- Written by Luke Jennings
Allan McManus had a professional football career over a period of 20 years. Since retiring, Allan has had a career in the Police and is now Academy Director at St Mirren FC. He has conducted research into the mental health and wellbeing of coaches. This is an area of particular interest to Allan, who recognises that duty of care stretches beyond the sportspeople and applies to those working to support the players and athletes too.
Wellbeing is made up of our physical, emotional and mental health and all of the bits in between. On any given day, our wellbeing can be good, OK or poor and it is important that we maintain a good balance and look after ourselves and each other.
Allan McManus enjoyed a long football career, followed by a four-year stint in the Police Force which he talks fondly about. Allan’s experiences have ultimately led him to the position he is in now; Academy Director of St Mirren FC.
Allan’s experiences have enhanced his thirst to better understand mental health and wellbeing.
He recalls, “I lost my young brother 15 years ago. I remember the stigma of mental health and peoples’ wellbeing and there was no support back then. That had an impact on me as a person and as a professional footballer.”
Over a 20 year period, Allan experienced the highs and lows that football had to offer. Towards the end of his playing career he realised that there was limited mental health and wellbeing support in Scotland for players and coaches and he wanted to understand why this was as well as what other people felt needed to be done.
“I had my experiences, but I wanted to hear what everybody else's voice sounds like. So I thought, let's go and see if we can find out.”
Through a survey and then follow-up interviews Allan was on a mission to find out about four key metrics.
“We looked at the levels of wellbeing within Academy coaches in the professional game, we wanted to explore the factors that impact on how well they performed in their job and we wanted to see if that had an impact on the coach-athlete relationship. We also gave the participants an opportunity to tell us what they think they need to help support them with that saw.”
After the interviews had been conducted, Allan remembers, “The guys were saying to me, this is the best thing I've ever done. I feel as if I'm getting therapy through this, it was remarkable.”
The results were staggering. Following an initial survey, it was found that out of the 12 people interviewed, not one member of staff had high levels of wellbeing. There was only three that had above average wellbeing. Everybody else was average and below.
Following the interviews, Allan came up with key themes relating to coaches’ wellbeing. These were:
When discussing the impact of below average wellbeing for a coach, Allan explains the strain this can place on the coach-athlete relationship.
“It doesn’t particularly matter how much knowledge of the game you have got or how you impart that knowledge onto someone, if you don't have a relationship with them, then the player will already be slightly disengaged, so coach wellbeing has to have an impact on them [the athletes].”
But what shocked Allan the most was the perceived lack of support available for coaches.
“The guys felt that there was absolutely no specialist support to help them with some of the situations that would come up. I can relate to that when I think about dealing with parents, accusations that may be made against you etc.
“The main takeaway was that we need a stronger coaches and managers association in Scotland, we do not have anything like the LMA. We need more support within the clubs. Rather than having a player wellbeing officer there should be a club wellbeing officer that everybody can access, not just solely for the players.”
Allan has become more self-aware as a result of his research which has had a huge impact impacting on his coaching of and interactions with young footballers. This is a big step in the right direction but there is still work to be done.
“We now know that academy coaches are struggling with their wellbeing, they’re under a certain amount of pressure. But what’s it like at First Team level then? I know that Cardiff University and Fifa are doing a huge global research project, so it would be interesting to see the outcomes of that too”.
If you feel like you’re struggling, there are organisations that can help. Some useful links are:
Last updated June 2021.