Create the Space
A collective of leading players from across the world have come together to ensure that football – at all levels – is equipped with the knowledge, skills, and resources to understand, prevent, and deal with mental health issues.
Historically mental health in football has been taboo, rarely discussed openly. In recent years, we have witnessed a positive shift, with more individuals bravely speaking up and raising awareness about lived experience.
The sport itself has often been celebrated for its capacity to support and provide a space for self-expression.
At the grassroots and within communities, football has proven to be a space where vulnerable young people have found a place on the pitch and increasingly, a place in society, playing a crucial role in supporting their mental wellbeing.
What’s it all about?
Football is more than just a game; it’s the opportunity to express yourself and open up. But away from the pitch, it's not always as easy to be our true selves.
We know that, when we are not able to express ourselves, our mental health can take a hit.
Create the Space unites Athletes, community organisations, brands and other partners behind the vision of creating an environment within football where everyone is able to express themselves.
Ben Chilwell said: "I have had my own mental health journey and I felt unsure about where to turn to for support. It’s down to our generation to change this and ensure that throughout football, all the way from the elite level to young people in community organisations, we have each other’s backs and we’re equipped with the tools to help ourselves and those around us."
A Player-led initiative
In the UK Create the Space is being supported by Tottenham Hotspur acting-captain Molly Bartrip, Chelsea left-back Ben Chilwell, Arsenal’s Beth Mead and Vivianne Miedema, as well as former Watford and Bolton Wanderers forward Marvin Sordell.
Molly Bartrip said: “Some years ago I was in a position where I wanted to commit suicide. You feel like you’re a burden, but it’s the strongest thing to ask for help.
“Mental health shouldn’t be a forbidden subject, it should be as open as having an injury. I now consider my vulnerability as a strength.
“I want football to become a safe space and hope that from the top level down to grassroots that’s what we can achieve with Create the Space.”
Elsewhere in Europe Galatasaray midfielder Sergio Oliviera, who joined Common Goal on International Day for Mental Health, is also part of the coalition, as well as Real Sociedad’s Alex Remiro, who joined Common Goal in August 2023.
In the United States Naomi Girma – along with many of her USWNT teammates – are spearheading a change in culture and conversation around mental health. Earlier this year, FOX Sports released a series featuring Naomi Girma, Sophia Smith and Sofia Huerta to talk about the importance of prioritising mental wellbeing in football – starting with local organisations.
How it works
We know that creating psychological safe environments depends on embedding daily practices and habits. To become the norm, these principles must become woven into the ethos of clubs, organisations, and institutions. At their core, these practices should provide daily opportunity for the expression of care, gratitude, and fear.
We recognise that across the football ecosystem, everyone has the potential to become a mental health champion, with the ability to provide support to their peers in overcoming mental health challenges and play an active role in creating a supportive environment for everyone.
Create the Space is a movement to unite the football community in making football a psychological safe environment for everyone; enabling football to become a platform to improve mental health outside the game, while improving the culture and support within the game itself.
In collaboration with a coalition of partners from the entire football ecosystem, Common Goal will implement an action-based solution to equip football with the knowledge, skills, and resources to understand, prevent, and deal with mental health issues.
The programme provides a top-down and bottom-up approach to transform football by equipping players, coaches, and clubs with the ability to ensure that freedom of self-expression is championed on and off the pitch.
Beth Mead said: “I want to help create an environment in which it’s totally normal to address mental health. There’s not a perfect way of dealing with it, but if you feel you’re not alone it helps so much. We need to normalise mental health and in doing so that would go a long way.”
Where it starts
In the UK, Common Goal will team up with Football Beyond Borders to pilot an integrated and experiential programme to empower mental health champions – ensuring that individuals withing football are equipped to be supportive on and off the pitch.
The UK pilot will also be implemented in collaboration with community organisations such as Street League, Girls United and Bloomsbury Football.
“The role that football plays that is so crucial in the lives of our young people, it has the power to create positive relationships with their peers and excel in life,” said Football Beyond Borders.
In the USA Common Goal will work with expert partner E-Motion to launch a pilot in 2024 with a focus on involving youth coaches working in the most at-risk communities across the country. Common Goal is also engaging athletes to facilitate conversations around mental health with professional team. The pilot is supported by FOX Corporation, FOX Sports, and Women in Soccer.
The project was announced earlier this year during the FIFA Women’s World Cup in a campaign led by Naomi Girma involving the USWNT in sending a message “Vulnerability is a sign of strength, not weakness”.
“What I have learned through losing my best friend, is that everyone struggles in their own way, even when it doesn’t seem they are,” said Naomi Girma.
“Suffering doesn’t always look the way it’s portrayed in the movies. No matter if I am a professional athlete, a student or whatever, making sure that I’m checking in on others and checking in on myself is so important.
“Create the Space will help people be the best versions of themselves and may even save lives.”
With the ambition of equipping the football community with tools to foster psychological safe environments for everyone, Common Goal and its expert partners will develop open-source curricula to collect best practices in advancing mental health within and through the game.