SHAY GIVEN: IF HE CAN ASK FOR HELP, WHY CAN'T YOU?
Chris Brereton 19/10/17
The recent revelations by Chris Kirkland, the former England goalkeeper, about his struggles with mental health issues has again brought the subjects of pressure and performance into the spotlight.
Being a goalkeeper – especially in the Premier League and on the international stage – is a truly unforgiving environment and Kirkland has admitted he has suffered from depression and anxiety in recent times.
Shay Given, another world-class goalkeeper, has never suffered from the same illness as Kirkland but he too reveals today that he has sought professional help to cope with the pressures of top-class sport.
In his new autobiography, the popular Republic of Ireland goalkeeper outlines the phenomenal mental and emotional strain that is placed on modern-day athletes and his words should be read with huge interest by anybody wanting to know how to mentally approach their performances.
Writing in Shay: Any Given Saturday, the 41-year-old is frank and perfectly happy to outline how receiving professional advice helped elongate his career and how he would do exactly the same again if he had to.
Given was adamant that he wanted to be entirely honest about his own difficulties in coping with the demands made of him and his message to the public is clear: if you need help, go and get it.
“My mindset just deteriorated badly and I was struggling big time,” Shay writes, following an error-strewn performance against Blackburn Rovers in 2003. “Eventually, after a few nights of sleeping badly, I went to see Derek Wright, the Newcastle United physio. 'I need to speak to someone,' I told him. 'I don’t know if you know anyone or if the club recommends anyone but I need to get some stuff off my chest."
“It was back in the day when nobody really used coaches for psychological issues. Most clubs have them now but this was a different lifetime in footballing terms. It’s a huge part of the game. If you can get people’s heads right then the rest will follow. Back then, some people saw it as a weakness.
“The logic was: 'You don’t need a head doctor telling you how good you are, deal with your own mistakes and get on with it.' I disagreed then and I disagree now. Any goalkeeper who thinks they’ve cracked the art is never more than 90 minutes away from a rude wake-up call. Derek recommended a psychologist called Richard Mullen who was based in Cardiff.
“It is a huge positive to be able to talk to someone about the mental side of the game. At the level we’re playing at, if you can improve a player by one per cent then you’d be crazy not to try it.”
“There are still people who might read this book and think, ‘I didn’t think he had a weakness like that’ but I genuinely think that dealing with it in that way is something to be proud of. I worked every day on crosses, kicking, penalties, distribution, tactics and fitness. Why wouldn’t I – or why wouldn’t anyone come to that – not also work on their mental strength? I wanted to be the full package and using Richard helped me do that.
“I could ring Richard today and speak to him about anything if I felt I needed to. I’ve used him all my career and I’d be on the phone this second if I thought he could help me get through something.”
Shay Given played over 600 Premier League games as well as 134 times for Ireland spanning 20 years. If a man of his pedigree, and his talent, can admit to themselves that they need help in performing at their best, why shouldn't the rest of us?
Opening Up Cricket is a not for profitcommunity interest company that promotes mental wellbeing and suicide prevention through cricket.