Sources of stress in elite football players.
In this piece we shall look at stress, its definition, and its potential occurrence in the world of the professional football player. We will examine the possible sources and use current literature sources to support our assertions.
Having done that we shall examine in detail the case of Mr Vasey, a youngster who embarked on a professional football career but did not make it onto the elite circuit. We shall examine his personal account for evidence to support or refute our assessment.
If you read some of the tabloid newspapers, you could be forgiven for thinking that an elite footballer’s life is little more than huge amounts of money, fast cars, a succession of pretty women and endless adulation from mindlessly adoring fans when performing on the football pitch. Some of the more disreputable papers may also dwell on a slightly different (but generally equally false) aspect of their life, the drink, drugs, sordid sex romps in hotel rooms and gambling.
The truth of the matter, in the vast majority of cases, is that the elite footballer is a finely honed athlete at the peak of his training. He is required to perform daily in training routines and in the gym, less frequently on the pitch, and put himself at risk of career threatening injuries on a regular basis. All this is done in the full knowledge that he has worked his way up a professional ladder to a comparatively short window of elite performance and that there are always many more hopefuls who are climbing up behind him either waiting to push him off or to watch him as he falls.
You may regard the introduction as rather melodramatic, but it is intended to illustrate the very different perceptions that are commonly held about the lifestyles of the elite footballer. In this piece we are going to review the stresses and pressures that are commonly experienced by this elite group and also how they (generally) manage to cope with them.
We also intend to illustrate the theoretical problems faced by the elite footballer with a real case study of a young man, Mr Peter Vasey who has gone a long way to becoming one of the elite group and then, for various reasons, which we shall discuss, decided not to pursue it further.
Stress and Stress management
We all think that we know what stress is and that we can easily recognise it. It actually proves to be a very hard item to define as firstly, it is important to distinguish between physical (biological) stress and psychological stress. The two are clearly related but fundamentally different. Secondly, stress is a multitude of different responses to a multitude of different potential causes.
In this piece we are going to consider the various causes of psychological stress on elite footballers. In this context we can look for a definition of stress in a particularly informative article by Crampton et al. (1995) . She reviews the various definitions of stress.
“Hans Selye (1956), a pioneer in stress research, has defined stress as "the non-specific response of the body to any demands made upon it" (Kreitner & Kinicki, 1992, p. 597). It is considered to be an internal state or reaction to anything we consciously or unconsciously perceive as a threat, either real or imagined (Clarke, 1988). Stress can evoke feelings of frustration, fear, conflict, pressure, hurt, anger, sadness, inadequacy, guilt, loneliness, or confusion (Cavanagh, 1988). Individuals feel stressed when they are fired or lose a loved one (negative stress) as well as when they are promoted or go on a vacation (positive stress). While many individuals believe they must avoid stress to live longer, Freese (1976) argues that it is the salt and spice of life and that to have no stress we would have to be dead.”
Selve defines the basic “biological” interpretation of stress while the Kreitner definition starts to incorporate the possible psychological elements that generate the biological responses. Clarke adds to our understanding by considering the psychological responses that can be produced by various stresses and Cavanagh modifies the definition further by introducing the concept of positive and negative stress. Freese makes the very perceptive comment that stress is an integral and inevitable feature of life itself. This particular insight can be taken rather further insofar as there are some individuals who find stress hard to cope with (non-copers) and others who appear to positively thrive in stressful situations (copers)
In terms of our footballers under consideration, we must accept that stress can, and does affect performance as we shall discuss (see on). Basic psychological theory shows us that individuals who are less than optimally stressed may not make enough effort to achieve their designated goal whereas those who are overstressed may not be able to concentrate on the task in hand and perform to their maximum capacity. In either eventuality it is clear that optimal performance is impaired. Equally it follows that there is an optimal amount of stress to achieve optimum performance. In practical terms, that “optimal amount” is only really possible to quantify in retrospect, and that is why many would describe the work of the team manager, coach and trainer as an art rather than a science.
Haspels (2004) looked specifically at the levels of stress in pre- and post-match footballers. Unsurprisingly, he found that the highest levels of stress were found pre-match in an International game. One of the standard measures of stress in the resting subject is the cortisol level. Unfortunately physical activity also puts up cortisol levels so one of the major predictors of stress was rendered useless in this study. Haspels also found that the players performed best when their stress levels were controlled before the game
Work by Anshel (2001) looked at the causes of acute stress on the playing field and came to the rather surprising conclusion that the major causes of stress in that particular situation was consistently found to be receiving what was perceived to be a bad call from the referee and making a major physical error (missed kick etc.) When these eventualities occurred, the athletes concerned tended to make negative cognitive appraisals followed by an avoidance coping strategy. The same study also found that approach coping was most commonly seen after positive appraisals. These observations clearly support the transactional coping model. The use of appraisals and coping strategy was directly dependent on the perceived nature of the stressful event.
Stress is an inherent part of football. It may, in part, be added to by the unrealistic expectations of the coaches, managers and the fans. Every team in the league is told that “this year the cup will be ours” at the beginning of the season and all the training, playing and motivation will be directed towards winning it. The reality, of course, is that only one team will win it.
Continued stress has been cited as the main reason for many of the younger players (including our study subject) for their lack of enjoyment and subsequently leaving the game. It is interesting to note that many sources cite youth as one of the causes of acute stress on the grounds that the youngster may not yet have developed the physical sports skills and coping strategies that the older, more experienced players have. We will not consider this element further as our concern in this piece is primarily the elite footballer who, by definition, has already mastered his game.
In broad terms, according to Lazarus (1999), coping with stress consists of a person’s conscious attempt at managing the demands and intensity of events perceived as stressful or improving one's personal resources (e.g., positive affect, confidence, self-control) in attempting to reduce or manage one's perceived stress intensity. He also observes that one of the critical factors in an athlete’s adoption of a particular coping strategy is their cognitive appraisal of the stressful event or situation. Lazarus sums up his appreciation of the coping response as an athlete’s ability to accurately appraise the situation and the subsequent use of an appropriate coping strategy as the critical factor in explaining an athlete’s physiological and psychological adaptation to stress in sport.
Our method of investigation falls into two parts. In terms of the stresses faced by elite footballers and their coping mechanisms, we have consulted, appraised and quoted authoritative literature on the subject. In terms of the real problems faced by Mr. Vasey, we have interviewed him and the results of the interview are appended to this piece as appendix I
Sources of potential stress
Clearly there are a great many sources of potential stress that our hypothetical elite footballer may face. Broadly speaking they can be categorised into:-
Sport related stress.
- Performance anxiety
- Alpha male problems in a team game
- Competition stress
- Constant motivation
- Exercise dependence
- Constant levels of fitness
- Injury concerns
- Dietary concerns
- Drug monitoring concerns
- Premature retirement
- Living up to a perceived lifestyle
- Transient nature of income
- Income dependent on continued performance
- Media attention
- Family intrusion
- Privacy intrusion
Direct stress-related problems
- Relationship problems
- Cognitive functioning
Let us consider each one of these potential stresses in turn
Sports related stresses
In a well written and comprehensive article, Poczwardowski and Conroy (2002) discuss the stresses and coping mechanisms of elite performers. They categorise the various coping mechanisms into 36 sub-categories on the basis of direct interviews. The standard categorisations of problem-focused, emotion-focused, appraisal-focused, and avoidance-focused etc. were amplified and extended to cover a greater rang of detected strategies. For example "greater motivational changes after failure" was reported by one athlete as a stimulus to train harder so as not to fail a second time.
Stress can affect different sportsmen in different ways. Some appear to thrive and perform well, others find that it is a bar to optimum performance. Those elite footballers in the first category do not need any intervention as far as their performance in the game is concerned but an interesting study by Solberg et al. (2000) looked at the use of different relaxation techniques pre- and post performance in elite athletes. They found that athletes who practised meditation-related relaxation techniques had their blood lactate levels returning to normal quicker than their non-relaxed counterparts. Contrary to expectation however, they found no significant difference in their levels of pre-exercise anxiety.
Alpha-male problems in a team game
This is an anecdotally reported phenomenon which does not appear to have been investigated from a scientific perspective. The typical alpha-male personality type is over represented in the elite footballer community. Aggression, speed, firmness of decision making, independence and rapid responses are all prized attributes of the elite footballer. These are seldom attributes that are seen in the personality types that are happy playing as an integral part of a team. Football, by its very nature, is played by a team of eleven on the pitch and off the pitch, a very much larger team is involved. Prima Donna behaviour, typical of the alpha-male, cannot be easily accommodated in such circumstances. It may be tolerated as long as the player concerned is delivering the results, but it can be an enormous cause of stress when the results stop being delivered.
Footballers get older. In terms of their professional use, they age perhaps faster than professionals in other fields. There is a very narrow “window of opportunity” for them to be at the top of their chosen field. To play at elite level for more than a decade is considered to be quite unusual. Part of the reason for this is the natural ageing process which is present in every other individual, but also there is the ever-present problem of both career threatening injury and also the huge wear and tear on the joints (see on) which can give rise to significant health impairment in later life.
Turner et al. (2000) examined this problem in some detail and their results make impressive reading. Their cohort were all professional footballers. 32% of whom reported having surgery on at least one occasion. Of those, over half had knee surgery and a quarter of those had complete joint replacements. 15% reported
having hip surgery with another 9% awaiting surgery.
Others in the group were having non-invasive treatments. Nearly half had physiotherapy in one form or another for injuries sustained during their career and over a quarter were having some form of analgesia or anti-inflammatory drugs for pain associated with football injuries.
Osteoarthritis (OA) was diagnosed in at least one site in nearly half of the respondents and the vast majority of those were hips and knees. Significantly nearly 10% were registered as disabled due to OA and, very significantly, 72% of all respondents agreed with the statement "I am concerned with how OA may affect my body in the future", clearly a major source of potential stress.(Barlow et al. 2000)
Although joint problems were, predictably, seen as the most common pathology, other morbidity was found. Neuropsychological problems were not uncommon, presumably related to episodes of concussion or repeated trauma such as heading the football. 10 of the group reported problems such as memory complaints, dizziness and headaches.
Sport related problems included early retirement, enforced reduction in working hours or even a change to a sedentary occupation. Not only can all of this be viewed as a major source of stress to those who are suffering because of it, but also it must be stressful for the still-active player who may know what may be in store for him.
This is an area that has been extensively studied. Competition stress can be an enhancer for some players but equally it can be an inhibitor for others. There is a distinction to be made between the trait of anxiety and the state of anxiety which is quite significant and, to a large extent, is a reflection of the ability of the individual to cope with and handle the stress levels.
Sanderson and Reilly (1983) did the classic study in this field. Their target group were elite athletes. They found that the group of athletes who had the anxiety trait correlated highly with those who had high pre-race anxiety states and this correlated highly with the actual race performance. Very significantly, the greatest reduction in post-race anxiety levels was seen in those runners who performed well in their races.
In order to maintain elite footballer status a player must find a source of constant motivation. Initially, in his adolescent training days, the motivation may be personal glory and the goal orientated drive that comes with wishing to achieve professional status.
Having achieved that goal however, the player must then find other motivational drives to maintain his progress. For some, it drive comes from considerations of status and wealth, for others it could be the need for adulation and fame, others may have personal goals of achieving the pinnacle of their chosen profession, these are the achievement-junkies that are seen in any professional walk of life. Whatever the motivation, success invariable comes at a cost. Decisions, and therefore usually sacrifices, have to be made along the route of attainment and achievement.
In this piece we are considering specifically the elite footballer who, by definition, has managed to achieve the peak of his career. We should perhaps also consider the other athletes who by virtue of circumstance, situation, lack of motivation or perhaps even random differences in pre-natal myelination patterns, do not actually achieve the top of their profession. We shall discuss one such case in the case-study at the end of this piece. For every elite footballer, there are many who do not make the top echelon of players. There are arguably even more stress factors in this group who what to achieve but for one reason or another, cannot.
As far as motivation is concerned, this is a major concern of every coach and manager in the country for reasons that we have set out above. Most premier teams will have psychologists who are motivational specialists. Motivational theory is evolving at a rapid rate and reversal theory is the current “idea of the moment”. A particularly good book on the subject is edited by Apter (2001) . It deals with not only the current thinking on the subject but also the actual evolution of the reversal theory from its conception in the 70’s through to the applications of the present day. Significantly it also deals with the specific subject of stress engendered by the motivational process. It is a highly technical book and therefore we do not propose to enter into detail about its contents, but it highlights the psychological issues of burn-out, apathy and depression that are commonly seen in constantly ( and inappropriately) motivated players.
