It's good to talk as Doncaster Rovers defender and ex-Newcastle United player Jamie Sterry reveals ongoing support from mind coach

ALONGSIDE games, the working week of a footballer revolves around tactical and technical work on the training ground, gym work, recovery sessions and debriefs with coaching staff.

For increasing numbers of players, including Doncaster Rovers defender Jamie Sterry, an added facet is every bit as important. Namely, sessions with a ‘mind’ coach.

Refreshingly, mental health is a subject which is no longer taboo in the game. Many footballers read literature on the subject and listen to podcasts.

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They are not immune from the work pressures that everyone faces in everyday life.

Doncaster Rovers' Jamie Sterry in action against Harrogate Town on the opening day of the season. Picture: Andrew Roe/AHPIX LTDDoncaster Rovers' Jamie Sterry in action against Harrogate Town on the opening day of the season. Picture: Andrew Roe/AHPIX LTD
Doncaster Rovers' Jamie Sterry in action against Harrogate Town on the opening day of the season. Picture: Andrew Roe/AHPIX LTD

The pressure to do well in a result-based industry is a constant one. Injury is also an occupational hazard which is never far away unless you are lucky.

Sterry has suffered in that regard during his career to date.

At the moment, he is in ‘a good place’ and playing his part in a remarkable end to the season at Rovers which could yet see them clinch a play-off place, when a relegation fight was in the offing in late January.

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The first half of 2023-24 was a challenge for Sterry, not for the first time in his career after being sidelined due to injury.

After making his debut on the opening day, he did not feature again at league level until December because of a serious toe problem.

It was a familiar tale for the north-easterner, previously afflicted by a number of injuries since his academy days at hometown club Newcastle United.

His time on Tyneside was bedevilled by issues - from groin and hernia problems to growth pains, a torn thigh muscle and a kidney infection.

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Matters came to a head during a difficult loan spell at Crewe in early 2019 when he returned to parent club Newcastle and sought help from a club doctor, who referred him to an NHS depression and anxiety service.

It was then that things changed for Sterry after finding the help he required and he hasn’t looked back.

Weekly Zoom calls with a mental skills expert from the Football Mindset support group are part of his working life, to not only help with his own health, but boost his psychological preparedness for games.

Sterry, 28, said: "I’ve worked with my (mind) coach for about four and a half years now. I have Zoom calls and speak to him regularly.

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"I’d say it’s a performance coach really and it puts (across) different aspects of what I look for and how I can improve in certain times.

"It’s training. I probably see a lot more players now work on it. It’s ‘how I can go into a game and pick up confidence from certain things?’

"Sometimes, you think a bit negative - everyone does in life - your brain is wired to be ‘negative’. The sessions make you think a bit differently and it does help and I would tell everybody to do it.

"I just want to be the best version of myself.

"Everyone thinks being a footballer is the best ever (thing), but it is hard sometimes, especially with injuries and the pressure you get put under and your own pressure. The pressure on yourself is probably the biggest thing really. But if you turn things into a positive, it does help.”

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The importance of mental health and well-being among footballers has been in focus at Rovers for the past couple of decades.

Back in 2004, the life of club legend, record appearance maker and current head of recruitment James Coppinger changed for the better after linking up with mentor and motivational speaker Terry Gormley, who worked with the club in the Dave Penney era.

Coppinger suffered with gambling and alcohol issues during his time as a young professional with Exeter before joining Rovers.

One of Sterry’s team-mates in Tom Anderson has also previously sought help, periodically last season and in 2021-22, after struggling to cope during two significant spells out of action.

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Sterry - part of a Rovers side on a scintillating run of eight successive wins which has become the talk of League Two - is currently fitness-free and involved in what could well be one of the comeback stories of the EFL season.

Both individually and collectively, the season is proving to be rewarding, albeit belatedly.

Sterry, who joined from Hartlepool last summer, added: "You want to settle in. It was very hard (being injured), to be honest.

"I couldn’t go to a few games because I had a heel-raiser boot on and I was stuck in the house for a while, which made it even harder. When I could, I went to the games. Sometimes that is hard, sitting there and watching.

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"I’d say I have settled in the last couple of months. My missus has come down and we have got a house down here and a little one. We really enjoy it here.

"I worked hard in the gym and on my mind and I’m in a good place.

“Finishing the season strongly is massive for us. We’ll keep pushing and see where it takes us.”