How Everton Women Are Looking After Players' Mental And Physical Health

Team quiz nights, mental health checklists and consistent access to expert professionals are among the strategies being employed by Everton Women to help players turn “adversity into advantage”.

Willie Kirk’s team continue to train remotely after the UK Government imposed more stringent measures on Monday designed to combat the spread of coronavirus.

Manager Kirk and his staff are adopting a holistic approach to caring for players, with senior figures forming a multi-disciplinary team [MDT] to cater for individual requirements.

Player Care Manager Matt Domville is responsible for monitoring players’ mental wellbeing, which he aims to retain at a “steady level”.

Domville’s task represents a combination of motivating players, helping individuals clear mental hurdles and encouraging high-performance professional sportspeople to channel their “fantastic psychological skills” into “accepting and managing negative thoughts, feelings and physical sensations”.

Everton’s MDT has drawn up a rota ensuring every branch of the football operation maintains regular contact with each squad member.

Kirk’s players, meanwhile, will begin every week during this period of isolation by answering questions on the Warwick-Edinburgh Mental Health Wellbeing Scale, developed to measure mental wellbeing.

“I think it’s important to first note these players are people first and foremost: people first, athletes second,” Domville told evertonfc.com.

“And while performance sits at the top of the iceberg, it’s individuals’ wellbeing that keeps the iceberg afloat. It’s often the things we don’t see that have the biggest impact.

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“We can understand from their questionnaire responses how the girls are feeling, then our follow-up calls are crucial to discover more detail about their wellbeing.

“Additionally, we are going to help the players understand what their own good day looks like versus a bad day.

“On a bad day, for example, they might wake up irritable, tired and anxious, and not go for their usual run, which can spiral into more serious negative habits and behaviours.

“They may start a good day by reading and exercising.

“It is different for everyone.

“But the key thing is to be mindful of our positive and negative habits, how they can lead us to feel down about what is happening – and how we can shift our behaviour to have an optimistic outlook.

“The whole concept of our care process is designed to ensure the players’ wellbeing is kept at a steady level – while it might not significantly improve during this time, it’s important it doesn’t decline – and that we are doing as much as possible from every perspective to help individuals produce an advantageous result from a time of adversity.”

Providing a support network for players, says Domville, is fundamental to aiding their mental and physical health while removed from a team environment.

The Club flew home the foreign contingent in Kirk’s squad because, insists Domville, “to be socially isolated away from family would be terrible for mental health and wellbeing”.


Professional footballers adhere to routines, their lives dictated by the rhythm of a sporting calendar and governed by targets.

Denied the objective of preparing to win a game, compete for selection or recover from injury a vacuum could feasibly exist in their days.

Everton are seventh in the Women’s Super League and only four points behind Manchester United in fourth with eight games remaining.

Additionally, Kirk’s side has been paired with WSL powerhouse Chelsea in an appetising home FA Cup quarter-final tie.

“They were in the midst of a big season, with big games approaching,” said Domville.

“But you have to accept some things are out of your control. When I talk about acceptance, it is having the willingness to experience the negative thoughts, feelings and physical sensations attached to being a professional footballer.

“They have fantastic psychological skills to do that.

“The frustration of missing out on big games can be massive.

“But we don’t necessarily have to find a cure for these things, just allow the players the opportunity to talk and get things off their chest.


“It is important they are setting their own targets and that’s why we are taking a MDT approach.

“We want the girls to know they have a support network to help them with everything.

“A lot of research around isolation relates to loneliness and having limited social contact.

“We are trying to increase social contact and reduce loneliness and boredom – but also make sure the players set their own targets and lead their own development.

“Negative thoughts feelings and emotions will always surface. We don’t try to change those, we try to change relationships with them.

“We have to give the players the right tools to accept any uncomfortable thoughts, feelings and physical sensations; those tools could involve speaking to me, doing a mental task like a puzzle or watching a Netflix series.

“Things to take their mind away from what is going on.”

Kirk’s team will congregate via Skype at 5pm every Thursday to participate in a quiz designed to maintain team spirit and engender competition.

“We are trying to be upbeat and positive and it is really important to ensure the players are having a bit of fun,” said Domville.

“Someone from the MDT will compile the questions, we’ll have quickfire, picture and song rounds, all the usual things.

“They are a very competitive bunch and will all want to win… we had to change the time from 4.30pm because one of the girls was unavailable and couldn’t bear missing out.


“The quiz will also help promote communication and team cohesion.

“And it will be a great platform to see everyone’s smiling faces and show we are all in it together.”

Domville is advising the players to fill any blank hours by picking up a book.

He is recommending The Obstacle Is The Way. Author Ryan Holiday, relates Domville, “looks at stoic practices for overcoming challenges”.

“It goes back to turning adversity into advantage,” continued Domville.

“The book not only looks towards improving mental health by viewing things from a different perspective, it enhances understanding over why difficulties and challenges can bring the best from people.

“That is a really powerful thing to read at this time.”

He added: “We can’t kid people and say they won’t be sad or lonely or isolated.

“But the most important thing for our players is to have practices in place so they know who to contact and feel comfortable picking up the phone.

“Willie and Chris [Roberts, assistant manager] have created a challenging yet open and accepting culture where everyone wants to help each other thrive.

“As a team we are very good at looking at our weaknesses and building on our strengths and we’ll continue that during this period.

“The players can prepare for their futures and a lot of work we are doing is directed towards that – and ensuring that when the season restarts we are firing on all cylinders.”

 

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