In the context of elite footballers, there is a fascinating and short article by McNair (1996) which looked at the effect of verbal encouragement on maximal effort output. The game of football is anecdotally renowned for the aggressive verbal abuse beloved by many trainers, coaches and managers. One may argue that it is only a manifestation of their own frustrations and stresses that causes them to behave in this way and it is certainly a cause of stress to the players (clearly it is intended to be). McNair’s paper produces a cast-iron rationale for this “encouragement” as he found, by means of a very simply designed study, that verbal encouragement does increase the maximal output of skeletal muscle. Interestingly, while measuring the actual power output, he also measured the EMG tracings of the afferent nerves supplying the relevant muscles and found that verbal encouragement did not change the EMG readings, so the actual cause of the improvement was not ascertained but it was nonetheless real.
Constant levels of fitness
Constant levels of fitness are clearly a pre-requisite for an elite footballer. There may well be periods of injury where the fitness levels fall, but they must be quickly re-established in order to achieve optimum performance levels. Fitness, in general terms equates with earning power and job security for a elite footballer, so the overriding goal must be to achieve peak fitness at all times. This, in certain circumstances, can become an obsession (See on – exercise dependence)
Many studies have shown the exercise can give rise to demonstrable health benefits – both chronic and acute. There are some people for whom exercise actually becomes an obsession (Hurst et al. 2000). This is a real disease entity resulting in behaviour patterns that compel an individual to exercise despite the presence of obstacles. It also can produce both psychological and physical symptoms of withdrawal, if exercise cannot be taken (Pierce, 1994) ( Veale, 1995) (Thaxton 1982). These patterns are commoner in women and often associated with eating disorders but they are also seen in male athletes. Bamber et al. (2000) has authored a paper which produced a qualitative analysis of the whole issue. She found that elements of an eating disorder were always present to a greater or lesser degree, but that this was hard to quantify as many athletes will pursue closely monitored dietary regimes in any event.
This syndrome is commonest in women, but does occur in men, particularly it seems in those who have low self-esteem or a poor self-image. It may be thought that such traits are unusual in the context of elite footballers but perceived body image does not always reflect the true physique. Any experienced healthcare professional will tell you about the anorexic or muscle dysmorphic who perceives something quite different when they look in the mirror. It is commonly believed that such conditions are a result of compensation syndromes. People may have a need to try to excel in one area if they feel that they are in some way failing in another.(Bamber 2003)
Injury is the footballer’s constant fear. Football is a fast and occasionally violent game with frequent body contact being an intrinsic part of the game plan. Injury can vary from trivial to catastrophic or even life-threatening. Most injuries will have an impact on the elite footballer either at the time of the injury or, as we have seen above, at a later stage in his life. We have referred earlier to the comparatively short earning window of the elite footballer and clearly there will be considerable stresses involved if that window is cut short for any reason.
Because of the huge investment that the average elite footballer represents to any club, a huge amount of energy and resources are employed to get an injured player back onto the field of play. It has to be said that the vast majority of professional clubs act responsibly in allowing injuries to heal properly before returning the player to training, but there will be the inevitable pressure on the less-than-scrupulous coach to get the player back on the field before full recovery has taken place. This has costs to the player in terms of impaired performance and also in terms of long term problems arising from an incompletely healed injury.
Ekstrand et al. (2004) looked at the problem as a result of the 2002 World Cup. They cite one of the major reasons for injury as being the frequency of the matches in a packed calendar for the top players. Injuries which would normally be regarded as comparatively minor did not get the usual chance to heal completely before the next game was due to be played. This resulted in a rising accumulative total of injuries above what might otherwise be expected over a comparatively short period.
The study found that, over the ten months of the World Cup games the average player played 36 matches. The top players form each team played, on average, 46 matches over the same period. The survey showed that the players who played in the World Cup matches sustained 29% more injuries than players from the same teams who did not play. 32% underperformed when compared to their normal standard. These players had played statistically more matches than those who were felt to have played better than expected. One major finding was that 60% of the players who had played more than one match in the week before a World Cup match were either injured or underperformed during the World Cup game. The clear inference from this study is that tiredness and physical burnout affects performance in elite footballers. At the highest levels, players, clubs and coaches should be aware that this is a real phenomenon. And, at the very least, is a considerable cause of stress to the players.
Orchard and Seward (2002) Took this concept a stage further and looked at the injuries sustained by the entire Australian Football League over seasons from 1997-2000. Their findings are a major source of concern to the elite footballer world.
In a season each team of 40 players would expect to receive 39 separate injuries. Clearly some players would be injured more than once (The major predisposing factor for injury is a pre-existing injury). The injury prevalence of players missing through injury in a week was 16% with a recurrence rate of 17%. They found that the commonest injury was to the hamstrings, followed by ACL strains and then groin injuries. For an elite footballer who depends upon his ability to play for his income, these figures represent a great cause of potential stress.
Before leaving this area, we should consider one other area of injury which we touched upon earlier, and that is the sequelae of concussion. Bloom et al (2004)
looked at this particular problem in great detail with particular reference to the psychological changes that were observed to occur after the injury. After suffering a concussive injury, the elite footballer was found to suffer from a greater incidence of symptoms of isolation, pain,anxiety, and disruption of daily life as a result of the injury. The investigators found that a source of added stress was, unexpectedly, from other team members who appeared to be giving support but were subliminally putting pressure on the injured athlete to return to play. The investigators found a worrying number of unexpected psychological symptoms including anger, denial, depression, distress, bargaining, and shock. Clearly this needs to be both recognised and addressed if the impact of the injury is not to be a further source of stress to the injured footballer
The elite footballer must always be at peak fitness and as a result his diet must always be under scrutiny. Fitness generally needs a BMI in the region of 20-23. Significant weight gains beyond this range not only reduce performance levels but also increase the wear and tear on the joints. We have already discussed the extent to which the knee joint is stressed during football training and playing. Adding weight to this joint is clearly only going to add to the degenerative changes that occur.
An elite footballer needs to be able to accelerate his body mass rapidly in a given direction. It follows that the greater the body weight, the greater effort is needed. He will know this both at a cerebral level and also at an instinctive level. He will know that if his weight goes up significantly then it becomes harder for him to run as fast and to turn as efficiently. The average elite footballer is therefore very careful with regard to his diet. The average man in the population can afford to go out for an occasional extravagant meal or the odd evening or two at the pub without worrying too much about the consequences. The consequences for the elite footballer are that, in doing such things he would have to reduce his calorie intake over the next few days in order to maintain the status quo. This again can become a major source of stress for many.
As the years go by, the average male tends to become slower and to put on weight as a natural process. This insidious reduction in the body’s efficiency is obviously a concern to a footballer who will often try to combat this trend with ever more aggressive training programmes and dietary regimes – again another source of stress.
Drug monitoring concerns
A number of elite footballers have hit the headlines lately as a result of random drug tests, either through failing or missing them. Doping and drug-enhanced training is a fact of professional football life in the current climate. It follows that the regulatory powers have to be ruthless in their quest for a drug-free sport. The fact that some players do gamble against the odds and take performance enhancing medications and drugs is a reflection of the stress and pressure that they feel under to constantly perform. It equally follows that they must feel that their performance is not good enough if they need to resort to such measures.
The problems do not stop at performance enhancing drugs. Stress and other factors may tempt a player to use drugs of a different sort. Recreational drugs are common in elite footballer circles. In support of this statement we would consider the paper by Turner (2003) In which he states that a recently retired elite footballer claimed that 80% of elite footballers in Australia had either been offered or used recreational drugs. This statement was extensively reported in the Press and other sources quoted the figure as being nearer 30%. The truth of the matter will clearly never be known but it can be contrasted with the figure from the UK which shows that over 18% of all the positive drugs screening tests done on athletes are currently for recreational drugs. This can be put in perspective against the 35% positive findings for stimulants and 25% for anabolic agents
Retirement is a fact of life for all workers. As we have discussed earlier, retirement from active playing – and therefore from a high earning capacity - tends to come at a much earlier age for a footballer. It is therefore a major incentive to keep playing at a high level for as long as possible.
Retirement through the natural ageing process is something that the elite footballer obviously has to come to terms with. It is comparatively unusual for a top rank footballer to be playing into his forties. He may have the experience to play well, but he is always judged on his results, and the fact of the matter is that there will always be younger players who will generally be faster and filled with raw enthusiasm ready to jump into any vacant slot at the top. The elite footballer therefore knows that his playing days are always numbered.
We have discussed earlier the problems faced by the elite footballer in respect of the ever-present danger of injury. Clearly a career-ending injury can come at any time. It can be career-ending because of a dramatic incident such as a major fracture of a major bone or it can be a more subtle process, a bad tackle gives rise to an ankle injury which, in turn gives rise to an unstable ankle that does not allow the pivoting action necessary for efficient play. It becomes obvious that the player is not performing as well as another player in the squad and therefore he is replaced with greater frequency and then he becomes dispirited and eventually dropped from the team. The end process is just the same in either eventuality – cessation of an active playing career and the concurrent loss of high earning capacity.
The result can be devastating for a man who, in order to achieve elite footballer status, may well have devoted a substantial proportion of his adolescent and adult life to improving and perfecting his football skills. He finds himself effectively out of a job at an age where most men are still looking forward to at least twenty more years of productive work. The immediate openings for him are limited to training, coaching or managing, all of which are highly competitive as they have been filled by his footballing predecessors and generally, they are not as well paid as his previous career. The stresses and psychological traumas are all too easy to see if the elite footballer has not been particularly level-headed in his approach to the profession.
The unlikely body of Windsor Insurance Brokers Ltd. published a study of an investigation into the career-ending incidents of professional footballers in the UK (1997) which makes interesting reading. They did not analyse the actual levels of stress that we are concerned about in this piece, but their findings make sobering reading to the current generation of elite footballers. It would appear that few elite footballers actually reach retirement age without a significant injury. That injury is responsible (either directly or indirectly) for the eventual decision to retire in over 80% of cases.
Roos (1998) looked at the same problem but also considered the psychological sequelae as well as the physical problems that led to eventual retirement. Both papers are well written and provide a great deal of information on the subject.
Living up to a perceived lifestyle
Financial causes of stress are difficult to either quantify or generalise as every elite footballer will experience them to a greater or lesser degree. On the one hand there are stresses involved with the comparatively poor pay and conditions of the player as he climbs up the ladder of experience and status. At the elite footballer level, where pay is obviously at a much higher rate there are the stresses that accompany high incomes to contend with. Many elite footballers will tend to live up to their income levels and, as we have discussed earlier, these levels tend to be transient and can drop dramatically as the result of a chance injury. For many players, high income levels will often be matched by high levels of expenditure on status related items. Expensive houses and cars have to be paid for and the upkeep costs have to be met after the high incomes that allowed for them have evaporated. Clearly this will represent a major cause of stress to the injudicious or unprepared player.
The media constantly bombard us with images of the very elite few of the super-rich players. Their stresses will, presumably be atypical when compared to the majority of the elite players and therefore, to a large extent, will not concern us as their particular stresses are peculiar to their situation.
Transient nature of income
The transient nature of the elite footballer income has been discussed in other areas of this piece. Few players manage to maintain elite levels of salary significantly beyond their thirties. The other element of this argument is, of course, the number of hopefuls who are constantly working their way up the ladder to try to obtain this level of income but who will never attain it. There are no reliable figures for the number of trainee players who are lost to the system through natural wastage or the early realisation that they just will not make the grade. For these players, the stresses must be arguably greater. The hope of attaining the goal of elite levels of salary must, inevitably, be a major motivational factor in the aspiring player’s life. To have once achieved it and then lost it is clearly a source of stress. One could argue that to try for it and then not achieve it may be a greater source of stress still.
Income dependent on continued performance
This is the natural progression of the last argument. It is an often quoted anecdote that a player is only as good as his last goal. Fame, income and success are ultimately dependent on performance on the football field. Personal success, and by inference the success of the club that pays you, is totally dependent on your ability to play better than anyone else who the team could potentially get to replace you. All the potential stresses that we have examined so far are all as a result of the need to constantly perform at an elite level. The constant levels of fitness, the motivation, the constant need to perform are all reflections of the fact that an elite footballers income is dependent on his performance on each and every appearance. Clearly this is a great source of stress.
