Healthy Life, Healthy Mind: Tips from a Professional Footballer

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Max is a footballer based in Madrid and 2nd Year University
Student. Living so far away from home since 16, he’s had many struggles and
challenges but always goes back to basics when things aren’t going well.

– Max Ogawa

Like everyone, I find it hard to balance being a student with all the distractions of life.
But hardest of all is pursuing my dream of playing professional football while
being a full-time university student. This is based on my own personal
challenges and circumstances but is relevant to any student juggling study with
life. I think it reinforces that protecting your mental health is your number
one priority, no matter what your course of study or hobbies is. Everyone
faces stress while studying. My stress is constant, and my life is much like a
roller-coaster with very high “highs” and very low “lows”. So, here’s a list of
my absolute essentials for managing the hurly-burly.

Firstly, have
a healthy attitude to socializing. I’m putting this first on the list because a
recent event at our student residence has put this at the top of the agenda. If
you know me at all, you know that I don’t drink or do anything that would
compromise my health. But this is also true for anything that would jeopardize
my football career, placement at university or visa. The important things that
keep me in Spain. It is hard to say no but I’ve had a lot of practice now at
bringing a healthy attitude to alcohol, tobacco and other drugs. And no, not
everyone respects that choice. But frankly, that’s not my problem. Living a
healthy lifestyle is important, and not just for the obvious health benefits.
You don’t want to risk everything that you’ve worked hard for. You don’t want
to risk your future.

I mentioned
the event at the residence. Of course, there are some shenanigans when you
first move into university. But some people will take it too far. Don’t be that
person. A few just have to learn the hard way that the police will get involved
and the university will be notified. Here’s my tip: find like-minded people to
hang with. This is working for me and means I can still have friends and go out
socially without compromising my healthy lifestyle choices. And hey, no judgement
on the freshies at the Residence – they are fresh out of high school after all.

Create the
ideal sleeping environment again, this ranks very high on my healthy lifestyle
list. I cannot function as a student or a footballer without sleep. When I moved
to the new residence, I was uncomfortably shocked to discover that in the
middle of a scorching hot Madrid summer, there was no aircon! It took two
sleepless nights before I bit the bullet and went out to buy a floor fan. My
best purchase this year without any exaggeration. Whatever it is in your dorm
room or residence that is impacting the quality of your sleep: fix it now. I
cannot stress this enough. Understandably, this is harder if you are sharing
your room. I’m fortunate to have a private room, but I’ve frequently had to
share with up to five other students at different times in my life, so I know
what that is like.

Go on a
friend-finding mission You can’t spend all your time in your room. If you are
doing that it is a sign that you aren’t coping. Likewise, I can’t spend all my
time hanging out with the football team. With a new student residence, there’s a
whole batch of new people to get to know. Even though I am challenged by
being the only non-native Spanish speaker here, this is the best way for me to
push outside my comfort zone (and improve my Spanish in the process). Find a
group that will do the same for you.

Hardest one
of all: healthy eating while living on campus. If you live in a residence, then
you are at the mercy of the dining hall. I try to steer myself toward the
healthier choices. And, my training schedule is demanding. I finish at 10:30 pm
which means I never make it home for dinner and don’t eat until 11:00pm.
Thankfully, the dining staff will put my meals aside (it took some negotiation
as this didn’t come as standard). They made me agree that if they put a meal
aside, I would eat it. Sometimes the club puts on a BBQ or orders burgers,
or we go out after training, so those days are challenging in a different way!
I did say when I started this post that my daily essentials were basic. But it’s
these essentials: keeping to a healthy social life, sleeping well and eating
well that keep me going in the right direction day in and day out.

Whether you are looking for support for your own mental health or supporting a friend, help is available.

I’m sharing from a very personal place.  I’d love to hear how others manage their day-to-day stress. My challenges sometimes feel overwhelming, like when I spend a whole season sitting on the bench, or meeting getting a certain GPA to get into the course I’ve selected. I’ve found some basic coping strategies that I use that others might find surprising.

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