Our Journey with Type 1 and Football…

Another amazing story to share with the community brought to you by Karen Brown, the mother of Ellen, a young type 1 who’s having a fantastic time with her Football/Futsal at the moment. Ellen & Karen have been big advocates and supporters of our work at TDFC from the very early days so it’s brilliant to be able to share their story! No more words needed from us, over to you Karen…

“Our daughter Ellen was diagnosed at age 8 with type 1 diabetes. As you all know it hits like a bomb and the early days are hard. Somewhere amongst the haze of diagnosis we made a decision that when we got Ellen home we would stabilise her doing all of the sport she usually did. So the day after discharge we took her to school for a few hours and the following Monday she started back swimming. I sat on the edge of the pool chewing my nails hoping she would be fine. Strangely enough the year she was diagnosed is the only year she hasn’t played football (played 1 year of netball and hated it!). Ellen prefers to manage her diabetes with a pump (Medtronic) and we use CGM periodically.

Since then it has been buckets of football and within the last 4 years she has also played futsal in the off-season. It is amazing how different the two are to manage. Football often sends her low- particularly in the cold Canberra winters (we live in Australia) whereas futsal sends her high due to the adrenaline. As futsal isn’t as big in Canberra her futsal club (Boomerangs FS) travel to Sydney to play in a Sydney comp. So every Sydney game we travel between 2 ½ to 4 hours each way (depending on what side of Sydney the game is) to play. The weather in Canberra is quite dry whereas Sydney can be humid which can affect Ellen’s BGLs (sends her low) so at the half way stop en route to the game we reduce insulin if she has any carbs and put a reduced temp basal on. We find doing low carb on the morning prior to the Sydney trips much easier to manage. At least we are only fixing the humidity problem. Then during the games she heads high! Sydney games we nearly always use CGM to help keep an eye on things. If it’s a home game its breakfast as usual. After the game she eats what she wants.

Ellen Brown Picture 3

Whilst having diabetes can be tough when you are playing football and futsal, we run at it with the attitude that if we have a tough day diabetes wise we look at why and see if we can do something different. There are days when you just can’t explain why the numbers are what they are! All of her coaches and teams have been really supportive and the boys often try and guess her Blood Glucose Level – she plays in the Boys National Premier League. Ellen also chooses to celebrate her ‘diaversary’, so the team usually hangs out for the cupcakes she takes along to celebrate another year kicking the butt of diabetes.

Having diabetes hasn’t stopped Ellen from achieving in soccer and futsal. The last 12 months have been particularly rewarding!!! 12 months ago her girls futsal team won both the premiership and championship in the Sydney comp. For outdoor her BBFC U16’s team made the Grand Final and won in a penalty shootout. She then made the ACT team (regional team) to play futsal at Nationals in January – they were runners up in the Grand Final in a penalty shootout. And a couple of weeks ago at the presentation night for Boomerangs FS, Ellen was awarded female player of the year. We are pretty proud of her. Winning isn’t everything but it is great to get some wins and they have been a while coming!! Though I must say the victories are much sweeter after the effort you put in to get the diabetes right. (excuse the pun!)

Ellen Brown Picture 1

As much as it is a challenge, there have been lots of good things about having diabetes in our lives for the last 8 years. We have made a whole new bunch of friends we wouldn’t have otherwise met. Whilst it is so nice being able to converse with those who understand the challenges and learn new things from. Ellen has had the opportunity to speak at JDRF fundraisers and she was recently asked to take part in some research at ANU.

Being part of TDFC has been a huge help though. It was so nice to hear from others who play football and be able to read about their experiences. With Ellen being a girl it was so nice to read about Noel and what she has achieved. We got to meet Zac (UK DiaEuro Player) at one of Ellen’s games in Sydney and hope to see him again soon. Whilst it’s also great to see that Chris represented his country in Futsal, which gives Ellen so much hope she can achieve the same.

Ellen Brown Picture 4

To any young footballer out there, chase your dreams. Ellen’s favourite saying is “I don’t live with diabetes, diabetes lives with me”.”