The areas of publicity are all related and interdependent. Many up-and-coming players will actively court publicity in order to increase their profile and thereby increase their appeal to a high profile club. The downside to this approach is clearly that when they have achieved their desired objective, the media have an overwhelming obligation to sell their newspapers and will often exploit and indiscretion or misdemeanour on the part of the player in a sensationalistic way. This can be extremely stressful both on a personal level and also on a family level as, almost inevitably the player’s family will be affected as well.
The top-flight of elite footballers will have the additional problem that they are likely to be shadowed by the paparazzi and cameras will be pointing in their direction whenever they go out in public. Occasionally the cameras will also be there when they are in private as well and this can be extremely stressful. Certainly more than one celebrity marriage has ended because of indiscretions caught on camera.
A simple illustration of this point shows that a web search of today’s Sun newspaper under the search term “football scandal” reveals 18 articles in one paper alone.
Direct stress-related problems
Overindulgence in alcohol has always been a traditional way for the stressed person to alleviate some of the more obvious symptoms of stress. Quite apart from the obvious difficulties of overindulgence of alcohol there are also some sport-specific problems as well. Whyte et al. (2004) reported a case of unprecipitated atrial fibrillation as a direct result of alcohol excess and Cascarni et al. (2004) also reported the effects of postural hypotension after strenuous exercise as a direct result of alcohol take several hours before exercise.
We have examined the problems relating to drugs in sport under the heading of drug monitoring concerns. There is an interesting article by Clisby (2004) provocatively entitled “Dying to win” in which the whole issue of drug taking in sport is examined in some detail. It is unknown just how many of the elite footballer’s in the sport today take drugs, equally it is a matter of conjecture just how many take drugs as a palliative to stress. What is beyond doubt is that both factors are issues in the life of some of today’s elite footballers.
Relationship problems appear to be endemic in our society today and it is reasonable to conclude that the elite footballers of today are no exception. One of the major factors in relationship break-ups is often cited as lack of time together. The demands on the time of an elite footballer in today’s society are huge. Although many footballers undoubtedly manage to control these demands satisfactorily, there are equally some who cannot. Data on this issue is hard to come by in any authoritative format, so we will have to leave it as a matter of conjecture.
Earlier on in this piece we discussed the effects of concussive injuries on the overall cognitive functioning of the individual. To put the correct balance on the discussion we would like to present a counter argument. This is summed up in a study by Young (1979) . He looked at the effect of constant exercise on the cognitive functions. The paper is complex so it will not be discussed in detail other than to observe that one of the major findings was that exercise reduces stress levels. In the light of the fact that all the elements that we have discussed so far have been about factors that cause stress, we should bear in mind that the elite footballer also therefore has a number of positive factors which mitigate against stress.
We will now consider the case of Mr Peter Vasey who had made it his goal in life to join the ranks of the elite footballers. He has been interviewed (Appendices I & II ). The background to his story is that he is now 22yrs. old. At the age of 9 he joined Your City Football Club eventually completing a full YTS course there. By the age of 16yrs. he was being hailed by the media as a major up-and-coming talent in the club and played a full season with the York City reserves where he gained a great deal of experience by playing against some of the game’s elite. He was once picked to be a reserve for the first team and travelled with the team all the way to Plymouth. This proved to be a traumatic experience for him as he recalls that the staff didn’t speak to him at all that day and therefore he had no idea of his actual role or status and he felt positively excluded by the first team players. He was released from the YTS at the age of 19 yrs. He subsequently went on to do a university course in Sports Science at the age of 20 yrs. and hopes to subsequently do a PGCE course prior to a career in teaching.
The mechanism of the interviews was that they were conducted in the researcher’s flat within three days of each other, each interview lasting about two hours. The atmosphere was as relaxed as practical, with refreshments and relaxation breaks available on request. Mr Vasey was aware that he did not have to answer any question that he did not feel comfortable with. The interviews were recorded on tape and transcribed verbatim. The transcripts of the full interviews are attached as Appendices I & II.
Discussion of the interviews
The first impression that can be drawn from Mr Vasey’s interview is the seemingly constant references to stress in one form or another. He volunteers stressful experiences on nearly every reply. Uses term such as “really nervous”, “constantly stressed out” with a degree of frequency. Although he clearly tries to give an overall impression of coping and competence, there is undoubtedly an underlying trend of self-doubt and lack of self-belief. This is belied by his references to his feelings of missing out at school and his references to having more downs than ups. There are more subtle references to these feeling in his observations that “they were always playing head games”, a possible reference to the fact that he is not secure in his own self-confidence. He appears to often be examining his own motivations, abilities, and at times, even his desire to continue. This certainly becomes more apparent as the interview progresses.
The stresses that he explicitly identifies are amongst those that we have identified above. Clearly top of his list is the stress of uncertainty of employment. The uncertainty of being picked for the team, the uncertainty of whether he was considered to have been working hard enough as a teenager, the uncertainty of being taken on as a YTS and then the obvious worries about the security of tenure of his YTS status as his contemporaries are asked to leave.
In respect to his health he rather glosses over his difficulties with his kidney. It would appear that he does not wish to tell us a great deal about it. It was clearly a potentially serious problem as he refers to a scar, so presumably there was an operation. We could surmise that his apparent bravado over a possibly career threatening illness may actually be a reflection of his worry that if he makes too much of it them he will not be picked for promotion because the managers may have concerns about his fitness.
Other stresses that we have identified above also appear to have affected Mr Vasey. He refers to his girlfriend of two years as making him nervous when he was playing and being “stressed out” when her family would come and watch him play. He volunteers that he regarded football as more important to him than she was. It would appear that she was not a source of support at this time and he perceives her as something of a hindrance to his career prospects.
We have also identified difficulty in maintaining motivation as a potent cause of stress. Mr Vasey identifies this himself quite explicitly – “as I got older, the motivation got less and less”. He equates this with the realisation that he didn’t have what it took to make it as a professional player. It is difficult to assess whether this is a true considered judgement or whether it was a subjective decision and a reflection of his general lack of confidence in this direction.
There are also more subtle stresses. His relating of the episode of having to clean up the stadium and be responsible for the first team’s kit, has an air of resigned stoicism about it. It is presented almost as a “rite of passage” that youngsters have to endure without complaint, in order to stand a chance of being allowed to “emerge” into the status of a team player. He remarks that it was tough having to be responsible for the kit at the age of 16 – which it no doubt was.
Mr Vasey was obviously a talented footballer. He was picked out of the crowd at 9 yrs., playing for York as a young teenager and signed up as a YTS trainee at 16. Clearly, his fate was much the same as a number of aspiring hopefuls. Even at this age he probably knew (or should have known) that the pyramid of promotion to the professional game is very steep and the competition for places is tough.
Although it is accepted that the interviews are primarily structured to elicit information about Mr Vasey’s footballing life, it may be significant that there is virtually no mention of any other aspect of his life. We hear of a girl friend in a purely peripheral capacity (as someone used in a derogatory remark). This may, of course, be seen as a reflection of single-mindedness about his pursuit of the game. It is also possible that his life outside football was indeed severely curtailed by this activity which, for a developing teenager, must be a considerable source of stress. It is interesting the Mr Vasey relates a response to a friend who asks if he had any regrets about not going out while at York City, and he replies:
“No…. I would always have been wondering if I had have looked after myself properly would I have been made a Pro?”
In fairness to Mr Vasey, in his own assessment, he does appear to have been single minded about his approach to the game. There are frequent references to hardships and self-denial in order to stay fit and focused although, paradoxically he makes several references – about his latter experiences – to the fact that he appreciates that
“It was not meant to be a footballer because I haven’t got the head to handle it, I get too stressed out”
In the interviews there are a number of “Tells” or explicit remarks which belie underlying emotions and feelings. Mr Vasey consistently underplays his abilities and justifies his comments by saying that he was aware (and disliked) arrogance in some players and this definitely was not “his style”. In an unguarded comment he informs us that “he was so motivated to become a footballer”. In his early years at school he recalls telling his peers that all he wanted to be was a professional footballer. So it is fairly clear from these comments – an his actions – that Mr Vasey was particularly single minded about trying to achieve his goal even though his outward comments may be interpreted as being unduly influenced either by modesty or lack of confidence. We are not really in a position to make a judgement as to which of the two character traits was operative. Mr Vasey is clearly an outwardly modest man but one has to observe that there are plenty of other incidences in the interview responses where a lack of confidence is apparent. He admits – in response to a direct question – that he questioned his own ability “all the time”.
In another incident where he is relating the episode at the end of his second year YTS he was unexpectedly invited into the Manager’s office. His initial instinctive reaction was
“Oh no, what have we done wrong like now? I thought that we were in trouble….I remember thinking Oh no, that’s it for me I suppose……I thought here we go I’ve got no chance”
It is an interesting comment on Mr Vasey’s appreciation of the hierarchy of the game that he perceives a dichotomy in his feelings for other professional football players. He speaks of them in some instances as his role models – for example his manager at York – and he speaks in almost reverential tones of other professional football players who always manage to “bounce back” after going through a bad spell. After being asked to compare himself to another professional football player ( Mark Sattori) he would defer to his perceived superiority because he played for the first team and therefore – almost by definition – was to be considered better than he was.
On the other hand he speaks of their arrogance, which is almost considered to be essential if you are going to make it as a professional football player, and the demeaning way that he was treated by them when he was responsible for their kit and during his ill-fated trip to Plymouth.
If we consider this episode of the Plymouth trip, it actually tells us a great deal about the situation. Mr Vasey clearly considers it to be the defining moment when he decided that he didn’t want to be a professional football player. On the face of it he appears to have indeed been treated discourteously and badly, but one is forced to ask just to what extent had the decision been fermenting and forming in his mind beforehand? Throughout nearly all of the first interview Mr Vasey is telling us of his stress, his lack of confidence and his adverse experiences – situations which he clearly was not enjoying but was prepared to tolerate because he perceived them as necessary to endure in order to achieve his stated goal. It is therefore curious that he uses a situation were his footballing skills were not questioned or even required to be demonstrated to be the reason for his decision to quit the professional football trail. The excuse that he gives is “that throughout the whole trip I was waiting for someone to talk to me. I had obviously done something right to be there , but all I needed was for the managerial staff to tell me so. Doubtless a Psychotherapist would pass comment on the fact that this requirement for approval may stem from a previous comment made by his father who berated him for not trying hard enough and if he didn’t try harder he was going to get released by the club. There is simply not enough information in the interviews to make such a judgement, so it will have to be flagged up as an open-ended statement of possibility.
It would appear from the information that we have that Mr Vasey had been questioning his abilities (both in terms of mental strength and physical ability) for some time. He seems to imply that he realised that he didn’t have the arrogance and mental resilience that he thought were necessary to make it to the top of his game some time before this episode and it would appear that he has used the unpleasant experiences of the Plymouth trip to catalyse the final decision.
It would appear that he also has come to terms with this state of affairs by justifying the situation to himself by commenting that if he were asked to sign a two year professional contract at the club, he would say no, that he was in a better position now than if he had stayed at the club and most significantly he concludes this section with the words “because I know I’m not meant to be a footballer, because I have not got the head to handle it, I get too stressed out. We are left with the thoughts that is this comment a true reflection of the state of his ability or is it a reflection of his lack of confidence or even his modesty?
The second interview is noticeably different from the first both in terms of content and more importantly, style. The content is clearly different because it deals with another episode in Mr Vasey’s life – his transition from failing football hopeful to successful and fulfilled university student. The change in style reflects his change of perception and attitude. Stressful episodes are noticeably fewer in the second interview and when they are related, they have an air of healthy challenge about them. Mr Vasey clearly is aware of the academic stresses that he faced but instead of a fearful outlook he refers to the stress of his psychology course as hard but “enjoyable”
In the second interview he is able to refer to the episode at York in the past tense, looking back from a position of fulfilment and comparative security to a time when he obviously felt that he had neither.
