Today (10th October) is World Mental Health Day, where we raise awareness of mental health and driving positive change for everyone’s mental well-being. It’s also 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.
Former Lincoln City and Boston United striker, Drewe Broughton, was tipped to play for England as a youngster, but his career in professional football was dogged and undermined by soul searching and self doubt. His 17-year football career culminated in going into rehab with Sporting Chance for addictions and an emotional breakdown after retiring. He made 540 EFL appearances, scoring 116 goals.
He now works with clients including international and Premier League footballers, and CEO's & Senior Leaders in big business, on how to cope with pressure and improve performance. His more recognisable clients include former Manchester United defender and Premier League winner Phil Jones, Ex-Wales International Hal Robson-Kanu, and Former England Under-21's Manager Aidy Boothroyd to name a few. He's worked with other Manchester United players, as well as the US Men's National Team. He's regularly back and forth to America, working with multiple athletes and coaches.
He more commonly is known as 'The Fear Coach', and has recently begun working with Championship side Southampton FC, having previously worked with manager Russell Martin and the players at Swansea FC last season. As he describes on his website, he's on a mission to support individuals in business and sport in understanding and overcoming what he knows as the number one performance obstacle: fear.
We spoke to Drewe as part of World Mental Health Day, where he gave some incredibly open and honest answers to our questions but also a very real peek into the world of professional football and how he feels there needs to be more done in the way of educating people on emotional intelligence and mental health understanding.
You played over 500 games in the EFL during your career, including for Lincoln City and Boston United, but have described your career as being dogged by fear and mental battles. When did you understand that it was fear holding you back and can you describe the effect this had on you playing? How did it feel?
I don't think I ever really understood it as fear holding me back until I took time in rehab at the end of my career, when I captained the side that was relegated with Lincoln City. That was when I was really at the bottom in my life. I was a very deep thinker, I'm very sensitive, and it was only yesterday that I was speaking to one of the therapists at Sporting Chance who was talking about if when you were a 6-year-old boy and you cried when your cat died, just because you're 26 and 6ft 3" and 100kg - you still cry when your cat dies. The little boy inside you always resides. I think there's a very big misunderstanding of what toughness is. Toughness wasn't a problem for me but sensitivity, and being attached to thinking I realised, was.
Did the fight with fear begin during your grassroots football days - or did this begin when you started playing in academy systems and ultimately became professional?
No, not as a child. Fear is thinking, fear is a feature of being intelligent and sensitive. The human condition is to think. What I've realised is the greater the natural desire, of which I had huge amounts of, the greater the fear of failure. I think I always had that as a child, and I think it ramps up as you begin to become a professional. There's more at stake when money's involved, there's more pressure, more burden, more attachment to thoughts where insecurities and fear run amok. Ultimately, the energy inside the industry is fear, everywhere. Unconscious fear which manifests and seeps in to people.
Why is it important to hang on to the sense of self? And to not compare yourself to others?
What's the opposite of hanging on to yourself? Losing yourself. I don't think you want to start losing yourself and that sense of self, because that's when the soul searching begins. I work with so many athletes today on the search, and they search everywhere for themselves. It's not a search I would recommend to anybody.
Many coaches will be reading this looking to understand how to get the best out of their players from a mental perspective, what do you work on with coaches at an elite level?
Last night, I had my first week of the third leadership course of the year that I run. Leaders from all over the world were on there, so what do I work with them on? Dragging them to consciousness, and return to feeling. Ultimately, empathy is the key - but you can't just talk about empathy. Empathy comes from reconnecting with yourself on a deep level. I'm working with coaches all the time on a return to feeling, and the connection with themselves so they can connect with others. If we look at the natural attributes of the emotionally intelligent, such as Pep Guardiola, Jurgen Klopp, Ange Postecoglou. These are emotionally intelligent people, but none of that is taught so I'm trying to teach people that.
You now work with many professional players and teams, including Southampton currently - what mental struggles do you find professional players today struggle with?
To be honest, they struggle with the same as what players did 50 years ago. The only difference is the don't go and blitz themselves in the pub like they did 50 years ago. Thinking is the issue, and today there is even more thinking because of data analysis and stats and constant streams of media. People are just stuck in their heads. It's why sleeping tablets and Snus are one of the biggest addictions in football. Jamie Vardy has spoken about it before, and his use of Snus and tobacco pouches. Research has been done now by the PFA [Professional Footballers Association] about the side effects of this, which are very similar to cigarettes, cigars, and things like that. They make you numb, like you're not in the room - and it's how some players dealt with the constant thinking. So we've got to be very careful as an industry, that while we're right to take those away, we're leaving players with their feelings. If you're going to take away the crutch, you better be ready to deal with the injury.
What impact have you noticed social media is having on the mental health of individuals today?
It has to have an effect on mental health doesn't it. Of course it does, because it's attached to thinking again. You're staring at a screen, thinking. Streams of media feeding comparison. It's dangerous sub-conscious stuff leaking into your mind with unawareness, which most people have, very slowly you're going to be in a dark place with that.
Do you believe football, as an industry, is lagging behind in its understanding of mental health? And if so, why?
Yeah it is, but society is lagging behind too. Football is, in many ways, a reflection of society. I work in the corporate world, where I'm actually about to fly out today to deliver a talk at a big business convention. I think it's all industries where there's a lack of consciousness. The opposite of consciousness is unconsciousness. It's easy to stay unconscious, because it's safe and protective. Being conscious means you're vulnerable, wide open, and emotionally exposed. A lot of people don't want anything to do with that. It's all about human beings, and I hear the word 'culture' used. Culture just means human beings. It's a very deep subject, but so it should be. Is the game lacking? Yeah. There's a lot more talk and nice words, and wellbeing days and this day and that day but what needs to be challenged is the education, because it's woefully inadequate currently.
To find out more about 'The Fear Coach' and what Drewe does, click here
To access Lincolnshire FA's Mental Health Hub, click here
To access 'the vault' mental health materials for free, click here
If you need some immediate mental health support, you can contact any of these organisations:
Mind: 0300 123 3393 (Open 9am - 6pm on weekdays)
Samaritans: 116 123 (Always open)
CALM [Campaign Against Living Miserably]: 0800 58 58 58 (Open 5pm to Midnight)
Lincolnshire Mental Health Helpline: 0800 001 4331 (Always open)
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