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Kevin George on mental health: "It's embarrassing"

PICTURED: Kevin George

KEVIN GEORGE spent eight years as a professional footballer, playing for Premier League clubs including West Ham. But after moving to Charlton United, he developed anxiety about the job he had previously loved and felt pressured to be someone else. The experience prompted him to encourage the football community to tackle conversations around mental health.

“Initially, it was pretty straightforward, I was desperate to try and get into the game. But when I went to Charlton, I had a manager that wanted to micromanage me and I almost felt a pressure to be somebody else," George said.

“Sport is where you express yourself but I feel like I was expressing it in the way that he wanted me to play.

“That’s when I became anxious about playing because I didn’t enjoy it, I didn’t want to be there and I didn’t want to do it. It was about how he wanted to deliver my craft day in and day out, which I have found common in football.”

After three years, George was released from his contract and this changed his relationship with football. “I didn’t know this but at the time I was emotionally drained. I was unwilling to invest the amount of effort to get served up what I’ve been served previously,” he said.

With a desire to learn more about his own experience and others, George turned his attention to counselling. “It blew my mind in terms of reflecting on my personal life and also my professional life,” he said.

With a new set of skills, George ventured into schools where he carried out behaviour therapy with “boys like himself that teachers couldn’t engage with”.

“I was seeing kids misbehave because they were bored or they were misunderstood and it made me think about football.

But the difference between school and football is that you will have a child who is struggling to learn or behave, and the school will look at methods to support them. Whereas in football, it’s ‘pull your socks up or you won’t be here’. It’s as if you’re almost threatened,” he said.

This realisation spurred George on to start a conversation among the football community, turning to ex-players for their insight into mental health. These frank and honest conversations birthed his recently published book, Soccology.

The book, which contains 50 exclusive interviews, explores the reality of the challenges faced by players in football. “It’s about their feelings but also how their mind effects performance. A huge part of it is about mental health and wellbeing, and also emotional experiences and their emotional intelligence as players,” George said.

To this day, conversations surrounding mental health in football culture remain less normalised. The reasoning behind this, George said is “in society, we are so detached from ourselves".

“It’s embarrassing that we have mental health awareness week because our priority in schools should be about how we manage ourselves and that should be above everything," George said.

“Unfortunately, we don’t and it leads us to a bad space. Like myself and thousands of other players, we may experience something and not even know because we are so detached from ourselves,” he explained.

Through his continued efforts to challenge the notion of mental health in football, George is hoping to use his business, which specialises in human development, and new book, Soccology, to break the barriers behind mental health in both footballers and the younger generation alike.

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