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So you want to be a footballer?

ALL SMILES: Holness with Brazil legend Ronaldinho

AMB: What inspired you to write this book? What is it you wanted to achieve?

DH: Before becoming a professional footballer, I played in many different teams in my district and county, in academy and semi pro. Along the way I saw other good players unable to make the jump not because of a lack of talent but because of decisions they made off the field. Looking back, there are decisions I would have made differently too and all along, most of us were lacking that mentor figure. We weren’t given advice by people in the game who weren’t out for themselves - everybody had their own agenda. I wrote the book to help both players and parents make more informed decisions about their football future.

AMB: Why is it important for young players to understand the pitfalls of the game?

DH: It’s not only important for the young players but also for the parents/carers - not enough people are shown the risks early enough. Footballers are self employed so one minute you could be in it and the next you’re not. Even at a young age, you’ve given so much of your life - and your childhood - to the game and in an instant it can all be over. Because it’s such a big business players - especially young players - are sold a dream only to get to 16, be told they’re not good enough and be out in
the cold. A football career isn’t for everybody and that’s OK so long as players are well informed up front and they can manage their own expectations.

AMB: You’ve talked about how important it is to have a second career in football. What needs to be done to get the message home?

DH:The idea of a second career, or at least another option, is one way of managing those expectations. What would help get the message out is if more coaches, mentors, players and the powers that be (people like the FA) spoke to young players about what happens after football.

When players imagine a career in football, the end goal is usually playing in the Premier League, more needs to be done to talk
about and prepare for what happens after. By having this ‘after’ as a legitimate part of the career path, it becomes part of the conversation in the industry and normalises that part of the process so young players can see a life beyond playing. The number of players seeking help for mental health issues is growing.

AMB: Why is it vital that the issue is addressed?

DH:Mental health and wellbeing is important for us all - whether it’s in sport, business or life. The conversation about mental health has been too secret for too long. In a sport like football that is traditionally male dominated (though changing for the better) it is often harder to talk about subjects like mental health that have come with connotations of weakness. That is
changing slowly and it needs to.

Being mentally healthy and strong is as important as being physically healthy and strong. Resilience in particular is something that can protect players from the knock backs of the game - and there are many. It stands to reason that you can’t perform to your full potential unless your whole self - mind and body - is performing. Players are getting younger - for a 17 year old playing at a Premier League club the pressure is immense. That is an incredible thing to deal with for any player but for a teenager its immense. Talking about and coaching players to prepare for this before it happens, deal with it when it does and manage it when it ends or when it doesn’t happen at all is so important.

AMB: What are your future goals and plans are for 2018?

DH:I’ve been involved in football all my life from playing professionally in England and abroad to coaching and commentating so my future will involve football! I’ve recently been coaching young players and teaching in the Premier League academies which is something I love doing and I’d like to do more of. The next big step for me is setting up an academy in South London so a lot of what is in the book will come to life in that project. The difference for me will be a more holistic approach to academy teaching that will focus not just on playing but on all the other things outside of football that I talk about in the book.

So You Want to be a Footballer is available via Amazon UK.

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