 

A really great blog written by Karen Brown and a huge thank you from us for putting it together. If there’s anyone out there reading this who’d like to contribute in a similar way get in touch! We’re always on the look out for blogs and stories to share…

Our First Training Session (DiaEuro)… Making History

On April 22nd 2018 we began our journey to create the UK’s first all Diabetic Futsal team……

Where do I start… It’s hard to put it into words how proud I am to see this project get off the ground after the hard work and time given up by people behind the scenes at TDFC. I know I personally invested a huge amount of time negotiating, networking and reaching out to people to try and make this happen, and to finally see a group of Diabetic players come together to train, socialise and share experiences has got to be one of my proudest moments I’ve had since launching the community in February 2017.

So in this blog I’m going to try and give a bit of insight into what happened…

So we’d asked the players to arrive between 9:30 – 10 am to give them a few minutes to acclimatise to their surroundings and stretch their legs after a number of them had travelled upwards of 2 hours to get to the University of Worcester ( www.worc.ac.uk ). As the guys all started arriving it was great to see the passion for the project and the idea of playing futsal with a group of people they’d never met! One thing which I spotted as people sat down and got ready for the briefing, was the instant connection and bonding that the guys were doing from the off… Most of them had never really spoken to another type 1 Diabetic let alone a whole room of them all interested in the same sport they were into!!! I’ve seen this happen only on a couple of other occasions at Diabetes related conferences and events but when it’s something you’ve helped organise it’s pretty special to witness. 

Myself and Harley, who’d led the organisation of the day at the university, were keen to give the players a short briefing before they jumped straight into the session. We wanted to properly introduce the members of the TDFC team, give the guys an idea of the agenda and ensure they knew the health & safety procedure at the university. But after this “brief” briefing, it was all about the Futsal!!!

As the lads got kitted up and ready to go, I was running around trying to make sure the coaches were happy and had what they needed, whilst checking Elle and Harley hadn’t come across any hiccups! Luckily it was all good and as the lads entered the hall I was confident we were in a good spot! As Will Weaver and Paul McHugh (our coaches) introduced themselves and their esteemed background in Futsal, I was able to relax ever so slightly. As the session got underway I was able to chat with Jodie and Max who’d come down from the Worcestershire FA to support us and capture footage of the occasion (www.worcestershirefa.com), which was fantastic to see. It was also brilliant to see Sue and Lisa, from the local adult Diabetes specialist team, drop in to view a part of the session. I was extremely appreciative of the local support from our partners in the community on this historic day!   

As we got into the session itself, I spent most of the time observing and capturing images for TDFC social media. My job will be to manage and pick the team, as well as potentially playing, so it was important I got a good idea of the quality level of the players! With the experience of the guys varying from a former professional footballer to recreational Sunday league, the overall standard was really impressive for an introduction to Futsal and I’m really excited about how they continue to develop their passion for the team and the sport. Luckily, we filmed the whole session so I’ve got the help of video footage to review when picking the squad because I’m not sure it’s going to be an easy job based on the ability I saw!!

The session continued to progress very nicely from technical drills, into sessions closely linked to game play, to give the players an opportunity to try out the things they’d just learnt. I just tried to facilitate our coaches’ ability to deliver the session as well as the happiness of players and our band of TDFC volunteers. I maintained a safe distance from playing (due to a game I’d played the day before) and tried to just take it all in, with everyone seemingly enjoying themselves, I was just so pleased. The observing was the best part! Loved it!

To see the media take an interest in our “new” team was also really positive as it gives us the platform to gain support from sponsors, new players, coaches and the governing body of our sport to continue doing this exciting work.  BBC Hereford and Worcester arrived towards the end of the session to do a couple of interviews with myself and the players whilst recording some video footage to use for their social media channels. The below links are showcasing the coverage we received from the day:

Radio:

 https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p0638fgt#play ( 1 hour 37 minutes 36 seconds for the feature)

 Social Media:

https://instagram.com/p/Bh9AFV3hQLS/ 

https://www.facebook.com/bbcherefordandworcester/videos/2003662723039459/

A huge thank you to the BBC for all of the support and coverage you have given us!

 

As the boys finished up with training I witnessed a moment of absolute gold and something I felt summed up the day perfectly. Seeing a group of lads who’d never met before, high fiving, patting each other on the back and embracing at the end of the session like they’d known each other for years is something I’ll never forget. In reality, they’d known each other for 2 hours!!!  Sharing a medical condition with someone who enjoys the same sport as you drives an instant connection that most people can’t even replicate with their best friends!! Something just clicks….

This signifies the start of something special!

