England's Karen Bardsley on managing highs and lows as a professional footballer

Friday 14 May 2021
Bardsley has been an England international since 2005 collecting 81 caps during that time

Representing your country is a unique experience that comes with many highs as well as some significant challenges. 

This Mental Health Awareness Week, we hear from England Women's goalkeeper Karen Bardsley, who shares with us how she manages the highs and lows that come with being an elite athlete. 

As professional footballers we spend countless hours on the training pitch honing our skills in preparation for competition. In addition to the physical training, most of us also spend hours watching and analysing performances in previous training sessions and matches.

But for all the hours spent on physical and technical development, why is the tool that ultimately governs performance so often neglected or overlooked entirely? I'm talking about our mental health. 

Through the lens of a professional footballer, the term mental health runs the gamut from the negative stress of recovering from injury, disordered eating and sleeping to the unbridled joy and exhilaration of scoring a goal or winning a World Cup.

Sadly, considering the ups and downs of professional sport, most footballers will experience mental health concerns in some shape or form. For instance, I have experienced obsessive over training and performance anxiety. As well as dealing with mistakes, long term injuries and the low mood that accompanied them. Fortunately, its not all doom and gloom though. 

Bardlsey with fellow Lioness Alex Greenwood during the 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup

There has no doubt been some lows over my career. But thankfully, I met some very kind, caring people that guided me through the tough times. In fact, they armed me with numerous tools and methods to bolster my resilience and enjoyment. The following is a list of my must haves:

  • Reflection! Through conversation and or journaling. These chats or notes (when I can’t have a chat) help me find perspective and become aware of unhelpful feelings and behaviours. In turn, they become management mechanisms and ultimately, action plans. 
  • Sleep! It has taken me a long time to admit that my sleep routine was terrible. But ever since I developed a sleep routine and prioritised at least 8 hours of sleep a night, I’ve noticed higher energy levels, patience and generally more positive.
  • Mindfulness! I enjoy the occasional mediation or headspace moment where I can. It allows me to just enjoy the present moment. 
  • Friends! Just a goofy, non-sensical conversation with my best friends always leaves me feeling energised!

To be clear, the points above enable me to cultivate a more positive approach to my mental health and well-being at home or away. Undeniably, mental health practices look different to everyone. But if you suspect someone is struggling, just ask if they want to talk about it. If the answer is yes, without judgement,  just listen.

By Karen Bardsley England Women's goalkeeper