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Former Newport County player Fraser Franks discusses the importance of mental health in elite sport

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Despite playing only 34 games for the League Two side, Fraser Franks was well on his way to becoming a Newport County legend before the discovery of a heart defect cruelly curtailed his playing career last year at the age of just 28. 

But that was just the start of the story.

Mental health issues have, thankfully, become part of sport’s bigger conversation in recent times, but Franks wants to widen the dialogue still further.

Since retiring, he has reflected on the pressure to conform to stereotypes he feels all young players are under and here - in his own words – he offers some timely advice in an uncertain economic world for all professional sports people.

 

“Being told I couldn’t do my job anymore, especially at such a young age, was obviously a massive turning point.

“It came out of the blue, and I was forced to re-evaluate everything.

“Things had been going so well with Newport. I’d settled in the area, and the club were doing well. 

“We’d just knocked Leicester City out of the FA Cup in the third round, which is probably one of my greatest days as a footballer.

“I didn’t get the opportunity to play against many Premier League teams, let alone beat them.

“I was captain for the day, my family were there, there was a huge TV audience on the BBC, and the whole city was rocking.

“When I signed I was warned about making sure I lived in the right part of town, but I absolutely loved living in Newport.

“I always tried to immerse myself in the city and the culture wherever I played. My daughter was born in the Royal Gwent hospital so she’s technically Welsh!

“After I stopped playing, it wasn’t easy to stay positive, but life goes on. I found keeping a routine and maintaining a positive mental outlook helped enormously.

“You have to find new ways to challenge yourself. I decided to start keeping a blog and writing about my experiences.

“I discovered a passion for writing, and wanted to use my platform. I keep it accessible, and don’t use any fancy words or complicated theories.

“I just share my knowledge and experiences. I’ve been through a lot! It’s mostly about football, because that’s my world.

“It’s what I know, and I keep seeing players making the same mistakes time and time again. I wanted to address some of those issues.

“Not just the things people do, but the root cause of why they do them. That said, what I talk about can be applied to any job, and any walk of life.

“We all face basically the same hurdles. I’ve been getting lots of great feedback on my blog from across the board. It’s good to know people are finding it useful. 

“The first blog I did was about retirement. This is something everyone has to go through at some point, but with footballers it tends to come around a lot quicker.

“Usually, before you’ve had a chance to properly get your head around it, let alone emotionally and financially prepare for it.

“You have a routine, a life that evolves around training and playing, and then suddenly you don’t.

“It feels like all the sign posts and guidelines you lived your professional life by have been ripped up and thrown in the skip.

“During lockdown, a lot of clubs have reached out and asked me to talk to their players and staff about various coping strategies.

“The lockdown has affected people in many different ways, it obviously hasn’t been easy for anyone.

“Footballers have had their routines taken away, and it’s difficult for them to stay upbeat and in a good place, both physically and mentally. With social distancing in place, we do the talks via Zoom. 

“Another thing I talked about in my blog recently is the way footballers feel the need to parade around in flash cars and clothes when most of the time, they can’t really afford it.

“They just want to project that image of success. A lot of people outside the sport automatically assume that all professional footballers are filthy rich, which isn’t really the case unless you’re at a big club.

“A lot of them spiral into debt. And then there are the players who are at big clubs, getting given huge contracts at an early age, and not really being given any advice or education about how to deal with it. 

“Mental health plays a huge role in the life of a footballer. The general public seem to see them as more like comic book characters than real people.

“After I finished playing, I did my coaching badges but couldn’t really see myself in that conventional coaching role so I started a consultancy called B5.

“Number five was my old shirt number, and the ‘B’ comes from my business partner’s granddad who fought in the war. His tank was called Bramble Five.

“We aim to be the link between players and management. There are so many things players need help with; from managing their finances to things like relocating, mental health and bereavement.

“These things are often brushed to one side, or overlooked completely. If players can have some good solid advice on these matters when it’s required, then they can go out and perform better.

“Everybody wins. Not just on the pitch, but off it.”

Fraser’s blog:

https://fraserfranks.blogspot.com/

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