Post session we grabbed the players, coaches and any volunteers who wanted to stay afterwards (of which most did!) to sit and have lunch. The camaraderie and laughter the lads were having normally takes months of work to create, yet they had managed it in a couple of hours, as they exchanged stories of life with Diabetes and shared the obligatory banter over football. Injections and blood glucose monitoring devices were out on all of the tables and carb counting was the norm!

As we brought the day to close and I reflected on what we’d delivered, I was filled with immense pride. This day had been such a long time in the making and I was so pleased it lived up to the expectations we’d set ourselves.  We had some amazingly positive feedback and enthusiasm from the players involved and I think that TDFC did a great job during this first training session.

So it’s onto the next session… Sunday the 17th of June at the University of Worcester Sports Centre. We will be welcoming new and existing players to the session as we continue to work towards getting a team to www.diaeuro.org from the U.K and growing the team beyond this tournament.

Before signing off though, I have to say a huge thank you to Harley, Elle, my parents, Jon, Alex, Bryn, Will, Paul and all of the players for their support in putting on a hugely positive session. I’m sure the positivity surrounding the day will ensure this project goes from strength to strength and I’m super grateful for all of your involvement.

Until the next time,

Chris

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Psych Series: Just Relax (Chapter 2)

Considering Chris’ fabulous display in his futsal cup final recently, I’d like to write about playing football with the right amount of intensity. Nerves are a funny thing and if you let them control you it can be tough to get the best out of yourself on the pitch. Nerves get your body pumping and you can feel the adrenaline throughout your body. When you play an important game, nerves will be there, and this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. However, without practice your nerves can get the best of you. Nerves can have two effects on your performance, mentally they can distract you from your task and physically they can tighten your muscles, raise your heart rate and impact your blood glucose levels. So, being able to reduce the nerves that you feel before a game will have an impact on your ability to regulate your diabetes and let you play your best stuff!

Sport psychologist have suggested that anxiety is different to arousal. Put simply, anxiety is the negative perception of arousal. Arousal can be thought of as the body preparing itself for either fight or flight. So when your hands are shaking or you can feel your heart beating faster, this is the body preparing itself to perform. It does not necessarily mean you are nervous, you could be excited. What’s more is that sport performers often suggest that they need a little bit of nerves to play their best.

It is possible to have too much arousal which can lead poor performances. In a football match, if you are too psyched up, you might make reckless challenges or perhaps give the ball away because you try and get rid of the ball as soon as you receive it. Or even worse, your blood glucose levels may shoot up. Over arousal or playing with too much intensity can be a problem and can get in the way of playing your best football when you most desperately want to. For a moment, think of arousal on a scale of 1-10. If you are not up for the game at all, say a one or two you probably won’t play your best. On the flipside, if you’re a 9-10 you may run around like a headless chicken or play hot potato with the ball, or your levels may be to high. Not the best way to allow your talent to show, you need to relax.

Now, relaxing can be easier said than done and I don’t think that anyone ever calmed down when someone told them, just relax. However, there are somethings you can do to help bring your arousal down and give you a chance to play your best.

TIP ONE: BREATHE – It sounds simple I know. However, when we feel under pressure and stressed, our breaths become shorter and our bodies become tense. When this happens it’s harder to produce the free-flowing footwork that allows you to beat a defender. Or the co-ordination you need to control a pass from your teammates. Before you step on the pitch, take some deep breaths, concentrate on inhaling and filling your lungs with air. Then, when you exhale, try to feel the stress leave your body. Do this for 30 seconds and then return to your regular breathing.

TIP TWO: PROGRESSIVE MUSCULE RELAXTION – This technique requires a little more time and regular practice to master. However, if you practice it frequently, it can really help you relax and perform on the big days. Progressive muscular relaxation (PMR) is a series of tensing and relaxing your muscles. When you are under pressure, your muscles can tighten and one of the best ways to loosen them is actually to tighten them some more first. Just as an example, right now try tensing your fist for 10 seconds, then relax it. Notice how loose your hand feels and compare it to the difference you felt when your fist was clenched. PMR usually takes between 15 and 20 minutes to complete and can help calm yourself down when you feel nervous. Chris and I will also go over this on our podcast so stay tuned for that!

