Doncaster winger Jon Taylor has warned of a generation of young players facing mental health issues due to the intense pressures they face to succeed in the professional ranks.
Taylor believes a combination of social media use and the coronavirus crisis has increased the urgency to encourage players to express their concerns rather than bottle them up through a “fear of failure”.
Taylor recalled the “dark times” he endured after being abruptly released by Wigan at the age of 16, and the crucial role of family and friends in helping him avoid serious mental health issues of his own to ultimately realise his ambitions.
The 28-year-old is backing a new ‘Team Talk’ campaign launched jointly by the EFL and the mental health charity MIND, aimed at encouraging men in particular to address any concerns they may be facing.
The campaign coincides with MIND’s 10-year report on mental health which reveals over 60% of adults and two-thirds of young people felt their mental health deteriorated during the coronavirus lockdown.
Taylor told the PA news agency: “I was at Wigan from the age of nine to 16 and I never thought I would be released.
“I thought I would definitely get a contract and never look back. That day I went into my meeting with no doubts at all, and I came out absolutely broken.
“I couldn’t go to school for a couple of days. I had other knock-backs at the time – I was tiny and skinny and club’s didn’t want to take a chance on me. But I just had to stay strong and keep believing.”
The EFL and its 72 Clubs have today launched ‘Team Talk’, in an effort to urge supporters to talk and stay connected throughout the Christmas and January period and keep the conversation around mental health going. #EFL | #TeamTalkhttps://t.co/SlYSx90Xnp
— EFL (@EFL) December 17, 2020
Taylor was handed a second chance by Shrewsbury, signing professional forms in 2010 and spending four years in Shropshire before moving on to Peterborough, Rotherham and his current club, Doncaster in 2019.
The tragic death in October of the former Manchester City academy player Jeremy Wisten served as a reminder to Taylor of his own fight, and the importance of increasing support to the current generation of young players.
“My family never put any pressure on me but there is a subconscious pressure not to let your family down,” added Taylor.
“If they don’t make it, they have to tell their parents and they have to tell their friends that they’re no longer becoming a professional footballer.
“Everyone believes they’re going to make it, and when that day comes, they don’t want to look like a failure, and it makes it hard for them to face the reality.”
The twin perils of social media and the coronavirus crisis, which has financial implications for the game at junior levels, has made the EFL and MIND campaign particularly pertinent.
Birmingham are the latest club to announce plans to restructure their academy system that recently brought through Jude Bellingham, citing the need to “increase productivity, opportunity and pathway.”
Taylor added: “There are going to be so many young players without a club next year, and it’s going to be a tough time for everyone.
“It’s even harder these days because you have people judging you every single day on social media, and suddenly one day you’re not the person everyone thought you were.
“It’s hard to cope in that situation, and a lot of players suffer in silence. But they will find that when they can talk to someone they will feel a lot better. It is about finding the right person and someone you can relate to.”
In common with other EFL clubs, Doncaster will be launching a series of virtual and potentially in-person sessions up to the end of January, designed to give supporters a space to meet and talk.