Mental Health Awareness Week

Mertesacker: Wellbeing support is crucially important

25 Jun 2022

Arsenal Academy manager on how the Premier League is helping the club manage their young players' mental health

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An important focus of the Premier League Academy programme is the development of younger players off the pitch as well as on it.

To mark Mental Health Awareness Week, broadcaster and Arsenal fan Roman Kemp met former Gunners defender and now Academy manager Per Mertesacker to find out how the club look after the mental wellbeing of the players in their care.

"Everything is decided between our ears so we need to be conscious of that, how we engage, how we build a connection," Mertesacker says. "This is a football club but this is so much much than just kicking a ball around.

"This is a key part of our philosophy of building strong, young Gunners where we speak about football performance and the team, how to be effective, but we speak as well about lifelong learning and what that means."

Holistic development

This holistic development of Academy players is a key strand of the Elite Player Performance Plan (EPPP), which was introduced in 2012.

The EPPP enables clubs to develop both the player and the person, by providing a wide range of educational and welfare activities designed to enhance learning as well as providing life skills.

Read more: PL Academies give positive experience, say parents

Premier League rules ensure players at all Premier League clubs, from the Academy upwards, receive a variety of support for their mental health from their clubs and the League. This goes from the Under-9s all the way up to the first team.

All clubs are obliged to conduct sessions with their contracted players and implement a Mental and Emotional Wellbeing Action Plan.

Academy players also have access to mental health resources and support through the Premier League’s partnership with the NSPCC.

Striking a balance

"That's where our responsibility comes in to keep that balance of challenging a side but also having people around who really take care of them," Mertesacker says.

"Sometimes football is the place where players can be totally free from their struggles but sometimes you see clearly that something is not right with someone's performances and we need to be really careful how we judge them.

"Wellbeing is so linked to your performance so these things are crucially important to us that we address safe spaces for our players to go in where they can have conversations plus our player-care team around the pitch, where they can really spot different behaviours - that was all initiated by the Premier League."

Also in this series

Part 1: UK football family reaffirms commitment to mental health
Part 2: McAtee: Team-mates can help your mental health
Part 3: Lennon: I didn't realise there was so much help around
Part 5: Mertesacker: We need to be able to express our feelings
Part 6: Premier League managers unite to tackle suicide
Part 7: Ruddy: Mental health project helps people let off steam
Part 8: Kemp: Opening up helped my mental health
Part 9: 'Saints Foundation has been a lifeline for me'

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