TIP THREE: SLOW DOWN – As I mentioned earlier pressure can cause us to speed up and rush. Sometimes we play as if we want to get it over as fast as possible. This can happen even when we have worked really hard to get ourselves to this point. Remember, nerves can be a sign that you care. So when you find yourself in a big game, try slowing down. Take a little longer on the ball, get your head up and have a look around for your teammates. You probably have more time than your realise. Even though you may feel like you’re in slow motion, you probably won’t be far from your normal playing speed.

TIP FOUR: FOCUS ON THE PROCESS – Thoughts about winning, losing or anything outside of the here and now is a distraction and can cause anxiety. This anxiety then takes you out of your normal game. You become focused on things that make you worry and not things that make you play well. So try and focus on the here and now. Take a moment to think about when you play your best stuff, what do you do? Do you get on the ball and find your teammates, run in behind the defenders, win tackles? Whatever you do on the days you play well is your game. Focus on playing your game, if you play your game well, you will give yourself the best chance of winning.

Right sorry for the long read, I’ve tried to make it as short as possible but sometimes that’s easier said than done. Until next time!

Have a great week,

Alex.

New Year, New Goals, Same Motivation?

At the start of every year I find myself reflecting on what’s happened over the previous 12 months and looking forward to what the next 12 bring my way. I don’t think I’m alone in the way that I do this with the hundreds of posts I see online, all referring to the end of one year and the beginning of the next. It’s a period of transition which in my eyes allows me to reset my thinking and the batteries. It gives me an excuse to think about the positive changes I can make to my life in the New Year and the impact I can have on the future, as I know I can’t affect what’s happened in the past.

However, the start of the New Year in the U.K is often grey, cold and somewhat uninspiring for those looking to get active for the first time, or who have had a break over the festive period. Combine that with a challenging period of over indulgence in Food and drink that tests the blood glucose levels of people with Diabetes, and you can see why it may be a struggle to get into a new regime during the New Year.

Diabetes is a condition which is renowned for testing even the most positive people in their approach to life, so it’s important to consider its pitfalls when finding your motivation to get active or play sport. How do you combat negativity around your condition which affects your mindset and approach to daily activities and exercise?

I don’t have a definitive answer… However myself and Alex will try to offer you some insight in how to approach the New Year, set new goals, how to find your motivation and most importantly, maintain it:

  • First of all, it’s about what motivates you to get active? Is it external praise? The sense of achievement from within yourself? Money? Fun and enjoyment? Becoming Healthier?  There’s a whole array of things which may drive you to make a change. In my life it’s about the sense of achievement I get from ticking off goals and the enjoyment I get from playing sport.  But for you, it’s important to understand what’s driving you to get active or stay active and use that to continually fuel your motivation.

  • Secondly, I never set Diabetes related goals… I’m not sure if that will shock people or not, but it’s how I work as an individual. I’ve always had the attitude that as long as I maintain acceptable control which allows me to perform to the best of my ability in my sport, and it doesn’t affect my every day activities, that’s good enough for me. If I give it too much focus in my life it will consume it, so I choose to position it on the backseat of my life and not the front seat.
  • I like to break my goals into categories… I tend to place any objectives or goals into sections which reflect the direction of my life. So for example in 2018 I’ve got goals for my Personal life, my sport and my career. It helps me organise myself and the direction I’m trying to head towards in all walks of my life.
  • I set 2 or 3 goals in each section which I believe are achievable within the timescale of 2018…It’s important you don’t try and change too much as you’re unlikely to be able to achieve too many goals, which may disappoint you in the long run. Be realistic in the expectations you set yourself.
  • The goals I set are the big things I want to achieve, but each week I’ll set myself much smaller ones which underpin the progress towards the bigger ones. For example it might be reducing my 5k running time, or lifting a heavier weight in the gym. Neither of which are part of my overall objectives but both will contribute to hopefully successfully achieving 2018’s goals. Those smaller goals can be so important when you’re having a tough week with the Diabetes in feeling that sense of achievement we need to keep us going. I think it it’s important in driving the continuation of exercise and keeping those good habits.

Of course my motivation and the tools I’ve used are transferable, but on the next section of this post I’m handing over to Alex who’s going to take a look at it from his perspective as he’s spent a considerable amount of time studying sports psychology.

 

“I want to talk to you guys about goals. Goals can help keep you motivated throughout the year, especially when the initial motivation that often comes with the New Year begins to fade. All goals are not created equal and the better goals you set the greater chance you have of continuing to make progress throughout the New Year. The rest of this post will give you some do’s and don’ts when setting some goals.