In contrast to his first interview where he appears to be at pains to justify his situation at York, his second interview is now more dismissive of the time there. He uses phrases such as “I just wanted out – I’d had enough to be honest – I just wanted to go – I knew that I wasn’t going to be signed on – I wasn’t bothered about football in the slightest”. He has clearly come to terms that he is not going to make the grade as a professional footballer . He has supplanted that goal in his mind with the new goal of getting a degree.
It is interesting that he feels embarrassed and awkward about telling his friends and peers about his leaving the club, even though he is making a step that he should be proud of as it represents a great deal of hard work on his part. He perceived the transition as if “he had let everyone down”. All his contemporaries were expecting him to become a professional footballer and he clearly found telling them that he was not going to be, quite difficult.
His relating to football during the last six months at York is also at odds with his presentation during the first interview. When he has made the actual decision (although he appears not to have actually confronted it at the time) he then speaks of enjoying his football as the stress and pressure has been removed. The need for constant performance and inability to relax from the training schedule has gone and enjoyment then replaces stress.
In common with other people in his situation, Mr Vasey also articulates the fact that, at university he does not have the continual stress of living up to an image. His teenage friends all expected him to be a footballer and he obviously felt pressure to fulfil their expectations. He comments that, at university he became aware that people accepted him for who he was – rather than as a failed professional footballer. He relates this to a reduction in stress levels.
It is very significant, and possibly a sign of his impending maturity, that he looks back, in the second interview at his time at York as a learning curve. He says:
“It set me up for who I am now. It made me a much stronger person. Because it was harsh and strict it made me a lot of what I am today” .
Very significantly he follows this up with the comment:
“It made me think of all the positives now, as I used to look at all the negatives then”
He relates the fundamental differences between stress at York and stress at university as:
“At university I don’t have to impress anybody. You can only let yourself down at university, but when I was at York you got the potential to let everybody down on the team” .
Another very significant insight comes later on in the second interview where he is relating the differences in his attitudes between playing in the semi-pro side at university and playing at York:
“For this team (the semi-pro side) the win was the most important thing and my performance was second whereas it was the other way around at York”.
Mr Vasey then tells us that he will be continuing to play football but he will be doing it because:
“it is football that I enjoy as I don’t feel stressed while I am playing”.
The reason the we have laboured this point to a degree, is that the thrust of this piece is about the stresses of professional football. Mr Vasey clearly exemplifies the situation where the stresses are largely resolved when he plays football for enjoyment rather than a profession.
This second interview catalogues the transition of Mr Vasey the frustrated, stressed and ultimately thwarted professional footballer, to Mr Vasey the fulfilled, less stressed and happier student on the brink of a teaching career
The overall thrust of this piece is about the stresses that elite footballers can experience and an examination of how one such aspiring young footballer did actually experience and cope with the stresses that he found and faced.
The stresses that we have outlined and discussed are clearly not all relevant to all players. As Mr Vasey suggests himself, one way of measuring success is by assessing just how well you actually manage to cope with the stresses involved (Lazarus 1999). He even gives us a few hints of his own interpretation of a coping mechanism. He tells us that he just puts his head down and gets on with the job in hand. He refers to arrogance of the majority of successful players. We suspect that he is also obliquely referring to this arrogance when he relates his perception of the way that he was treated by the first team players on his ill-fated trip to Plymouth.
Mr Vasey is clearly not an arrogant man. We can deduce this not only from his own words but from his tone, his demeanour and his references to others (Clarke 1998). He seems content to make a considered judgement of other people and does not find it necessary (in the main) to constantly denigrate or refer to them in derogatory terms – which is one of the hallmarks of arrogance. (Lazarus 1999)
Equally, we might make the deduction that Mr Vasey ultimately did not make the transition to elite footballer status primarily because of his inability to invoke coping mechanisms (Freese 1976). He refers to himself in victim status when he relates the episode of the Plymouth trip. In specific terms he uses phrases of passivity and submission rather than dominance and aggression. (Cavanagh 1998) The trip “killed my confidence” and “all I wanted was for someone to talk to me”, “I was treated awfully” and “ they put me out of the way on the top floor” have all the hallmarks of phrases used by a person who is questioning their self worth.
The arrogant or positive “coping” type of footballer would almost certainly have approached the whole episode with the attitude of “I shall talk to them if I choose to” and “ if they don’t like me then it’s my misfortune but it’s their problem” thereby changing the victim status for that of dominance and keeping the locus of control with himself. (Anshel et al 2001)
This type of mechanism is seen throughout the interviews. It has actually evolved to a stage further by the time that it gets to the second interview and we are discussing events later on in life. Mr Vasey looks back and attempts to justify the course of events as “it just was not meant to be” and “ I realised that I didn’t have what it took” ( both comments demonstrating passivity). In the first interview, when he is relating events before the catalytic Plymouth trip, he refers to expectation of succeeding and being prepared to suffer indignity and hardship in order to achieve his professed goal (still in the passive mode but with a different emphasis). (Anshel et al 2001)
We have refered to the constant references to being stressed, especially noticeable during the first interview. In a way this is quite paradoxical. Admittedly, he is relating to a time when he was clearly stressed, but he is doing so from a time in his life when he professes to be much less stressed. Although he refers to these stresses in the past tense on most occasions, he occasionally slips back into the present tense almost as if he is reliving an unpleasant experience. His frequent allusions to being “really nervous” and “constantly stressed out” are indicative of the feelings discussed by Crampton (1995). There is hardly a paragraph of an answer to a question about his time playing football where he does not refer to stress in one form or another. This should be contrasted to his time at university where he continues to play football, but his tone and demeanour after the watershed of his leaving York changes quite dramatically – but we shall comment on this in more detail a little later
Anshel (et al.2001), in his excellent article about coping mechanisms in athletes, outlines the many sources of stress that Mr Vasey clearly identifies with. Apart from the concerns that we have already outlined, one of the overriding causes of his stress is basic insecurity. Insecurity about his tenure of the YTS scheme, insecurity about various aspects of his life – was he working hard enough? – was he going to prove himself good enough to become a footballer? – what was he going to do if he didn’t make it? All of these insecurities (and many others) are potent causes of stress for him.
The major part of successfully coping with these stresses is correctly identifying then first (Lazarus 1999). Stress becomes much easier to deal with on a clinical and a personal basis, if you are able to identify the triggers. You can recognise it for what it is and, in many cases, you can deal with it yourself instinctively, or even be taught how to deal with it, if you have not already discovered some of the ways of doing it.
This brings us to the next point. Did Mr Vasey handle the situation in the most appropriate way? If he had adopted other coping mechanisms, other that acceptance and denial as he seems to have done, would the outcome have been in any way different? Clearly that is conjecture but we can make an educated guess.
Firstly, we could take the view that, in his own words he “realised that he didn’t have the raw talent”. We have no way of assessing the truth of that comment. He clearly did have considerable talent which he boosted by hard work and dedication. If he really believed that he didn’t have the talent, then it is questionable as to just why he survived in such a competitive environment for so long. It could simply be a rationalisation of the situation that he found himself in together with an element of denial. “I’m been dropped from the YTS or booted out, therefore I shall rationalise this in a more acceptable way by saying to myself that I wasn’t really good enough and this is for the best, as I can now go on and do something else better”. (Barlow 2000)
If we assume that he was correct and simply didn’t have the raw talent to eventually make it into professional football, then he did make the right decision. One may therefore postulate about - was all the stress an anxiety worth the eventual result?
Taking this line of argument on further, Freese(1976 quoted in Selye), states his belief that stress is basically an endogenous biological function that has evolved over the millennia and that our bodies actually need a degree of stress to function properly. “You need stress for life”. If you follow the arguments and reasoning in his book, then you would say that this experience, giving shape and purpose to Mr Vasey’s life through his formative years, was actually a good learning experience which motivated, drove him and inspired him to try and succeed. It was also a learning curve that equipped him to deal with stresses better in his later life. According to Freese, we should not feel sorry for Mr Vasey and the experiences that he has had as, although he may have neither enjoyed them or appreciated it at the time, they were actually preparing him in a way and an experience that others would not have had, for his future life.
There is a resonance to this argument in Mr Vasey’s own story. As we have commented earlier, it is quite noticeable that Mr Vasey looks back on his adolescence and his time at York as a difficult time. His transition via his exams, to University must have been a stressful experience in it’s own right. We get a sense of Freese’s argument when he talks about his experiences with the psychology element of the course. How difficult he found it. On this occasion however, we do not see the submissive and accepting Mr Vasey, but we hear of how he found it enjoyable and a challenge. One has to question to what extent did his learning to cope with the stresses that we have mentioned in his earlier life, actually help to redefine his attitude to difficulty and adversity into one of enjoying the challenge?
We have mentioned, only briefly, any reference to Mr Vasey’s support network. The reason for this is that he does not appear to acknowledge that he has one. There are fleeting comments about his Father (who was clearly supportive), few about his Mother, none about any siblings (if he had any) and a only a paragraph to mention his girlfriend. Of course, this is conjecture from the wording of the interviews, but one is forced to consider the possibility that Mr Vasey’s stress levels may well have been significantly lower if he had a well defined and active support network. In his article about relaxation techniques and coping with stress Solberg (et al.2000) draws attention to this whole issue.
A problem shared is a problem halved. An old saying but, in the context of this investigation, perhaps there is more than a glimmer of truth behind it. Without asking Mr Vasey, we will never know the role that his girlfriend played in his coping mechanisms. He speaks of her as rather peripheral to his main focus in life which was – at the time – football. He actually refers to her as a source of stress in her own right when she brought her family to watch him play. Perhaps it is this possible lack of feeling of support that is germinal to his stress levels.
One can cite examples where Mr Vasey appears to be a solitary and focused individual, possibly a situation that he would rather avoid in other circumstances judging by his comments on the Plymouth trip “they put me out of the way on the top floor”. It is therefore possible that he did not feel the need to have constant support around him all of the time.
This then brings us back to the initial question, would things have turned out differently if Mr Vasey had adopted different coping strategies? Apter (2001) in his excellent book on Motivational Styles in everyday life would have us believe that they would have done. Perhaps we would have seen him in a professional football team now, who knows? If he had been more aggressive and assertive then things may not have taken the path that they eventually did. We are then faced with the realisation that, had that been the case, then he would not be where he is now, getting a university degree, professing to enjoy his current lifestyle and setting his sights on some form of professional occupation in later life.
Of course we have not really considered how these experiences have had a positive effect on Mr Vasey in specific terms of the possibility that he may pursue a career in teaching or similar. He talks of doing a PGCE conversion to a teaching degree which he may do after he has completed his current degree. It is well recognised that teaching can be an extremely stressful profession. With teachers retiring with stress related illness being not uncommon. Having been through the experience of spending a considerable part of his formative years under constant levels of stress and having come through them as an apparently well balanced and clearly motivated individual, Mr Vasey must stand a better chance than perhaps most to expect to be able to avoid stress related problems in later life. A psychotherapist may well observe that he has been able to evolve and adapt his own personal repertoire of coping mechanisms. These should help to bolster him through future stressful events.
A second factor which is relevant is the development of a degree of confidence. One can observe that during his first interview, when he was relating episodes of harsh treatment or adversity, he often did so with a manifestation of a degree of insecurity and neurosis. Later on in the second interview there is a marked and noticeable change. He does indeed refer to stressful incidents that have occurred at university for example – indeed he refers on several occasions to the fact that university life is “more stress – lots of pressure to produce work….” But the tone of his relation of such incidents is inherently more confident. He knows that he can cope. The neurosis and insecurity has gone. He is able to relate these various events and incidents almost with a degree of pleasure. One can assume perhaps, that this is not just the pleasure of doing something that he finds that he enjoys, but perhaps the pleasure that comes from achievement and attainment, (Selye 1956)
While we are considering his time at university in a critical light, we should also comment on the fact that he still plays football. One would, perhaps, express surprise, that, after having trained so hard for so long and with the degree of talent that he clearly has, if he actually stopped. The point to be made is that, rather like the situation described above, there is an evolution and a progression from a chore to an enjoyment. He actually uses the word “enjoyment” several times when relating playing football after he left York. It is probably very significant that he, himself attributes the reason for this enjoyment as down to the fact that he realises that he no longer “has to perform”. He plays, not for his position in the reserves at York and for his continued survival as a YTS player, but for his own enjoyment and fitness. It is no longer of critical importance that he has to be seen to play and perform well. He no longer has the daunting experience of many thousands of eyes watching, assessing and criticising his every move. In short, the performance stress has gone
One can observe, comment and analyse situations, but the reality is that people live less than straightforward, perfect lives. We can probably conclude that Mr Vasey is an intelligent, motivated and hardworking young man, who is clearly at ease talking about himself in what may have been rather (psychologically) claustrophobic circumstances, who does not appear to have been harmed by the stresses that he seems to have endured – some would say - profited from.
