Tackling Anxiety in Football

A closer look on World Mental Health Day

On Tuesday 10th October 2023, the world will come together to raise awareness of mental health problems on World Mental Health Day. It’s a chance to talk about mental health, how we need to look after it and how important it is to get help if you are struggling.


As a County FA, Derbyshire Football Association are committed to supporting and developing all corners of the game in our county. That responsibility stretches beyond the obvious work that we do, such as providing courses, holding cup competitions, and improving facilities. We have a responsibility to support the welfare of every individual involved in football in Derbyshire, and that includes mental health.


There are various types of mental health issues and many, if not all, can occur in football. We have seen high profile names such as Dele Alli, Michael Carrick and Danny Rose speak publicly about their struggles with depression and anxiety. Feeling of anxiety can occur at all levels of football, from grassroots to the professional game, and can affect any age group, which is why we feel on World Mental Health Day, it’s important to take a closer look as to why these feelings may occur and what can be done to tackle it.


Anxious of letting others down

Anxiety about letting people down can be a form of social anxiety order. This issue could relate to football if a player is being watched by a parent or coach and is afraid of doing something wrong during the game, for fear of embarrassment or getting told off. This anxiety can be heightened by loud or commanding parents or coaches, especially in youth games. The FA recently ran a campaign to combat this called Silent Support Weekend, where all spectators at grassroots are advised to encourage their team only through applause. Derbyshire FA found that the campaign made a real difference, and positively impacted the playing experience for all.


Being bullied or harassed

This can relate in some way to the above point. If an individual is being bullied or harassed, they are likely to feel anxious and upset. In football, this could relate in a variety of ways. From a refereeing perspective, particularly a young or inexperienced referee, getting hounded with abusive comments from spectators will cause feelings of anxiety and worry. Derbyshire FA implores any match official that suffers from abuse, discrimination, or harassment during a game to report it to us straight away.


Social Anxiety

Social anxiety affects over 8% of people in the UK, making it likely that at least one person in any football team could suffer from it. This is a long-term or overwhelming fear of social situations. As football is a team sport, and often involves spectators, this can be daunting for someone who suffers with social anxiety. They may feel lonely, nervous, or potentially excluded. If you notice somebody in your team like this, ask them what they need, be patient, compassionate and an active listener. Learn about social anxiety disorder and discover what you can to do help, not enable.


Sport Performance Anxiety

Anxiety before or during a football game can interfere with your performance. The coordinated movement required in the game can become increasingly difficult when your body is tense. Signs of sport performance anxiety can be anything from muscle tension, clammy hands, fatigue, chills, ‘butterflies’ in the stomach, rapid heart rate, sweating, trembling or a sense of panic. This can be brought on during or before football and could be for a number of reasons. It could be the pressure of the occasion. It could be that you are playing in a position that you don’t normally so you are out of your comfort zone. It could be down to the location or atmosphere of the game.


There are many more reasons that an individual may feel anxious in football, including exhaustion, personal trauma, financial circumstances and more. For more information on anxiety and how you can access treatment and support, please visit the Mind website.