Football, Volunteers, Friends

by Libby Comyn

Just one of the many things that sets AFC Unity apart from other clubs, female and male, is the involvement and dedication from its volunteers.

The amount of people from all ages, experiences and backgrounds that have come together to help and be a part of this club is incredible and I feel really shows the essence of what this club is all about: UNITY.

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Just one of these many volunteers is Anna Pickering, a 19 year-old student who is Unity’s sports psychologist volunteer.

Sports psychology is a relatively new but growing specialism. It concentrates on how both psychological factors affect performance and how participation in sports affects psychological development, health and wellbeing.

It’s a new but extremely beneficial asset for any team to have and has a really positive personal impact for individual players and for a team as a whole. For AFC Unity to be able to have access to a sports psychologist goes to show their growth and commitment to creating a talented, supportive and well-rounded club.

I got the chance to interview Anna at a recent Unity game, which she attends weekly to give her support. Anna is a born-and-bred Sheffield’er, bubbly and approachable, and was one of the first people I really got to know at Unity – and she really put me at ease and helped get me involved. She has always been interested in football, supporting Sheffield Wednesday since she was little and herself playing for a short while, so when the chance to gain experience in not only a psychology role but also in a football-related environment came about, she jumped at it. Anna is currently in her last year at AFC Unity’s home of Hillsborough College, where she is studying Level 3 health and social care, and has recently accepted an offer from The University of Sheffield to further her studies in Psychology this coming academic year.

As for a future career, Anna is still undecided, but boasts three incredible placements: volunteering for local eating disorder charity SYEDA, on the psychology ward at Sheffield’s Children’s Hospital, and as Unity’s very own sports psychologist. This just goes to show her commitment and expanding experience in the field.

More specifically, her involvement with Unity is primarily to provide professional support for players – before, during, and after matches. Anna has also teamed up with Unity’s second sports psychologist, Francesca Wilkinson, who attends the training sessions. Here they communicate and work together to match each other’s training plans and sessions so the players receive tailored and structured support during difficult or frustrating moments during the match.

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Anna also spoke about being a support for players coming back after injury, addressing their anxieties and building their confidence so they feel both physically and mentally ready to get back on the pitch. She said because strong friendships have been built over her time at Unity, she can start to see the benefits of her work and receives more positive responses from players who now feel comfortable to raise their worries, frustrations and happiness with her – something I witnessed a lot of during and after the match we attended.

Anna’s enthusiasm was evident throughout our interview and it was great to see the passion and enjoyment she got out of her volunteering; her thoughts on the club and her experience truly show what a great team it is to be a part of, both on and off the pitch.

‘I love the belief and positivity of the club, which brings together so many different people, from all ages and backgrounds,’ said Anna. ‘The club is fair on everyone and I really believe in the ethos it stands for. The volunteer programme is amazing and it not only provides the club and players with these extra support and resources, but it also allows for people like myself to gain these incredible opportunities and experiences – whilst making some great friends in the process. I’m very proud to be a part of it.’

Photographs by Yin-Hsuan Liang

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