Considering all of the pitfalls and stress-related eventualities that we discussed in the first part of this investigation, it is possible that we might have seen Mr Vasey , the professional footballer, exercise dependent, prematurely wearing out his hips and knees, constantly worried about his diet and sporting performance, drinking to relieve the stresses caused by his worries about the transient nature of his income and worrying about just what he can do when he is forced to retire at a comparatively early age. Instead we see a Mr Vasey who appears to be on a successful path through life. Did he make the right decision? By most criteria of decision we would have to suggest that he did.
In this piece we have examined both the theoretical and the practical aspects of stress in professional football players. We have seen that the tabloid editor’s view of the profession is harsh and distorted and that the realities are very different. Of course, we cannot know form this analysis, whether Mr Vasey’s stresses were all a reflection of the fact that he was destined ultimately not to make the grade and that, for a different footballer who made the elite circuit, it is possible that the stresses would be less simply by virtue of the fact that he had the necessary skills and temperament to cope with the demands that the situation required.
It is ultimately heartening that Mr Vasey negotiated his particular path through the difficulties of his decade at York and was able to look back on it as a positive experience. One is forced to wonder how the stresses of teaching will compare to his experiences at York and whether he will ultimately be able to learn how to cope with them in the light of his former experiences.
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Interview 1: Time at the club (summer 1992- summer 2002)
Andrew (researcher): Hi, Pete can you confirm to me how long you were at York city, and what age you started there, and also how you were picked up by the club?
Pete (case study subject): I was there from, 9 years old and was there just over 10 years. I got picked up, actually I cant remember, what I think happened is a coach from York approached my old man, after seeing me play and said I’m so and so from York City will your boy come down for a training session or what have you.
Andrew: Were you the only player from the team you were at the time to be asked to go for a training session there?
Pete: No a lad called Nick Jacks was already there and he was a year above me at the school I was at. I think that made it easier for me to go down at the time I was really nervous going down and I think the fact that I already knew someone helped out a bit.
Andrew: So were going training with Nick Jacks all the time after that initial period? Also just like to know at the age of 9 how many times a week were you training?
Pete: It was just 1 night a week at York. I think it were a Tuesday. I think we might have got together on Saturday as well and had like a game between us, but not a formal game, just like a little five-a-side or something.
Andrew: Were you at year 5 at school when you began training there then?
Pete: Yeah it was the end of Year 5.
Andrew: So when you started at York City were you still playing for your primary school?
Andrew: So when you got to secondary school and you were slightly older, did York have any problems with allowing you to play for your school
Pete: I Think when I got to about 14-15 I think that’s when they got strict about me not playing for my school, because your getting closer to your under 16 year and that’s when you get told whether your told whether your going to get a YTS contract or not. So from 9 to 13 I remember being advised not to play for school or Sunday but at the age of 14-16 I was more or less told not to play for my school.
Andrew: From the age of 9-12 at York were you required to play matches?
Pete: All I can remember is going training and having a competitive match amongst our squad, we used to play the year above or the year below of something like that or because we had such a big age group we all used to play each other every other week, but all I can remember from a young age is training really.
Andrew: So when you got to the age of 14-15, and you were not allowed to play for your school was it frustrating as school mates were playing weekly in your school team, did you feel like you were missing out.
Pete: Yeah I did to be honest, it did sometimes annoy me when mates were leaving lessons early to go play football for the school, but I always think, just forget about it like because I’m a footballer at York and that’s what I want to do like
Andrew: So when you were at the age of 14-15, did you think, oh well you know maybe I’m going to become a professional footballer here?
Pete: Well not really, I didn’t think I was, well if anybody asked me what I wanted to be I always used to say I wanted to be a professional footballer, but I didn’t necessarily think you know, if I keep myself fit and keep playing well I could get signed on here like, I never felt like that it was weird, but maybe you don’t think like that when your young though, but I remember when I wasn’t allowed to play for school at 14-15 or Yorkshire representative side I used to think I was probably to good to play for them and Yorkshire representative side were just really good footballers who weren’t good enough to be at professional clubs like myself, not trying to sound big headed or anything like.
Andrew: Were you very friendly with the rest of the players at York City at that time?
Pete: Yeah at that age I had a couple of really good mate there, and I supposed in a way it made we want to go training more.
Andrew: Were you competitive amongst each other?
Pete: Not really, I remember my Dad getting told that I wasn’t trying hard enough and I wasn’t taking it seriously enough, and I was messing around in training all the time with my mates at the club. And I think the coaching staff thought that I was losing interest and getting side- tracked due to developing good relationships with other players at the club. They told my dad I was losing it and falling behind. My dad then came to me and said that he’d spoken with the coach, Brian Mees I think it was, and said this that and the other and then it really hit home and I suppose that that, at first sort of hit he seriousness of it all and I thought that if I keep doing that like going training and messing around then I’m going to get released.
Andrew: So after your father came to you, did you begin to take it more serious and start performing harder in training?
Pete: Yeah thing was around that time (14-15), players were getting released, and I was thinking why him and how come he got released there really good players, so I was getting really nervous about my future there, and beginning to think about whether I was going to get a YTS offer there.
Andrew: Just going on the process in which you got offered a YTS at the club, what was the procedure did they take you into a room and sit you down, did they have a period in which they assessed you and than they offered it to you?
Pete: Well under 16 when you are on a schoolboy contract you can get released at any stage of the season, because you only sign a schoolboy contract, but like when the under 16 season came around the players knew, that that was the season you had to perform in matches and in training as that was make or break time as to whether you were going to make YTS. At under 16 we used to train at York university on a Friday night on astro-turf and the YTS coach and manager used to come down and watch us train. So if you played well, they would ask you to go down and train or play with the YTS lads on a Saturday morning, that was a bonus for doing well and I suppose you knew yourself it was a little reward for playing well, and you may be on the bench for the YT’s in the morning.
Andrew: So did you ever get asked to attend training with the YTS lads when you were 16?
Pete: Yeah I did a couple of times. I used to get asked to go down even if I didn’t get asked to play I used to go and watch them if they were playing at home anyway, so the managers would think that I’m interested and still keen on playing, their training ground was only about 5 minutes away from my house like so I used to go down with my dad. I did play a few times for them along with some other lads on a schoolboy contract. I suppose as I played for them and the YTS coaches used to watch us train every Friday they probably sat down with our manager at the time and discussed how many of the players out of the schoolboys would stay on for a YTS.
Andrew: So how many of the players on a schoolboy contract stayed on for YTS at the club?
Pete: Well out of about 18 of us 9 of us were asked to sign a three year YTS contract. It was pretty nerve wracking but I was pretty confident I was going to be asked to stay
Andrew: Just to go on to you YTS experience now, how much more were you training with York City when you were given a YTS contract?
Pete: Everyday. We used to train every single day, apart from a Monday because we used to go to college all day Monday and a Thursday afternoon.
Andrew: And how many games a week did you used to play?
Pete: Every Sunday morning?
Andrew: The fact that you had to train everyday. Did you used to see it as a chore, or did you still see it as playing football?
Pete: Well basically it used to stress me out big time. You see we had jobs to do around the ground as well. The YT’s had to report at the club by 9am and we didn’t even start training until 10:30am. And we had our jobs to do which were illegal like, we didn’t have to do them, we were supposed to do our own housekeeping it was called, which was looking after our own training room, an look after the first team players boots, you know that is a normal YT’s job but we had to do everything, we had to scrub the whole ground.
Andrew: Really! Did you used to get extra money for that or were you just made to do it?
Pete: I kid you not it was like being in the army. We had a brush with no handle so we had to get on our hands and knees and scrub the entire ground like that. Home and away changing room, all the corridor, the tunnel it was unbelievable, so we actually complained
Andrew: Do you reckon for your time at the club it did you more harm than good?
Pete: Well because we were the only team in the league who did jobs we used to have inspections and that, off the PFA (players football association) and we used to get told not to mention to the PFA that we did cleaning jobs around the ground and stuff, and if they ask you what sort of stuff you do at the club you just say that you do your housekeeping and that’s it. You see but York told us that we had privileges, like we had expenses paid for ever week whilst other clubs only had six expenses paid for every season, so like if you were from the Midlands and you wanted to go home at the weekend, they would only pay for your journey home 6 times throughout the season, but York said to us we have all these privileges, you get your journey home paid for every week and you get a free pass to pizza hut, to fitness first gym, to Warner Bros. and as soon as we complained to the PFA and York found out about it all these privileges were taken away.
Andrew: Did all the YTS players have different jobs at the club?
Pete: Well I was on kit. I had to make sure that all the YTS kit was there and ready and I had to make sure that all the first team kit was there too. That’s a lot of pressure for a 16 year old lad, especially having to deal with training and stuff everyday. It was unbelievable.
Andrew: So you had to train every day, play a match on a Saturday, you had college on a Monday and Thursday, you had to scrub the ground and changing room, and you also had to make sure the kit was ready for the first team and your team?
Pete: Yeah it was the army. All the boys nicknamed it the army. If the first team were missing a pair of socks or something then we used to get absolutely ripped apart, they make us come in on a Sunday for more labour work. There was one time when I was on kit and it was a home game, and the new manager was there and there wasn’t enough pants out so players were asking me where they were, and I was thinking oh no! And because I didn’t wash all the pants by mistake all the YTS team had to be in on Sunday which was horrible for me as on that particular Saturday night, the 5 lads who were on the YTS there who were actually from Yorkshire (including myself) had planned a night out, and because we had to be in on the Sunday morning for training as punishment, because I had forgotten the pants we couldn’t go out. I was really upset about that incident. In fact I was devastated.
Andrew: With the chores and responsibilities you had how did you keep yourself motivated for matches and training? What was your motivation to want to train everyday, knowing you were having a bit of a bad time with you cleaning duties and so on? What made you still want to impress the coaching staff, even though they were obviously treating you pretty badly?
Pete: Well there were a few things? Our manager at the time, in his playing days he was a centre half, he was at Sheffield United, Derby County and Rotherham United. He had a pretty could career in football, because he’d obviously played in the old first division back then which is now equivalent to the Premiership and he was sort of my role model in football because my position was centre half as well. So I wanted to be him basically. I had my ups and downs at York as you do in any stage of life, but I was so motivated to be a footballer, that is what I wanted to do, and there was a fit bird in the office as well which was a bit of inspiration, she was quality!
Andrew: Were you ever worried about your training and matches in terms of fitness and injury?
Pete: Well I never remember worrying about getting injured and not being able to play, all I was really focused on was playing football really.
Andrew: How about when you in the later stages of your YTS contract, did you sort of used to think, well maybe If I get an injury now theymay release me?
Pete: Well it was sort of the other way really, because my first year YTS was my best year, my second year was horrendous and my third and last year was a little bit better. My first year was superb. I remember pre season in my first year was quality because we went on a family holiday to centre parks for a week and I got a gym membership there and at 7:30 every morning I used to get up and go to the gym and do running and weights and stuff, because I was really underweight I was a centre back and light as a feather, so I knew I had to do my own work.
Andrew: Were you told to go away for the summer and do your own work?
Pete: No, I wasn’t, a few of the lads got put on diets and things but I was an exception, so it was out of my own will because I really wanted to be a pro, preseason I was as fit as I have ever been in my life, whizzing round it, like bleep test getting 16’s, when all the other lads were getting like 13’s and 14’s and I was so fit compared to the others. So all the players at pre season were so involved with trying to get fit and I was already getting balls out and stuff, because I was happy with my fitness. So I had an earlier start than the rest of the players there, which gave me an earlier start than the others, which effected my whole season. That was the best season than I ever had.
Andrew: How come you didn’t do the same thing for the remaining seasons you had at the club?
Pete: Well right toward the end of my first season around March I started to get kidney problems, and over the summer I had to have an operation where I couldn’t do any exercise for a couple of months. But I recovered in time for the pre season tournament but it meant going straight into games and I was so unfit because I didn’t do pre season training that it really affected my confidence and I was worried about getting knocked, which I think was the key factor to my second season as a YT being so bad it sort of had a knock on affect.
