your own role within the Academy and also around the football club in a wider sense?
AS: “To look at it in its widest sense, my role is to deliver Rangers’ safeguarding strategy – so that is about creating and implementing policies and procedures for the club and then embedding them.
“Those safeguarding policies and procedures are about protecting and promoting the well-being of the children and the young people at the club in its widest sense.
“Within the Academy, my role is very much people-centred, it is child-focused and I am also a counsellor, so a huge part of my role is about developing relationships with the young people at the club.
“I will refer to them constantly as ‘young people’ as opposed to a ‘player’ as, first and foremost; they are a person, so we need to remember that.
“My role is about developing relationships with them and it is about being available and being there for them so that the opportunity to speak, knowing that they will be listened to, and then perhaps supported and guided into some sort of solutions that might make them feel better if they are having any challenges.”
Looking after the mental health of the players – explain how important that is at all times, and especially during this current period?
AS: “Mental health is important at all times, and with our young people, they might face further or heightened situations and issues, so it is important that with good mental health, they can cope and manage everyday situations.
“By coping and managing with those everyday situations, they will get a positive outcome. It’s not only for the here and now, but what they do and how their mental health now helps them in the future as well.
“In these times with Covid, things can be a little bit scary and a little bit unknown with not all the structures and frameworks around the young people.
“So it is very important that they seek to have good mental health. It is important for them to stay informed and it is important for them to stay connected, and that will, in-turn, help them to feel in control.
“They have had everything taken away from them just now – those daily interactions with so many people whether that be at school or with peers etc.
“So creating structure and staying in control is very, very important to good mental health right now.”
The Academy has a ‘Player Care Team’ – who is involved with that and what are their aims?
AS: “The Player Care Team is a new initiative which we started last year, I think in October time, and it is ground-breaking – I don’t know of any other clubs right now that have this kind of initiative.
“The Player Care Team was developed with a range of people with personal and professional skillsets, and that is to cover different aspects of the young person’s life.
“So within the Player Care team, we have a performance psychologist, we have a mental health nurse, we have myself as a child wellbeing officer and a counsellor and we have two chaplains that can offer pastoral support and pastoral care for young people, and their role primarily is to provide guidance and support.
“It’s not about telling a young person what to do – it is about helping them to develop strategies to deal with things themselves.
“So it is new and innovative, but it is working really well right now.”
What are some of the ways in which you and the rest of the Academy staff are looking after the mental health of the players at present?
AS: “There is a lot going on, and it is very much about staying connected. It is about staying connected to as many people as they can from the Academy so coaching staff, support staff and keeping in-touch with skills and drills.
“There is an individual wellbeing survey daily so we can pick-up if a young person is not feeling their normal self.
“There are educational webinars with children and young people, and I know myself personally, and our mental health nurse, are continuing with Zoom calls for counselling and sessions to maintain that contact.
“Supporting mental health is also about supporting the people that support the people – so that is parents and carers also.
“We held a webinar last night with the Player Care Team, players and parents and carers so they could ask questions and we could offer some tell-tale signs that might indicate that they might need some support from someone.
“There are surveys also for parents and carers – they have been given surveys that allow them the opportunity to highlight any issues or changes with their child at home.
“So, it is taking care of their mental health, and it is taking care of our young people with their parents too.”
How impressed have you been by the commitment from the Academy and indeed the wider club to look after the mental health of their players?
AS: “It is amazing actually to recognise that an attitude and a culture of football, that perhaps is changing, and changing for the better.
“The Academy staff have embraced that opportunity to develop an environment and create a culture that encourages a young person to speak out without stigma and that they can feel just as comfortable talking about their mental health and needing support as they so about a sore ankle or a knee injury.
“It is important for us to recognise across the club, everybody is invested – they are invested in the time, they are invested in the learning and they have invested in putting the right people in-place so we can offer the broadest opportunity for good mental health for our young people in the club.”