DO – Make sure the goals you set are in the form of actions and behaviours. If you want to increase the amount of exercise you do this year, how are you going to do that? Perhaps you want go to the gym more? How many times a week will you go? An example of a good goal in here would be, “I’ll go to the gym twice a week this year”. You could make this even better by deciding which days you will go to the gym. Once you’ve achieved this goal you may decide to add another night.

DON’T – Carrying on from the first suggestion, do not and I mean never ever, set vague goals. So if you find yourself saying something like, I’m going to take my football more seriously this year, refer back to the first do. If you have ever found yourself starting something for a few weeks and then slowly but surely reverting back to old habits, vague goals may well be the reason why. Vague goals can also be thought of as wishful thinking.

DON’T – A goal that can’t be measured is not a great goal to set. Setting a goal that you can measure allows you to check your progress as you set out to achieve your something and lets you know when you have been successful. If you want to improve your diabetes management this year, perhaps set a target for where you would like your HBA1C score to be for your next consultation. It’s really important to mention here, that goals concerning your HBA1C score should be set with gradual improvement in mind, not drastic changes.

DO – Set goals that are positive. This is a simple but powerful tip; it’s really important to focus on what we want to happen rather than what we’d like to avoid. When you’re setting goals, try and make them about increasing behaviours rather than decreasing behaviours. So if you have a goal regarding your nutrition, make your goal about starting to eat things that are going to help you lead a healthier life instead of stop eating foods that don’t help you lead the lifestyle you would like. Being positive in your goal setting will help you decide on the actions that will help you get there (remember the first do).

Since I have just suggested to make your goals positive, I am going to finish on a do rather than a don’t. My advice to you all, setting goals will increase the chance that any resolutions you’ve made will continue past January. Goal setting is key to long lasting motivation and it will also let you see how far you’ve come. Once you see yourself making progress I hope this will also increase your motivation to continue. Happy New Year folks!

Alex.

If anyone wants some more in-depth advice regarding setting goals for the New Year, don’t hesitate to get in contact with me via email.

alexrichards35@gmail.com”

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Type 1 Diabetes: A disability or not? How do you identify with it?

This is a question which I’ve struggled to answer for a long time. Is Diabetes a Disability in my eyes? As many will already know Type 1 Diabetes Mellitus is by law an “Unseen Disability” which has the ability to significantly impact the lives of the people that have it. It’s power to disrupt and harm the people that live with it, in my opinion, is underestimated by much of society. As much as I strongly believe that you’re able to overcome the condition to achieve great things, there will always be the lasting effects and scars of living with Diabetes which challenge normality. I find this a really testing subject and one which in my experience has divided views amongst the diabetic community.  

As always though, I don’t shy away from expressing my opinion on the difficult subjects. However I fear I might still be on the fence with this one.

When a law states that a condition falls into the parameters of Disability it’s hard to argue with the reasons behind that decision. When I consider my own life and its impact, there’s no doubt that despite getting used to the difficulties, the interruptions shouldn’t be overlooked.

Let’s consider some of those moments when I firmly believe this condition I live with makes it feel like a Disability.  What about when you’re woken up in the middle of the night, sweating, suffering a hypoglycaemia that causes a headache which lasts all day? Losing 2/3 hours sleep trying to correct your glucose levels in the middle of the night back into range? Or when I’m forced off the football pitch because my glucose levels are dangerously out of range? Or when it stops me from driving and holds me up for an hour and a half whilst I recover?  Or when my vision blurs and I lose some of my coordination?

Whilst these are just a few examples there’s no doubt that when any of these things occur, life can feel constrained, as Diabetes presents itself as a Disability.

I think it bores down to the potential the condition has to impact on someone’s life… Although I’ve done ok for myself in terms of my achievements, this condition has the potential to have a devastating impact on someone’s life, and in the most unfortunate circumstances it can be fatal. I think for those who are given the opportunity to maintain reasonable control of the condition it can feel like Diabetes doesn’t hold you back much, if at all, and doesn’t really reflect that “Disability” tag. However for those who may be unlucky and are unable to manage it, its unquestionable the debilitating effect it has.

