Spotlight: Football and Stress

Jamil Qureshi

Jamil Qureshi is a psychotherapist and performance coach who has taught several elite athletes how to perform at the top of their game. 

Following impressive results with golfers and formula one drivers, Jamil currently works closely with professional footballers and is a firm believer in ‘driving performance through people’. 

Working with worldclass sportspeople has helped Jamil learn a lot about stress. We caught up with him to find out just how important it is to manage stress levels for peak performance. 

Hi Jamil, do you think we’re all generally more stressed?

We all deal with high levels of stress, but it’s relative - some people will find stress in situations where others won’t. I think it’s key to understand that just because others aren’t stressed, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be. We’re all individuals and we should measure stress levels in accordance to ourselves, not in comparison to others. 

We need levels of anxiety to perform, but negative physical reactions can start to develop in response to your thoughts if the levels get too high, which can then begin to inhibit performance. 

Do footballers deal with higher levels of stress than the general public?

With athletes, fear of failure, non-performance and letting your family and teammates down can often cause stress. Sportspeople are also expected to perform at the top of their game over a long period of time, and the pressure to replicate those performances consistently can be very stressful.  

There’s definitely an added pressure in football, specifically because results are often binary - you win or lose. It’s so competitive. Pressure regarding social media, fans and length of contract can also add to this, plus having to deal with things like sponsorship and management can be tough. 

Most players get into football because they are talented with a ball, but actually the majority of their stresses have very little to do with the 90 minutes they spend on the pitch.

What can happen if we ignore significant changes in our stress levels?

Burnout is a genuine possibility. It’s very easy to sweep signs of stress under the carpet, but that is the worst tactic. 

Stress is a bit like putty – if you try to hold it in, it just comes out in different areas. This is why people might look for quick fixes that change their mood, such as gambling or drugs. Ultimately these behaviours take them further away from optimum performance, which inevitably causes more stress. 

What’s the best way for football players to manage their stress levels?

There is no better way to deal with stress than to remove yourself from the stressful situation and share the burden. Talking to someone might help you gain a different perspective, which can help manage your feelings. 

As a professional footballer, you can’t always stop playing or training. You can make minor tweaks like not watching football at home, spending more time doing things that you love, or trying to learn a new skill. Giving your brain something different to do is a useful way of distracting from stress.

What advice would you give to a player who often feels stressed?

So many people will stress themselves out because they think the answer to greater success is to pedal faster, but it’s not. 

The key to success is creating time and space to understand what it is that allows us to perform at optimum levels, so finding time to understand the precursors of good performance is helpful.  

Footballers need to continue to have goals when they retire and enjoy a journey that’s different to the one they’ve been on. So many players feel rudderless when they leave the game. They can become all consumed by football, but it shouldn’t be a player’s defining purpose - there’s so much more to them. 

Contact the PFA

If you are a current or former professional footballer struggling with stress, we can help. Contact our Counselling Helpline 24 hours a day, 7 days a week on 07500 000 777.

Find out more about the wellbeing support we provide: click here.