To mark Mental Health Awareness Week, the EFL and its official charity partner, Mind, have teamed up to speak to each of their 10 'On Your Side Champions' about their experiences of mental health.
In a fascinating interview, Plymouth Argyle boss Ryan Lowe joined Sky Sports broadcaster and former player Scott Minto for a special video call, detailing the highs and lows of management, the importance of speaking out and more...
How have you been keeping in touch with your players during lockdown?
The players have been brilliant, and I’m due to speak to them over the weekend. We’ll have a bit of banter on the group chat; they want to see my hair, they want to see my beard, it’s brilliant. We’ve got a good group and I speak to them individually, we’re in regular dialogue with them and the banter is still flying on the group chat which is always nice. I’ve got something planned with them to keep their minds occupied and focused, but they’ve been great. I’m lucky to have a good set of lads and coaching staff – we’re all helping each other as much as we can.
How have you got yourself through this period, personally?
During first few weeks, my wife said to me ‘you’re awfully quiet’. My day-to-day schedule, my work calls, my planning sessions, looking at players and opposition, it had all gone. It all unfolded very quickly. I found it tough, not knowing what to do. Obviously, you could only have a bit of exercise, you couldn’t go out driving, and there’s only so much you can do in the garden, so it was a bit hard. I decided I needed a bit of a routine, so I got up, had a shower, had breakfast, watched The Football Show on Sky Sports, and looked at the bigger picture. You look at the people who have lost their lives to the virus and think about your family time. I thought about how lucky I was to be at home with my family, and said to myself ‘what are you worrying for?’ What will be, will be. Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been fine, I’ve been right as rain. I just want to see that death toll come right down, and I’ll be a happy man. We’re in a big situation, one I hope we don’t have to see again.
What are you personal experiences of mental health as a manager?
When we lose, I like to sleep it off. When we win, I’m on the crest of a wave. But I know I need to stay grounded and so I think it’s the people that I have around me [that help me]. I think where I got it from was coming up from grassroots football to being a professional for 20 years; I was brought up on a council estate in Liverpool and there were loads of instances where I had to be resilient. I think that stood me in good stead, but I’ll always remember someone saying to me ‘do it your way, not someone else’s way’. As a player, I always wanted honesty. I remember knocking on Gary Megson’s door and asking for a word, because I wanted to know when I was going to play. He said ‘not this week, but next week, because you’ll get around their centre-halves’ and so on. He was true to his word, I played, we won, and I thought ‘fair play for telling me’. It made me want to be like that as a manager.
How does it feel to be an ambassador for Mind in their partnership with the EFL?
I feel privileged. When I received the phone call, I said hopefully I can help people. I think I’m quite a confident lad who can speak to people, someone to lean on. I get emotional too; I gave young lads their pro contracts over Zoom recently and got emotional because the parents were there. I want to be there to help; I want people to be able to speak to me for advice. To be an ambassador for Mind is something I really wanted to do, and it was a privilege to be asked. I’m really pleased to be doing this.
As an On Your Side Champion, what advice would you give to people who are struggling?
I think the campaign says it all – have your mate’s back. When I’m on the phone to someone I haven’t spoken to in a while and we’re talking about memories and the future, it gives you a little bit of a boost. You go and tell your wife ‘you’ll never guess what they’ve been up to’. What I’d advise is never to be mute about anything, always pick up the phone. I’ve had to do it a lot with my staff just in the last few weeks; I had a call from one of my staff who was feeling a bit flat and I asked him why. His missus looks after one of the local care homes, so I said to him ‘okay, well what are her objectives? It’s to make sure people are looked after and that the care home is alright’. I told him not to worry about his job because he was with me, and he went from low to high – so I think sometimes simple things like that can help. I ring around my staff all the time, we have a Zoom call every Wednesday and we have a laugh and a joke. I’m not going to lie, I’ve had some down days, but what I’d say is always pick up the phone and speak to someone, whether it’s a mate from five years ago or 10 years ago. You’ll find a funny story out of it, they’ll tell you something new, and it brightens you up. It’s okay to not be okay, and there are plenty of people out there to listen to you.
There’s still perhaps a reluctance to speak up if you’re struggling, isn’t there…
I think that depends on where you come from; it depends on your background. If you’re quite quiet, you might not want to talk. I think we’ve got to be there for those people. We have sports psychologists and that’s a bit different; I saw one when I was at Chester and MK Dons and that was all about my form. I think mental health support is certainly there now. Someone always has an issue to deal with; I used to be away from my family for long periods and would always do something every week to clear my mind. I think it’s important that players respect that support and use it too, because speaking to people can change your perspective. I think it’s vitally important. Mind are there to help, and the partnership is getting bigger and stronger. We see the logo on the back of the shirts across the EFL and I think it’s very important. The longer we can stick at it, the better it will be for everyone involved.
Finally, just sum up your thoughts and advice for us…
It’s a tough time; we’re all in lockdown to an extent, but we’re here for a reason. We’re all here to help, somewhere along the line. Positivity is key – I like to listen to music, go for walks and try to reminisce. Music is a good one for me; I like to sing, even though I’m rubbish at it! As I said, make sure you pick up the phone and speak out if you’re struggling.