If it didn’t impact on my life whatsoever I’m not sure I would’ve spent so much time hiding my Diabetes through the fear of judgement. I always wanted to merit my achievements on my ability and not my disability.  I always felt it was another hurdle to jump over, which would mean I would just need to work harder than everyone else to achieve my goals.

There’s no doubt whichever way I try to answer the question I find myself sat back on the fence on this one. It’s a condition which will never be the same for everyone and in turn will never have the same effects on someone’s life. I’ve been lucky enough to live a life where I’ve been able to keep it under control for the most part and not let it affect my outlook and approach. There are many others who aren’t as lucky as I am and I appreciate that….

If I pose myself the question again “is Diabetes a Disability to me?” I’m still not sure!!!

What do you think?

The Importance of your Support Network

Before beginning this blog post I want to dedicate it to my own support network. I’d like to give a special mention to my Mom, Dad & sister whom have had to live with Type 1 Diabetes almost as much as I have.

So I don’t think you can start talking about a support network, without saying “Thank you!”

Without the people who have been involved in managing my Diabetes with me there’s absolutely no doubt that I wouldn’t have been able to enjoy my life and my sport in the way I have.

These people are the unsung heroes of managing Diabetes. However for this blog post their impact will be celebrated!

So let’s start with probably the most pivotal people in any young Diabetic’s life, your Parents. Not only are they instrumental in understanding the condition and treatment, they will be the people who influence your mental approach to the condition, to tackle everyday life.  My Mom and Dad need to take every plaudit I write about them in this post, as without them, I really don’t think I’d have been able to put myself into the position to have ticked off the life goals I have alongside the Diabetes. They’re ordinary, down to earth people that are extraordinary to me.

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I’ll start by talking about the “normal” parenting required to support someone like me, crazy about my sport. I’m sure any parents reading this will know exactly what’s coming but it should never be overlooked. The trips to take me to football matches with my club, training sessions, school trips, round to friends to play football, buying my football boots & kit (ensuring you had the latest trend to!), paying to watch the team I supported and all of the moral support it requires to support children in sport. None of that is easy and that’s just the parenting around the sport!

But what about all the other things they didn’t expect to have to do with their child as a result of Diabetes? Those middle of the night hypo treatments, those regular prescription collections, giving me injections, checking my blood glucose levels, the continual worry of whether I would run into a hypo or hyper, the packing and preparation for any holidays or football matches, the hospital appointments, the diet and regime management, the list goes on… But despite all of that, they rarely let it impinge on my ability to do anything in life. In fact they probably made sure I tried things as much as possible to ensure I didn’t build up any fear towards the condition. They’re incredible people and what they’ve done for me over the years I won’t ever be able to adequately put into words, but thank you Mom and Dad for everything.

The physical support and attitude my parents forged in me, from their own approach to the condition is the single biggest contributing factor to anything I went and achieved as I moved from a teenager to becoming an adult. Having parents like mine, I believe, can really make the difference in the way a young diabetic approaches their condition and sport.

I also have a younger sister, who obviously didn’t help with the management of my condition or my attitude towards it but she helped in ways she probably doesn’t realise and maybe won’t, until she reads this! She’s an incredibly talented person, who I believe is naturally more intelligent than myself, which is good, because she pushed me to try harder in the things I was good at. Having that sibling rivalry in a household can be really healthy and can bring out the best in both children, who are fighting for the praise of their parents. Whilst I also have to thank her for putting up with Mom & Dad dragging her out in the cold as a child to come and watch me play. She didn’t ask for that life and she didn’t really enjoy it (it’s put her off football for life!), however by not kicking up a major fuss and allowing Mom & Dad to support me in the way they did, she has had a massive part to play in where I am now. Me and my sister have a pretty good relationship now as Adults, we talk all the time and we both support each other on our different paths in life. She lived around my Diabetes long enough to know when it’s going right or wrong instinctively and I think your siblings and parents will always be able to spot it. A huge thank you to my sister. Had she not been so understanding, I may not have had the opportunities to enhance my control with the support of my parents.

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But what about those who haven’t lived with Diabetes around them 24/7? The people that find themselves in your inner circle, but not quite as close as your family. I think your closest friends are the people that help you normalise Diabetes and often tackle those insecurities around testing, injecting and generally showing your condition to the world. I even had friends of mine who would pinch my leg so I could inject when I was much younger (in the days when you were told to pinch the injection site!), which definitely immersed them in Diabetes with me. They bring normality into my life which sometimes allows me to forget my Diabetes, even if it’s only for 5 minutes, but it’s so important to feel like you can get some rest bite from it. My friends go some way to understanding the condition, i.e knowing what to do when it goes wrong, but I’m quite glad they don’t know much more than that as their lack of understanding definitely helps me take a break from it when I’m in their company.  