Andrew: Talk to me more about your Injury and operation how did it happen and how did it affect you?
Pete: Well I remember first feeling it in one of my GCSE exams, and it was a horrible pain in my kidney, and I told my mum about it and she wanted me to go to the doctor, and I wouldn’t go because I still wanted to play the remaining few games of the season.
Andrew: So was it hurting when you were playing football?
Pete: Yeah, I was taking pain killers before games to numb the pain. So anyway my mum finally made me go see the doctor and there was 5-6 more games left in the season. I kept on getting referred on and on again, and then I found out how serious it was, and the doctor said that he may have to remove my kidney as it wasn’t functioning properly.
Andrew: Sorry just quickly, how was York City, your club involved throughout this time?
Pete: I’d say they were quite supportive to be honest, because I had to go see at lot of people, I needed a few days off work to see the doctors and what have you, and they let me take as much time off as I needed, and when I went back to tell them the severity of the problem, they were real supportive. They told me they would take care of all the expenses, but I think they got the money off the PFA, but they sorted it all out for me. It came to roughly £6, 000, because it was all done on private health. It was really nice, so that in its self reduced the stress levels. However a lot was going through my mind, because I knew I’d had such a good season and I’d played for the reserves already and I was headlined in local papers and programmes at other clubs, I was content with my performance so I knew I had already impressed a lot of people in and around the club. However it did put a major downer on me. Anyway thought I would come back fighting for my second season, but it was taking a lot longer than I expected to come back fighting as the scarred tissue wasn’t healing properly and I remember thinking, God what happens if I get knocked in the kidneys in a game or in training and something which was a stress that I didn’t need at that time.
Andrew: How long did that play on your mind?
Pete: Well we used to play against the first team a lot in training and I had the pre season tournament which was quite daunting for me and I was constantly worrying about getting a knock there. But I was beginning to ease into it. But getting my confidence was something that was major factor playing in my mind at that time and I think my confidence was a major issue throughout that entire season. I wasn’t playing regularly throughout the season and I wasn’t getting picked for games that I thought should have been, which also added to stress levels and what have you and I didn’t need it at that time.
Andrew: So how stressed would you say you were?
Pete: I think the hardest thing was. Well I compared myself a lot with my first season, and I was thinking to myself in games, this time last year I would have done that, or this time last year I was playing a for the reserves, and I didn’t play for the reserves in my second year really, whereas in my first year I played a good few games.
Andrew: So that must have been hard for you?
Pete: Yeah, for being told so much about progression and the progression curve, you know everybody has a dip, everyone has high and lows, but the general fashion at York and I suppose in football, was the upward curve so if your always improving your going to get better and better and get closer and closer and further and further, but for me it was a case of comparing myself to my first season all the time and I was nowhere near as good. I tell you what I was worried about the same thing happening to my other kidney as well.
Andrew: When you sat down with your manger at the end of the season and they reviewed your season and talked to you about your future how was your feeling at that time and what was the process?
Pete: Well as I said you get three year YTS contract and after your second year you get re-assessed and I remember the day it was sprung upon us because it was meant to be at the end of the season but it wasn’t it was early April. I remember we had a home game and at the end of the game the manager called us in and said he wanted an individual talk with all of us. Normally we would have our post game team talk and everyone would go home straight away, and I remember thinking oh no, what have we done wrong now like, I thought we were in trouble. Then he told us all as a group that he wanted to talk to us separately regarding our future at the club. It went on surnames so I was the last one in. And I remember three lads who went in before me all got released. And they were all good players and as my second year was a really bad year for me I remember thinking, oh no, that’s it for me I suppose. I remember my best mate at York at the time who was a very similar player to me, and he had the best attitude at the club he never used to go out, didn’t touch alcohol and was in bed by 10:00pm he was released and he went in before me. He had better season than me, and that’s when I thought here we go, I’ve got no chance. I remember walking down the corridor and into the room and just getting a grilling straight away saying that I hadn’t progressed at all and my football was actually not as good as it was a year ago, and they let me know all my statistics about my appearances that season. Anyway they kept me on however they informed me that the only reason I stayed on was because of my first season on YTS.
Andrew: How did you feel after the talk?
Pete: Well I felt relieved to stay for my third year YTS, but I felt that in the following season I had a lot to prove and I felt quite nervous and stressed out about the whole situation. Our manager also told me how he thought he knew me and how he thought that like I used to think about things too much,
Andrew: What do you reckon he meant when he said you used to think about things too much?
Pete: Well it was stupid really, because say for example I was injured I’d be walking around with my head down all the time not having a laugh, and I would get called into the office saying what’s wrong with you, and I’d reply with, well I’m injured, I’ve not been playing and I’m not doing anything. What I would be doing when I was injured was sit in the changing rooms with these four walls waiting until the physio had seen all the pro’s to see me. I all I had was the tissue where my operation was not healing so the physio couldn’t help me anyway. So I was walking around the ground miserable. And if I was caught round the ground laughing and joking then I would get called in to the office again, so I was in a no win situation.
Andrew: Do you reckon that’s all he meant when he was saying you used to think about things too much?
Pete: Well, I was told from a young age about the ups and downs you have in football, but I was also told that the sign of a good player is how you adapt after playing badly in a game or having a bad training session or even having a whole bad patch, like how fast you get out of it like.
Andrew: And did you used to struggle with dips in form?
Pete: Well yeah, as I said before it took me ages to regain confidence after my injury and also I used to think if I had a bad game I would have a bad month, but I also used to think if I had a good game I would have a good couple of months. But most players if they had a bad game they would bounce right back and prove everyone wrong.
Andrew: So did you sort of used to question your own ability after a bad game?
Pete: Yeah, all the time.
Andrew: Would you compare yourself with other players in your team?
Pete: Yeah, If I had a bad game I used to get so stressed out and think he’s better than me and he’s better than me and I should have done that and I should have passed it then it would really get me down. We used to get asked all the time if we thought players in the first team were better than us. There was this player in our first team who was a centre half (my position) and I used to get asked all the time oh would you say you’re a better player than him (Mark Sattori). And I would say no, and they would ask why and I would respond with, well he plays for the first team and I am only a YTS player. And that in itself straight away is a negative, because I’m saying no and they want me to say that I was. That’s what they wanted from me. They were playing mind games all the time and I think that’s what a lot of the YTS is just mind games with the coaches. You know it would be pretty arrogant to have said that I was. I’ve only ever met 2 professional footballers who weren’t arrogant, and I definitely wasn’t. Even if I thought I was a better player I would have said no. I think to make it as an elite footballer you have got to be pretty arrogant as you have got to believe you are better than most players and I didn’t have that. As I said before I used to think about things too much.
Andrew: So is that a factor, why you reckon you didn’t go on and play professionally?
Pete: Oh yes, I went down in their estimation as soon as I said anything like that I suppose. From their point of view the response was negative, and they probably used to think that I didn’t have it as they thought that I probably didn’t have it in the head. It was like they were playing mind games with us I wasn’t Billy big time basically and most footballers any most levels are. Towards the end of my third year I think that was the time when I thought you know I suppose I didn’t have what it takes to make it mentally. As I used to think about things too much as I said before about poor performances and poor training sessions used to really get me stressed out. But I suppose there was only 1 lad out of the 9 of us who got signed on pro. He’s not there now like but he was a bright lad but when I used to go in and see people if I was going through a bad time and stuff I would go in and see the coaches and managers and stuff and say I was on an all time low and I don’t think I could do this and I don’t think I could do that….
Andrew: Sorry to interrupt but you mentioned earlier that your best friend at the time got released did that affect you in any way, was that why you went to see the coaches?
Pete: I suppose it did really, it sort of stressed me out, because if I had anything on my mind in regards to football, I would go to him first and talk to him about and see how he felt as he was in my training session’s everyday and I used to play alongside him every week. But what the coach used to say to me when I went in when I was low was, well I used to have a girlfriend for the first 2 years and what they would say to me was go talk to your girlfriend about it. But she knew nothing about it, she wasn’t even a good listener, and I would think what! you guys are my coaches and mentors and you going to dismiss me like that and tell me to talk to my girlfriend about it which was basically making fun of me like. And I would speak to the other lads and they didn’t have a brain cell between them to be honest. And I think because of that they didn’t used to think about things like I did. They didn’t analyse things as much, you know they were there for a laugh really and just to play football whereas I used to think about my future and I sort of looked upon it as a job. Most of them now are like roofers and labourers you know but I was sort of always thinking about other options. You know I used to wake up and think I’m going to work. When people used to say to me do you want to go out tonight I would say well I can’t because I’m working tomorrow. And people would think that I was playing football and it wasn’t work, people didn’t realise. Maybe If I was the other way the same as the rest of the players and I used to see it as playing football I could still be playing professionally now you never know.
Andrew: So do you reckon that your time as a YTS was as stressful as the next person with an everyday job for example someone working in a supermarket?
Pete: I would say it is much more stressful than a job in a supermarket. Your either on a till or stacking shelves your not playing in front of 5 and a half thousand people week in week out. If you’re a striker and you miss an open goal in the 89th minute and cost all your team three points and money from win bonus, or you’re a centre half and you make a mistake and the other team go on a score the winner and I think that is much more stressful baring in mind just purely as a job.
Andrew: So as a player were those things always playing on your mind?
Pete: Yeah, I don’t know if all people think of it like that but that is how I used to think of it. If you’re playing in an arena and you mess up then first and foremost in front of all those fans I would think about all their reactions and then your team-mates and what they think of you. Also me as a YTS in my eyes I was playing for my career week in week out.
Andrew: You mention you had a girlfriend when you were a YTS, I would like to ask you if playing football as a YT effected your relationship with here in any way?
Pete: Yeah definitely. It had a detrimental affect as I think she used to think that I used to think that football was more important to me than her. Which to be perfectly honest it probably was at the time. But there was things when I would wake up with her and she would say are you going to phone in sick today so we can spend the day together, which I would to like to have done most of the time but in my eyes football was my job and I couldn’t phone in sick to spend the day with my girlfriend.
Andrew: Do you think that having a girlfriend affected your football though?
Pete: Well, if she was there watching it used to make me nervous and she would come most weeks. She used to bring all her family as well which used to stress me out and I suppose in some games that I used to remember used to affect my performance, but other than that it didn’t used to get in the way of my football that much. I think that football used to get in the way of our relationship more so, but again not too much because it was just a job and it was like any average person with a job and a boyfriend or girlfriend.
Andrew: Would you say that you used to get along with your manager?
Pete: Well yeah I used to think of him as some sort of legend. I basically wanted to be him as a player. I think he had a soft spot for me because I was the same position as him on the field and also, he could see the effort I used to put in, and how much I wanted to be a footballer. He even said to me that the skill side of the game I wasn’t entirely up to scratch but the attitude toward football I was faultless. When I got released that was the first thing he said to me. He said that he had never seen anyone at the club with the attitude I had. But unfortunately your skill level is not good enough for first team football, which I knew I was going to be released at the end of my YTS contract anyway. He was harsh but fair. I remember he grilled two of our players at half time in the FA youth cup. He was screaming at them both telling them they were never going to make professional football players, and told them to go down to the job centre because they were never going to make it professionally. I wasn’t playing that game because I was in the reserves regularly by then. I used to enjoy playing the reserves because it was easier football as it was mainly old pro’s or lads that were never going to make it as footballers, so it was a slower game. I used to be really nervous going into the reserves but then I realised it was easier.
Andrew: Just to change the subject and if you don’t mind me asking how much were you getting paid as a YT at the club?
Pete: In my first year it was 45£ a week, second year was £50 a week, and third year was £90.
Andrew: Did you find that enough for your life outside the club?
Pete: No, because we had this status of being a YTS at York we had to wear Adidas stuff everyday, and at college on a Monday and Thursday so everybody knew who we were and when you went in town for a walk without wearing your Adidas stuff and were caught you would get fined. Even in town everybody used to know who you were. I remember signing autographs in town actually. And in the second and third year I used to hate having to wear tracksuit bottoms and Adidas stuff in town. People used to think oh look here they are, all the big timers in their gear and stuff, so a lot of my wages used to go on fines all the time. We had to wear it at college though and I used to get cheeky remarks and I used to hate it whereas most of the other boys used to love wearing the stuff in college, showing off and stuff. I think that the football used to go to their head as they would go out and buy $100 tops because they thought they were big time footballers when they were only on £50 a week. You see I wasn’t like that. But I never had money. For what we were doing with the cleaning and washing and stuff and what I said before how it was like the army there was no way that we got paid enough. But at the end of the day it was all about how much you wanted it.
