Gunners For Change is an Arsenal in the Community initiative launched in 2023 that will help and inspire Arsenal Academy players to become more involved in the club’s community projects.
As a former Arsenal player and ambassador for Arsenal in the Community, Under-18s head coach Jack Wilshere understands the importance of our work better than most. To mark Mental Health Awareness Week, he talks about being resilient as a player and in day-to-day life, as well as the importance of his players remaining connected and involved with the local community.
What does resilience mean to you and why is it important?
“Everyone needs resilience. Whatever job you do, you need to be able to manage disappointment in some capacity. When I was a footballer there were multiple occasions where I went through disappointment and I had to be resilient, whether that was from losing games, getting injured or even things in my personal life. Being resilient is so important in football but also in day-to-day life.
“I loved being a footballer – it’s a great profession – but there are so many challenges you have to go through if you want to make it at the top level. During my career I had to be resilient to overcome injury setbacks on multiple occasions. It’s hard to build resilience without going through difficult times and overcoming tough moments will only make you stronger.
“What helped me build my resilience as a player was the coaches I had. They reinforced that you’re playing for The Arsenal, one of the biggest clubs in the world. The demands are high, the expectations are high and these players are going to have to be resilient to deal with it if they want to have a prolonged career here. Football is a short career and you need to make every day count. This takes resilience too.
“There’s so much competition for starting places and football is so fast-paced that an injury or suspension could mean you are not in the team for some time. If the team is doing extremely well without you, it will be difficult to get back in the team. However, you need to turn that disappointment into resilience and conduct yourself as a professional. It’s having the mentality that if you continue to work hard then your opportunity will come and when it does, you need to be ready to take it.
“How I explain my resilience to my players is that you need to accept that there will be moments where you make errors but it’s about how you recover and react to a mistake you make. The difficulty is that the social media age has changed football to the extent that every little mistake you make is put into a compilation and you’ll be made fun of online, which is very difficult to handle.
“There are two sides to social media because if you’re scoring goals and playing well it’s the best thing ever. But if you’re playing poorly or you make a mistake it can be a very dangerous place and we’ve seen people in the past shutting down their accounts because of the abuse they receive.”
How important is resilience on a day-to-day level?
“I believe we don’t talk about resilience enough when it relates to day-to-day life. For example it takes resilience to wake up to go to work, to provide for your family and make the sacrifices that millions of people do every single day.
“Some of the stories I’ve heard people go through within Arsenal in the Community are eye-opening and inspiring. The challenges many of our participants have had to overcome require a strong level of resilience and it puts your own life into perspective. I always let my players know that when you get to the first team, the supporters who come to watch will have had to be resilient the whole week to afford a ticket to come and support you. Therefore we should always put maximum effort for them because the supporters are the soul and heart of any football club.
“As much as I love my job as head coach of the Arsenal Under-18s, some days it can be a struggle, but I say this to everyone that it’s important to learn from the challenges life brings you. When things don’t go the way they’re meant to, it’s about how you react.
“In football terms, you could lose an important game but you have to move on and focus on how we can put it right in the next game, and this is the mindset we should take into our day-to-day lives.”
Given the work of our Gunners For Change programme, why do you think it’s important that players engage with the local community?
“It’s so important for Arsenal players to get involved with the local community because they set the foundations for the club and I’ve personally seen the impact that players can have on people.
“For example, Aaron Ramsdale has sent encouraging video messages to my son, and it really uplifts him and gives him so much confidence. I can only imagine the joy it brings to other children when players take time out of their day to visit hospitals, attend sessions and meet members of the community.
“The players we’ve got throughout the club are ones who care deeply about their community and they represent the Strong Young Gunners motto that underpins the morals of the Academy: to be a lifelong learner, to have a champion mentality, to be the most efficient mover and to be a team player.
“To me being a Strong Young Gunner also means to be disciplined, resilient, respectful and humble. Humility is a big one for me because it’s so easy to fall into the trap that because you’re at Arsenal you’re better than everyone else.
“It’s also about implementing your own values too. We want Strong Young Gunners who are self-motivated and hungry to succeed not only on the pitch but off the pitch.”
For more on Gunners For Change click here
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