As with anyone who’s ever played in a sports team, it’s important to have a coach who supports and understands you. This is even more important for a type 1 diabetic. My coach Nick was instrumental in those early years following diagnosis. Sure, he got as frustrated as I did when it let me down and affected my ability to play the game, but importantly, he understood that I wasn’t going to get it right 100% of the time but he continued to play me regardless of this fact. Yes, I’m sure it helped that I was a capable player who helped the team win trophies but my lack of consistency must’ve been difficult for any coach to watch… I can only thank him for his patience in those difficult early teenage years. I believe having a coach who can empathise in this way with your situation is so important as you learn and grow into yourself and the game throughout your adolescence. As an adult I’ve not required that level of support, but being up front with my coaches about what the condition is capable of doing to my performance is something I’ve only really talked about recently. Until this point, I concealed the true effect of Diabetes as I wanted people to judge me on my ability and not my condition. I’m sure I won’t be the only one who’s taken this approach but having a supportive coach will definitely alleviate some of this worry.

I can’t undersell the importance of a passionate healthcare professional, who just knows the right words to use when Diabetes is far from your friend. Fortunately for me the nurse that looked after me upon diagnosis and throughout my life in paediatrics was Diane Cluley. Her positive outlook for me and my life with the condition was imperative in those early years whilst adjusting to this new world. Her knowledge and empathy towards my lifestyle, condition and mindset is without doubt the biggest impact anyone from the NHS has had on me.  People within the healthcare profession can really make or break lives with their attitude towards the people they care for. Had I been supported by a nurse with a strict “textbook” attitude to Diabetes, I’m not sure where I would’ve ended up with my football.

I also wanted to mention the latest addition to my support network. The Diabetes online community (#DOC) has become a big part of my life in the last year and what a group of people they are. There’s an instantaneous connection that can’t be replicated easily with people who don’t have diabetes. The members of the #DOC understand your hardships, your middle of the night hypo concerns and the small battles you face on a daily basis. I’ve made some great friends already and with the level of support they offer I’m really not sure how I managed the condition without them! I’d advise any Diabetic to get involved in the community and speak to other peers about their Diabetes. I find sharing my experience and talking to others about theirs almost like therapy! I couldn’t recommend it highly enough!

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A diabetic’s support network can really be the difference between succeeding alongside the condition or finding it a tough existence. Luckily for me, I’ve had the most amazing parents, family and close friends who have never once made it “difficult” for me to manage it. Sure I’ve had people come and go in my life who haven’t helped or caused problems around the condition, but the “core” has always been there and without them I honestly think TDFC wouldn’t exist! Everyone needs support to grow and develop but those with Diabetes really do need it more than most to enable them to fulfil their potential in life and in sport.

The Psychology of a Diabetic Footballer

Having been involved in a number of conversations regarding the psychological support, and the need for more of it, I wanted to put my own spin on it around Football.

It’s never an easy conversation to have, within an extremely masculine setting of the changing room or a football club, but times have changed and the emphasis on mental health has never been more important.

Well where do you start with Diabetes?

I don’t think I’ll be able to cover or adequately portray the full effects of the condition on my mental well being and approach to my life and sport, but I’ll try and deliver a snapshot which I feel is most poignant to Football.

I wasn’t born with type 1 Diabetes.

You’re probably wondering why I’ve made that statement stand alone? The significance of it is because I remember life without having the condition. Until the age of 8 I wandered through life without a care in the world, blissfully unaware of what was to come. My only focus at that age was how quickly could I get home from school and get a football out!

Then in the September of 1999, I was catapulted into a world of worry and anxiety. That care free life that I lived prior to my diagnosis was a distant memory. Diabetes teaches you to worry very quickly. What if I forget my injection? What if my glucose levels go too low? What if they go too high? What happens if I play football? What happens if I eat this meal?

That extra worry is definitely a burden I’ve had to carry growing up.  I’m not sure you can properly shake it; you just learn to deal with it and adapt.