Andrew: How much would you say you wanted it?
Pete: Well at first I really, really wanted it but as I got older and older the enthusiasm got less, and less. I think it was because I sort of realised that I didn’t have what it took. I remember sitting in the crowd at a first team match and hearing all the fans shouting at the players, and I was thinking I don’t need this every week. I wouldn’t have been able to handle it. In my third year I was the only one who didn’t make a first team appearance. I remember going down to Plymouth as part of the first team squad one weekend and I was treated awfully. I was there for the skip mate. I was in the coach for 6 and a half hour’s there and back and the amount of tea’s I made was a joke. I didn’t get told why I was there by the managers or coaches, in fact I don’t think they even said a word to me the who trip. I was put in a hotel room by myself on the Friday night. I was on the top floor out of the way. I felt like I was there to make up the numbers. When we got there on the Friday afternoon we all went for a walk to get loosened up, and I thought well maybe the manager may talk to me now about what I have done to be here, you what I had done for this reward but no one said a word to me. Even on match day they didn’t even talk to me, even on the way back to York.
Andrew: So what feelings were you going through throughout the trip?
Pete: That trip really stressed me out. All I was waiting for was someone to talk to me. That trip made me not want to be a professional football player. Overall it was just a bad experience, and I wouldn’t want any young player to experience that. It sort of killed my confidence because I had obviously done something right to be there but all I needed was for the managerial staff to tell me so.
Andrew: Tell me about the media coverage whilst you were at York City. How were you perceived?
Pete: Well, I suppose once you signed a contract and you were playing for the reserves you were sort thrown straight in the deep end. Everyone knew who you were, all the fans were clapping you on etc. Ever since the contract was signed, as I said before when we went to college everybody knew who we were, because of the Adidas gear we had to wear as a rule and what have you (the college was on the outskirts of town) and we used to get so much bother from other students there, they just judged us because we were footballers. To be fair that was really tough because there was always a write up in the press and stuff. I was on the computer game championship manager which everybody used to play at that time because it was really popular. There was only 5 of us YT’s who were on it from York, all the rest were made up. I don’t know why, whether they came to the club and asked and that I’m not to sure. Anyway I used to get asked about that all the time at college because it was a game that everybody who liked football had. People used to ask me about it sarcastically and that used to get me really annoyed because I was perceived as some arrogant football player and I wasn’t. In a round about sort of a way it might of added to pressures on the pitch, because everybody sort of used to have high expectations. If you’re in the press a lot people used to think, you know, he must be a good player because he’s in the paper all the time.
Andrew: How did the press perceive you? Did you ever get any personal write ups in the local paper?
Pete: Yeah, quite a few times.
Andrew: What did they used to say about you?
Pete: Pete Vasey one to watch, that’s what I remember a paper saying, a local paper. I’ve got a scrap book back at home in Yorkshire with all stories about me from papers and stuff. My old man used to do it for me. He used to cut them out and stick them in to like a photo album. People used to read that and a few weeks later they would ask you again how you were doing and you’ve had a bad month or something and you tell them you haven’t been having a good time recently because as I said football has it’s ups and downs and I suppose the press is all the nice side of it when you’re a young age, because if you have a good game than you would definitely get a mention in the paper, but if you had a bad game then you just wouldn’t get a mention which is better. But if I went on to play professional and I played a bad game I would have got grilled in the paper in the morning.
Andrew: How many people used to watch your games?
Pete: In the reserves a few hundred used to come and watch, we had a small first team squad so they used to rely on the kids a lot. Pre season before my third year, I played against Leeds United and there was 5, 500 people there watching and it was unbelievable. We played the our first team in the first half and the reserves in the second which was when I played. So for the first ten minutes we watched in the first half then we had to go in and get ready. So we were in the stand and all these fans were pouring in and I was thinking, oh no, its getting full. It hasn’t been this full in a long time like. And all the stars for Leeds were playing. Robbie Keane, Ian Harte, Jason Wilcox. It was on Sky Sports. It was a massive game for us. I thought whatever happens at the end of this season to me, I’ve always got this. It is the one memory I can take away. I suppose when we got out there you forget about all the crowd and the cameras and the media, it’s like they vanish. You’re so focused I blocked it out. I didn’t even hear anything until the ball when out for a throw or the ref. blew his whistle for a foul. It was weird. But very time the ball went out and you switch off for a minute and you hear all the crowd were shouting, you think my word. I was so nervous before walking out on the pitch. I remember I nearly threw up. I was itching all over, I have never been that nervous in my life.
Andrew: How did you play?
Pete: I remember we were a really young team, and we were really up for it and we did so much running we didn’t have to do and I remember being absolutely knackered. Robbie Keane was so fast. You don’t notice how fast they are on the TV. But I was so focused on my job that I didn’t notice the media. I suppose that player’s that do that every week, just don’t notice the fans and that after a while but I can’t talk for everyone.
Andrew: Did fans know about you at the club? You know first team fans and stuff? Did they know who you were?
Pete: Yeah, we got asked for autographs all the time. A lot of the fans at York were not all there to be honest. Nicest people, but they used to ask for your autograph every single week. Every week when you walked in to the ground, they asked you every week for your autograph. It made you feel special and that, but I used to think haven’t you got it from last week. But again that was the nice side of football.
Andrew: So if you could sum up your whole time at York, your whole ten years there, how would you put it into words?
Pete: Well, I suppose the first few years, I don’t really remember it that well. I suppose I didn’t really understand what was going on as I was only young, I can’t really remember those times. You don’t realise how important it was. I remember under 16’s, under 15’s was a blur, but there were plenty of ups and downs when I was there for the period of then years.
Andrew: More ups or more downs?
Pete: Definitely more downs. It was a case of if you could handle the downs then you would be fine. It’s how fast you can adapt to the downs. Everybody has a bad week on the training ground and a bad game or 2, it’s how fast you get out of the dip in form. At the end of the day you go into the club and gets signed on because you’re a good player. If you’re training everyday in theory than should become better and better, buts it’s all about how you handle the external factors and stuff. Its all about if you have got it in your head. If you do then you can go along away. Skill and stuff wasn’t a factor for me because they wouldn’t have had me there otherwise. It was whether they could mould me into an arrogant football player. At the end of the day we were elite football players, it was whether you could handle external factors.
Andrew: I understand about handling your dip in form, but what do you mean when you say other external factors, what are these factors that you need to handle in order to be a footballer?
Pete: I think it’s safe to say that when you are at a club a lot of mind games go on between the coaches and players. It’s almost as if they are psychologically trying to test you. See how far they can push you before you crack, just to see how much of a strong character you are, because football is full of strong characters. That is a lot of YTS football, mind games. A lot of people do not understand that that is what goes on in kids’ professional football. It is hard to adapt when you are 16 to those circumstances. The faster you adapt to the mentality the better you will be.
Andrew: Were you ever get pushed by your family?
Pete: Not at all. They used to come down and watch and support me but they never used to push me. I used to enjoy my family coming down to watch.
Andrew: Just quickly did you ever used to go out and drink while you were there? Did you feel that you missed going out and socialising with friends?
Pete: No, I always remember a couple of weeks after I got released, a friend asked me if I had any regrets about not going out and that while at York City. But the way I approached it was if I did go out and drink all the time I would have always been wondering to this day you know if I did look after myself would I have made it pro, would I be playing in the Premiership now. I had the best attitude toward the football. I put everything in to it and it just wasn’t to be. I have no regrets. I wasn’t meant to be a football player. I bet there are a few lads at different clubs who got released the same time as me with plenty of regrets about going out and not taking it seriously enough.
Andrew: When you got released what did they say to you?
Pete: Well I got released straight away after my third year, without reassessment while everyone else had 4 weeks to be reassessed. I believe they released me straight away because they knew I was the longest serving player there and they knew that I had a lot of work to do because they knew they had a lot of work to do to go to university. They said to me they reckon I wasn’t good enough to make the step to first team.
Andrew: So if you could go back a few years, would you change anything?
Pete: If I got a knock at the door now and it was my old manager and he was there offering me a 2 year professional contract at the club, I would say no. I know I’m in a better position now then I would have been if I stayed in club.
Andrew: Why is that?
Pete: Because I know that I’m not meant to be a footballer. Because I have not got the head to handle it, I get too stressed out.
Andrew: Thanks for your time Pete!
Interview 2: The transition from York City to Liverpool John Moore’s University (2002-2005)
Andrew (researcher): Hi Pete, This interview is going to focus on the transition from York City to university, and what stresses you experienced through that period. Can you tell me quickly, what happened when you were released from York City? Did you know you were going to get released at the end of your YTS contract or was it a surprise?
Pete (case study subject): No, I knew I was going to get released. Like I mentioned before there was 6 or 7 third years and I was the only one not to get a first team start. I went to Plymouth with them once but that was only to make up the numbers, so I sort of worked out that if I wasn’t involved with the first team every other week at that stage then I wasn’t going to get a professional contract. I sort of had this thing with university at the back of my mind. I say in my last season from Christmas my tutors let me know that if I wanted to I could definitely go to university with my grades from my GCSE’s and that, and they started talking to me more about university, so I started to think about university loads, so I started getting thing sent off and I made university my number one priority, even when I was still at York. York City knew that too as I was asking for a couple of days off so I could go to university open days and stuff.
Andrew: So the club didn’t tell you that you were going to be released in the summer, you had to do this all out of your own will. They didn’t let you know that maybe you should consider university or a job or anything of that kind?
Pete: No, they left it all to me, so when I went and asked them for time off to go and visit universities around the country they never asked any questions so it was kind of obvious. So after Christmas it was more or less signed and sealed. They knew, I knew.
Andrew: So you filled out the UCAS form in order to go to university, like any other normal college student would do?
Pete: Yeah, I sent all that off.
Andrew: Were you looking forward to going to university?
Pete: After Christmas, I just wanted out. I’d had enough of it to be honest. I just wanted to go. I was so exited about university it became my main priority in life, even though I was still at York. Having to go and get work done. When they released me they said that they still wanted me to be part of the club until the end of the season, they still wanted to see me around the club and stuff. However they knew I had a lot of work on. Every month they used to talk to our tutors at college. So I think the tutors let them know how much work I had on in order for me to get to university. They were quite up to date with how much work I had on.
Andrew: How much work did you have on, and what type of work, were you required to de?
Pete: I had a lot of work on. In the first two years at college I was in with all the others, and we all saw it as a break, a laugh away from the training ground. To be honest I didn’t used to see the work as important. It only started to dawn on me in the third year you know the possibility of not getting signed on. As I said at Christmas time I approached my tutors at college and told them that I wasn’t going to get signed on at York and my next option would be to go to university. They were really happy for me to do it, because it looks good on their behalf as well you see. So they helped me loads.
Andrew: In what way?
Pete: Well put it this way. There was no way I should have gone to university. I was doing a BTEC in sports science, and it consisted of assignments and there were no exams at the end it was only coursework. I got loads of assignments back off them and I had to do extra work on them and hand them back in. You know that shouldn’t have really happened. I was getting assignments back from the second year and stuff, worked on them a little bit more, and the tutors would help me get the work to a distinction level and then I would hand them back in. I got about 4 or 5 back to re-do basically and I had about 5 or 6 others that I hadn’t even started. Believe it or not right, the physiology part of my work was shocking. The psychology was all right but I was struggling with the physiology side of it, and now I’m doing one of the most complex physiology dissertations you can do at degree level.
Andrew: So at college did you enjoy psychology or physiology more?
Pete: Well at college, I enjoyed psychology more, and at university I wanted to do Sport Psychology, but I found first year BSc psychology really hard, as I did the second years also. The rest is history as it were.
Andrew: Do you want to go on further and do more in physiology?
Pete: I’m not to sure at the moment, I’m just going to relax for a bit and see how it goes.
Andrew: Were you under a lot of pressure throughout that period from Christmas to the time that you got released, because you obviously had a lot of work on at college but you were also playing football to? What feeling were you going through?
