During lockdown, H+K’s Sports team have been arranging shared learning sessions with industry leaders, athletes and brands. Most recently, we caught up with former Premier League and Team GB footballer, Marvin Sordell, to learn about his experiences as a professional athlete. Marvin shared insight into the highs and lows of being a footballer and about how he has transitioned into new ventures since retiring in 2019. 

Here are the top five things we learned from Marvin:

Footballers are human; we should celebrate that.
Professional footballers face immense scrutiny in their day-to-day lives. Whether it’s in the media, on their social channels or in public, the pressure these athletes routinely deal with is huge. We, as sports marketers, need to respect that and support athletes through their careers by ensuring their comfort and wellbeing is paramount.

We’ve seen prominent voices in football speak out recently with the likes of Marvin, Marcus Rashford, Alex Scott, Hector Bellerin, Lucy Bronze and many more sharing their views on important cultural and societal issues. Our recent Made Of What Matters campaign with Raheem Sterling and Gillette is a good example of a player leading the conversation on important issues. We hope that, by creating a safe environment for athletes to express themselves in these ways, that we will continue to see the inspiring human side of professional footballers. 

More must be done to safeguard the mental health and wellbeing of young players.
A tiny percentage of young footballers make it through the academy ranks and into first teams. This is an area Marvin speaks about with experience; in 2018 he told the
Guardian he “found it difficult when I was younger because you can’t easily be yourself in football. We have no freedom of identity. I’ve always been Marvin Sordell, the footballer. Your whole life is contained and dictated by football. It’s not healthy.”

Education is crucial and initiatives such as The FA’s Heads Up campaign – which is rolling out a ‘Mentally Healthy Football’ programme with support from Marvin and stars including Steph Houghton and David Beckham – marks progress in this space. But the work has only just begun and sport on the whole needs to better support the mental health of young athletes.

We need to support athletes as they transition into retirement from professional sport.
When Marvin retired from professional football aged 28 he deemed the sport “a beautiful game with an ugly persona”. He, like many others, dedicated his life to football – it was a job, a livelihood, and an identity. 

In 2019 footballers sought support for mental health in record numbers, but what happens when a professional career ends? Are there effective processes in place to safeguard players’ wellbeing through and after retirement? That’s an area Marvin is taking into his own hands by launching Transition FC, an online platform that aims to give footballers the tools to build a bridge from playing to retirement.

Work with people you trust.
Marvin recently launched Oneighty, a production company that is working to tell stories of athletes and individuals through documentaries, music videos, scripted film and branded content. By embracing his experiences of professional football and the challenges that came with it, Marvin hopes to empower more athletes like him to share their stories. 

When we bring that notion back into the realm of sports media and marketing, it further emphasises the importance of fostering trust with athletes. It is only with this fundamental value at the core of any work that we will empower athletes to be expressive and connect with people in an authentic and meaningful way.

Celebrate your wins.
Marvin’s career has plenty of them; whether it’s playing in the Premier League, scoring on his debut for England Under 21’s, or representing Great Britain at the Olympics and playing alongside some of the best footballers in the world. 

It was fascinating to hear Marvin’s story which, at its core, is about the 6 year old lad from London who achieved his dreams and is now using that experience to help others. That’s something we can definitely celebrate.