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 Just imagine what it’s like when you’ve “learnt” to worry more than usual and you’re greeted with a situation where you’re different to every other child in the changing room as you pull out your blood glucose monitor and insulin. When all you want to do as a child is “fit in”, this immediate difference can make it quite difficult. Most kids try to avoid situations like this where they feel alone or slightly outcast, but when you’re a diabetic in mainstream sport you have to just embrace it, otherwise you won’t do it. It takes guts.

Throw into that, those difficult teenage years and the “banter” of 16 boys at the age of 15 and you can only imagine how uncomfortable you can feel. Not to forget that if you’re trialling for a new team, or trying to make a step up or play for a representative side and you don’t know anyone in the dressing room. The levels of anxiety go through the roof! It’s an added stress trying to fit in, so hopefully with some of the work I’m doing with TDFC we can encourage diabetics to embrace their condition in this environment, and give those people who don’t have the condition some guidance on how to support children who may find this a barrier.

All of this worry and I haven’t even referred to trying to get glucose levels in range to be able to get out there and play.  Without them in a good place you immediately know you’re on the back foot. I don’t hide from the fact that during the warm up and team talk prior to a game I’m very rarely concerned with the tactics of the team (as I really should know them already!), as I concentrate all of my efforts on making sure the body is loose and the glucose levels are in a good place to play! Again it adds more pressure and anxiety to your preparation but when you’ve learnt to deal with that the playing part is a breeze!

This anxiety about getting levels right leads me very nicely into the frustration and anger it generates when it does go wrong.  I will not be the only one that has experienced their glucose levels going wrong in the moments when you need them to be stable the most.  I remember vividly my levels “playing up” when I had trials at pro clubs and in cup finals. Emotions always run high and invariably cause you a problem which no planning can foresee! However it doesn’t make it any easier to swallow when you’re out there struggling to perform when you know what you’re capable of. My parents and coach of my junior team felt this frustration for a long time, as they watched my ability succumb to the diabetes and it often left me infuriated.  Sometimes it’s out of your control and the best way to respond is to chalk it off and go again next week. You’ll learn from what happened and try and put it right next time. It never makes the anger and frustration easier to accept, it just means you don’t give up because of it.

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But what about the fear of Hypos? A topic often referred to when Diabetics refer to exercise. Anyone who’s experienced a mild Hypo (when you’ve been able to treat yourself) knows that it can be a pretty nasty feeling and pretty scary, but what about the people who have experienced one which they couldn’t treat themselves? The courage and bravery it can take to then put yourself in a situation with exercise, where they’re more likely to occur, is huge. I’ve only suffered one severe hypo like this in my lifetime and can only describe it as one of the most frightening things I’ve been put through. I think the fact I was only 13 at the time helped me respond to it. As a child you’re pretty fearless so I didn’t build up too much of a mental barrier to hypos despite experiencing that. Regardless of how I dealt with that I know situations where others have really struggled to come back from it and it can be a significant barrier I want TDFC to address. I want to ensure that no diabetic feels unable to participate in Football as a result of fearing hypos. The organisation will be campaigning hard to improve the support in Football for diabetic participants as well as the people who deliver the game that need greater awareness of the condition.

With all of the negatives it CAN have….. There is one really really big psychological benefit that I believe it’s given me. I carry Diabetes around as the “chip on my shoulder” and the one thing that makes me work harder, more determined and more passionate about defying the odds of living with a chronic medical condition. I’ve been let down by it from time to time but for the most part I honestly believe Diabetes helped me find my strength. I used it to power my motivation and to achieve my goals. It made me who I am as a person and my achievements can be attributed to the resilience it added to my character. I’ve never let it stop me and nor will I let it in the future.

I have a favourite quote which I often refer to which I think reflects the way I feel about its affect on me and my sport.

“The best view comes after the hardest climb”

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When you achieve the goals you’ve set yourself, knowing all of the difficulties and setbacks you’ve gone through to get there as a result of your Diabetes, the appreciation of that peak is that much greater.

As much as I believe Diabetes has had its negative impact on my psychological welfare, there’s no doubt I’ve used it positively to power my motivation and strength. Diabetes drives my determination to defy all of the physiological effects it can have, to compete and surpass my peers who don’t have the condition.

I firmly believe that “we cannot change the cards we’re dealt, just how we play the hand.” I’ve learnt to play mine the best way I can.