Pete: I was under a lot of pressure to play, to keep playing by York’s staff, because we has such a small first team squad, so our reserve team would just be all The YT’s basically. So we were playing two games a week. There was one time when they accused me of faking injury. I was in training and I went to shoot and someone put there foot out to block my shot and I hot their studs with the top of my foot. So the top of my foot was all bruised. I could walk on it and run on it but I couldn’t strike a ball. That put me out of training for a couple of weeks. The reserve team manager came to see me one morning when I had that injury and asked me if I was fit to play that night. I told him I wasn’t. He made some remark, I can’t remember what it was exactly that he said but it was sort of suggesting that I was a nancy or whatever you want to call it. This was only because he had a small squad. So I was basically accused of faking an injury. I went home and told the old man what went on, so he went in I tried to stop him. He went down anyway. There was hell on. He had a proper go at him. So the pressure to play and the stress I had at college with all the work I had on, My head was down for my last 6 months at the club.
Andrew: So what was it you found more stressful, the fact that you had all the college work on or the fact that you still had to play football, or was it a mixture of both?
Pete: Well I enjoyed doing the work, more than I enjoyed playing the football. Toward the end I just did not want to be there. I hated it that much. I nearly walked out and quit. When I was accused of faking injury I was so close to walking out. If that it was that person actually believed than I just wanted to leave. To be fair I should have done. I should have just got up and left. But the person I am I just sat there and took it. But I wasn’t the sort of person that was just going to get up and leave. I’m not a quitter. I should have quit though because that six months at college would have been great without having to worry about the football too. But I stayed and stuck it out.
Andrew: So do you think if were not still playing football at that time it would have made the work easier?
Pete: Well I basically had 2 years work to do in 6 months. I’d done the majority of the work but I had to get all the work up to a distinction level.
Andrew: So how did your college tutors help you out in that sense?
Pete: Well, I was in the staff room. That is where I would work. I would walk in and say morning and it was just normal for me to walk in and be working in the staff room all day alongside the tutors. I was on the computer in there and I would be asking questions all day, and tutors were bringing me books from home and stuff. So it was really good. I enjoyed it. After I had graduated if you like from college, the tutors wrote to my mum, and they wrote to me too saying well done and all the best at university. And they wrote to my mum, which she framed saying they wanted to let her know how proud they were of hers on and how hard he worked to get to university. She put it in a scrapbook or something like that. How embarrassing. So it took a lot to Uni.
Andrew: So your heart was set on going to university at that stage and you only really started to think about university in your third year is that correct?
Pete: Yeah only in the third year, I didn’t in the first and second year. I was the only YT ever at York city to go on and attend university. So I’m pretty proud of myself.
Andrew: Talk to me about your application to university, what sort of stress were you going through, considering you had to play football and so on? How was it, waiting for responses to your application. Was Liverpool John Moore’s University your first choice?
Pete: No Loughborough was my first choice. Don’t know what I was thinking there like. No on a more serious note I used to leave early in the morning to go to training before the post would arrive so I used to go training and think god I hope I’ve got something I don’t know about when I get home. My last 6 months at York was just all about Uni. There is no other way to describe it really. I wasn’t bothered about football in the slightest.
Andrew: So were you still stressed about playing football during that period?
Pete: No, I just never looked forward to playing matches throughout that time and to be honest for most of my time at York. In the third year when Saturday came, I know it sounds silly now but I used to hope so much that I would get injured so I could go out and have a few beers, which I’d never really had before, because I didn’t used to go out really. I just wanted to get warmed up for university, you know get some practice in and that. But I also used to think god I hope I don’t get injured too badly so I can still go out though. My last 6 months were just all about going to university and going out all the time. It just dragged along. I just couldn’t be bothered with it. It was still like the army in there, you know all the jobs to do and that. I had to get up early go do my jobs, like cleaning and washing kit and what have you. Then I would go to training then I would come home and have college work to do. All I used to think about the whole day was my college work.
Andrew: So what did you do the summer you were released, you obviously got a reply back from John Moore’s and you were accepted so what did you get up to in the summer?
Pete: Well, I was released in March, finished college in July and went to university in September.
Andrew: So you literally went straight from the club to university. So what did you do when you had a little time off in the summer?
Pete: Yeah I was just thinking when you asked me before. I think I just took it easy, because I had all the stresses from being at York and that and I got released after 10 years then I got through all that work and then I thought after July time I went on holiday and was having the time of my life thinking I was going to start university when I came back. I didn’t have to keep fit over the summer and watch the eating and drinking so I was just looking forward to a fresh start.
Andrew: So when you got to university did you begin to enjoy it immediately?
Andrew: How did you find the work and lectures?
Pete: To be honest I found it very hard to begin with. My first year was my hardest year. I was enjoying doing the work. I’ve sort of always enjoyed doing assignments. I just sort of find them quite rewarding. My first year at University was just sort of learning again because the stuff that I had been taught in BTEC was nothing compared to the stuff that was in lecture in the first year at university. It was a whole different level, which I sort of expected.
Andrew: Were trying to capture the emotions you were going through at that time. Were you still thinking about York at that time? Were you sort of thinking that you would you rather be at university than be at York?
Pete: Yeah, without a shadow of a doubt I was not missing York City in the slightest and I used to think about that all the time. Say I was a bit down at university I used to think well it could be worse I could still be at York. But I couldn’t just forget about York because everyone that I had started to talk to me at university, you know you get talking and they sort of ask about your life before university and what you were up to before university, so I had to talk about it still, and I had to tell everyone how I was released and stuff, so it was still fresh in my head. I wouldn’t say that it caused me any stress in regards to work and stuff, and having to get work in on time, I forgot about it pretty quick actually. Because everybody at home all like expected me to be a footballer, everybody thought that I would end up at York easily and that I was even to good for York. Everyone had high expectations of me, so when I got released that summer was quite hard because everyone was saying to me that they couldn’t believe that I had bee released and stuff, and having to tell everyone and reading it in the paper it was tough. I felt as if I had let people down. I didn’t feel like I’d let my parents down though because I knew that they wanted what I wanted I they knew it was a bit of a dream of mine to go to university, so I didn’t fell anything like that towards my mum and dad and my brothers. But mates who knew me all my life and always knew me as a footballer I felt sort of embarrassed to tell them that I was released. That was hard. But when I came to university, it was all new people, I didn’t know anyone here so people didn’t know me and therefore they didn’t have any expectations of me, and in that respect it was easy to tell people what I had done for the last three years.
Andrew: Did you enjoy telling people about you experiences? Or did you just want to get it off your mind?
Pete: I think I just wanted to get it off my mind. I don’t know if enjoy is the right word I don’t know how to describe it was just one of those thing that had to be accepted. Obviously your going to meet loads of new people and they are going to want to know what you did, so your going to have to tell people there is no way around it like. Although it is sort of advocating your failure to do something in life, its one of those things you have to do.
Andrew: So you are in your third year of university now, over the three years at university and the three years as a YTS footballer, what have you found more stressful?
Pete: More stressful? Erm, YTS, even though there is a lot of pressure to produce good work at university, a lot of the time it is a nice life being a student. Waking up every morning 8am and having to scrub floors until 10am and also to perform as a football player week in week out I just didn’t need it. It’s just a lot more stressful.
Andrew: So if you could take the positives and the negatives from your time at York City and from your time at university, how would you compare them?
Pete: To be honest I suppose comparing the 2 the advantage I gained from the YTS it sort of set me up for university, It was the end of my teenage years and it set me up for who I am now. It made me a much stronger person because it was that harsh and strict, that it made me a lot of what I am today. It made me think of all the positives now, as I used to look at all the negatives then. University has made me more organised and there are short term goals with work.
Andrew: You say you used to think about performances too much when you were playing football, do you do the same with coursework?
Pete: No because there is no one to impress at university apart from yourself, whereas at York I had to impress players and coaches all the time just to keep a job, and to keep your shirt number, because although you’re a team the person sat next to you he will take your shirt without any question. I think I’ve learnt in a way how to handle those feelings, which has come from age. But more stresses are involved in football so that is how I’ve learnt to deal with them. A lot of weight has been taken off my shoulders I suppose. All you have to do is your work at university.
Andrew: So would you say you are enjoying life more now then you were when you were at York?
Pete: Yeah, I think the main thing is now a lot of my results at university come from how motivated you are to do the work and the more motivated you are academically the more you are going to learn, I suppose you can say that for football because you are training everyday, but I don’t have any external pressures, stresses as such whilst I’m at university because I haven’t got anybody to impress while at university. You can only let yourself down at university. But when I was a York you got the potential to let down everybody involved in the team.
Andrew: Socially do you find yourself happier now than you did then?
Pete: Yeah, I think so.
Pete: The only time to get down at university is when you got a lot of work on, and that doesn’t compare to the downs I experienced at York. At York you had the potential to be down everyday because of a bad game or training session. So you had the potential to be unhappy with yourself everyday when playing football but I haven’t when I’m studying.
Andrew: Going on to football again, do you still play?
Pete: Yeah, I played for the University team this year. In my first and second year at university I used to play for a semi-pro club, and I used to go home every weekend, but in my third year I decided to stop that and concentrate on my work, because it is a major priority in comparison to football. But I decided to play for the university this season (my third year), but I started playing football in my first year, but I had to stop because I think work sort of crept up on me, but I played for university this year.
Andrew: Going back to playing football for the university in the first year, were you going through the same stresses as you were when you were playing at York?
Pete: No. I looked at it from a different perspective, football at York was my job and university football was a laugh. I looked at it as a good chance to meet new people who were obviously similar to me because they play football. I also looked at it as a good way of keeping my fitness up. But I wasn’t bothered about performing too well. Obviously for myself I wanted to play pretty well but I wasn’t bothered about impressing other people. Obviously I wanted to impress in the trials so I would get in to the team. But once I played a couple of games I didn’t used to think about it as I would do about football at York. It was mainly the social side of it, I didn’t want to impress anyone, I just wanted to be one of the lads.
Andrew: You say you played semi-professional football at the weekends still whilst in your first and second year at university. Did you take that more seriously or what that to just for a laugh?
Pete: I was out there to win and do well for the manger in that team. A lot of the things were the same as when I was playing for York. But there was still a lot more pressure at York. But I would still prepare for one of those games but not like I would for say a reserve game at York. I used everything that I had, every bit of football I had left to sort of play for that semi-pro side (Picketing). But when I was at York any lifestyle changes that I could have made to improve my football I would have done so, but at Pickering I wasn’t going to stop going out at University, just to perform for this semi-pro side on a Saturday. For this team the win was the most important thing and my performance was second whereas it was the other way round at York. At York, I would be resting the evening before a match. I would always have a plate of pasta before 8pm on a Friday night, I was always in bed by 9:30pm. And Friday evening I would always be mentally preparing myself for the game on a Saturday. I would always have a bath the night before. But for the semi-pro side and for the University side that never happened.
Andrew: So you have never been under any stress in terms of football whilst studying at university?
Pete: A definite no.
Andrew: Are you going to carry on with football when you finish with university?
Pete: Yeah, I will be playing semi-pro for a different team, and getting paid enough for pocket money to go out and spend on myself, but I will also be doing it because it is football that I enjoy as I don’t fell stressed when I’m playing.
Andrew: So if York city knocked on your door now and offered you a three year professional contract what would you do?
Pete: I would say no, I enjoy doing work more than football.
Andrew: What about any other club?
Pete: I would say no to all the professional clubs in the world, unless I got offered stupid money.
Andrew: So what will you go on and do when you finish university?
Pete: Well I have applied for a PGCE teaching course which I am still waiting to hear from, and as it stands now I will be travelling in the USA in the summer, and just take life how it comes.
Andrew: So if could give advice now to someone going on to complete a YTS at a football club what would you say to them?
Pete: The advice I would give them, is to not neglect the educational side of the YTS course. That is by the main pointer I would give them, because at the end of the day they are there to be footballers, so they do not take the college work seriously, so I would say to keep up to scratch with the college work, and keep on the good side of your college tutors. Also don’t get dragged down by the social side of football. Don’t drink because you will always be wondering what could have been if you didn’t go out as much. Also psychologically if they have any issues don’t be afraid to tell your coaches or other players, it is better to get it out in the open.
Andrew: Thanks for your time Pete.
Pete: You are very welcome.
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