In the high-stakes world of youth football, where the relentless pursuit of excellence often overshadows all else, the mental well-being of young athletes often takes a backseat. However, within the corridors of BBFS Residential Academy, a different ethos prevails—one that places the emotional and psychological health of its players at the forefront.

In a thought-provoking dialogue between Kishore Taid, Co-Founder of Enjogo & Bhaichung Bhutia Football Schools (BBFS), and Ishan Bikram, Sports Scientist at the organization, valuable perspectives on the stressors and solutions for young footballers come to light.

Unravelling the Pressures

As the discussion unfolded, it became abundantly clear that the challenges young footballers confront stretch far beyond the confines of the field. From the weight of parental and coaching expectations to the internal battles of self-doubt and comparison, Ishan poignantly explained the multifaceted stressors these players encounter. In a world where every kick is scrutinized, navigating these pressures can feel like traversing a minefield.

Balancing Expectations and Joy

What resonated throughout the conversation was the necessity to preserve the fun element in the sport. “Those who play for the sheer love of the game mostly do better than those stressed to perform well”, Ishan aptly points out. To this, Kishore passionately championed the essence of football: fun. He emphasised the academy’s unwavering commitment to infusing every training session and match with a sense of playfulness and spontaneity. “It’s important that the kids start playing for fun. Without it, the objective of the game is lost” Kishore insisted.

Ishan shared a similar sentiment, reflecting on the nature of play. “Play is so primary, so primal, embedded in us—without it, we’re stressed. We need that,” he noted. He added, “Sometimes, I’ve seen coaches outside with kids, asking the kids, ‘Why are you smiling on the field? Play seriously!’—I mean, playing isn’t serious. The best of the best never just played to win; they have fun with the game. They play freely, that’s how they started.”

Understanding On-Field Stress Factors

Young footballers often face immense pressure from their own perceptions and expectations. They frequently compare themselves to their peers, which can lead to feelings of insecurity, fear, and doubt. This internal stress is compounded by the urgent need to find quick fixes for their perceived shortcomings. As Ishan Bikram, Sports Scientist at BBFS, observed, “I have kids coming up to me to help them with speed training or building strength… it’s difficult for them to understand because we haven’t been able to explain to them that they’re at a particular stage, it’s a process.”

Realistic Self-Assessment and Goal Setting

Ishan emphasized the importance of realistic self-assessment and understanding one’s own stage in the developmental process. He stated, “It’s important they assess themselves realistically, and what they’d have to do to get to where they wanna get to. It’s important that these kids revisit their goals, because goals can change.” Aligning their training with their true interests and goals is crucial. If a player is training for football but doesn’t have a genuine desire to pursue it, it will inevitably lead to stress and lack of enjoyment.

The Impact of Societal Expectations

Societal expectations add another layer of pressure for young footballers. Entering an academy comes with the burden of proving themselves, and realizing that football might not be their true calling can be daunting. The fear of societal judgement if they opt out only adds to their stress. Additionally, the influx of misleading tips and hacks from social media “gurus” offers empty solutions that don’t take into account the unique context of each player.

Honest Feedback: A Cornerstone of Support

When asked how BBFS helps players manage their doubts and mental stress, Ishan highlighted the importance of honest feedback. “What you can do for anyone is give them very honest feedback,” he said. This feedback must be tailored to each player’s skill level. For beginners, it’s crucial to set realistic next steps and manage expectations. For exceptional players, the focus should be on harnessing their abilities and pushing them to their potential.

Fostering Open Communication

BBFS places a strong emphasis on open communication with both players and their parents. Ishan explained, “For this, we try and have regular conversations with these parents, we also do one-on-ones with the kids and understand the kid. I think it’s our responsibility to take out the time to make these conversations happen.” This approach maximises the outcomes for the kids and brings them one step closer to their dreams, ensuring they feel supported in both their athletic and personal growth journeys.

Cultivating Champions

BBFS is diligently working towards exemplifying a progressive approach in the competitive world of youth football. By prioritizing mental wellness, fostering a culture of joy and honesty, and maintaining open communication. The team isn’t just nurturing future football stars but also shaping resilient individuals ready to tackle life’s challenges— both on and off the field.

Want to watch the video? Click here!

Read more about BBFS Residential Academy

Take a look at our last few additions:

#93: Carlos Pao’s Journey to The Big Leagues

#92: Dressed For Success: Decoding the Influence of Colours in Sports

#91: Unlocking Potential: The BBFS Residential Experience

#90: All The Way Up: The Story of Kishan Rajpurohit