Trevor Steven: Scrutiny on modern players makes focus on mental health vital

Carl Markham, PA
·4-min read

Former England and Everton midfielder Trevor Steven does not envy the scrutiny modern-day players are put under but is believes their mental health is better catered for than in his playing days.

The 57-year-old thought the careers of many up-and-coming stars of his generation probably never got off the ground due to issues which never came to light as a result of the culture which did not encourage talking about problems.

Mental health is an issue which is now regularly talked about openly in elite sport, a stark contrast to the 1980s and 1990s when players were expected to be the strong and silent types.

“When I look back there were daily challenges as to how you kept your focus and self-confidence,” Steven, a mental health ambassador for a construction-specific software business Causeway Technologies, told the PA news agency.

Trevor Steven believes some players' careers never progressed due to mental health concerns
Trevor Steven believes some players’ careers never progressed due to mental health concerns (PA Archive)

“Confidence is huge. In any job, you need that self-confidence and that was always the battle for professional sports people and footballers do get highs and lows and it can happen very quickly.

“When you are riding a wave of confidence you want to keep it going, you don’t know why it’s there but it’s there because you are playing well.

“You have a couple of bad games and all of a sudden it is a slightly different picture and you become more self-aware, possibly even try too hard and it can be a downward spiral.

“It was there (when I was a player) but it was something you dealt with personally. Possibly a lot of careers didn’t survive those pressures.

“When you look at a lot of good players I played with in the past who maybe didn’t get through to the first team and you wondered why, with all the talent they had, they weren’t able to turn that into a successful professional career it could very well have been there were underlying issues in their mental health well-being.

“But at least now we are getting to give individuals the chance to be able to speak to someone.”

Steven is helping to support that conversation among the wider public in his ambassadorial role for the company, which has donated £200,000 to the build and development of The People’s Place – Everton in the Community’s proposed purpose-built mental health building in the shadow of Goodison Park.

Everton winger Bernard spoke out this summer about the therapy he was receiving after suffering anxiety a year after joining the club.

Steven believes more players speaking about their struggles can only help relieve some of the pressure of being in the spotlight.

“It is really a different environment because when you play in the Premier League it goes globally – it didn’t even go nationally when we played in the first division, you’d get on the Match of the Day highlights if you were lucky,” the ex-Rangers player added.

“I don’t envy that focus on the private lives and the analysis these players go under is phenomenal, but that is what they have become used to.

“Most clubs have started to take psychology much more serious: there are two sides, sports performance psychology and mental health well-being outside of the sport.

“It is a difficult one for anyone to understand what these players are going through.

“One of the difficulties they have now in the social media world is everyone shows their best life on Instagram and various platforms.

“When you are not having as good a life as you feel they are doing you lose confidence in yourself, you can lose direction and feel you are not worth anything and bizarrely that can happen in this world very quickly to young footballers.

“There are so many things to address in mental health and the more it is out there the more it can be addressed.”