Kiera Walsh considered quitting football three years before winning Euro 2022 due to social media criticism
Speaking to managers and working with a sports psychologist has helped Walsh become one of the best players in the world
In 2022, Keira Walsh enjoyed a phenomenal year in which she won Euro 2022 with England, being named in the Team of the Tournament and winning the Player of the Match award in the final.
Oh, and she also became the most expensive women's footballer on the planet when she moved from Manchester City to Barcelona for a world-record £400,000 fee.
However, things could have turned out very differently for the 25-year-old. Speaking exclusively to FourFourTwo, Walsh explains that, in 2019, she considered quitting football due to the social media criticism she faced.
“I thought about not playing again,” she reveals to FFT. “I had conversations with my managers at the time, and if it wasn’t for [then-Manchester City boss] Nick Cushing, I think it would have been a lot more serious of a thought. He really understood me and got the best out of me.
“He said, ‘Let’s take it one training session at a time. There’s no pressure – I only want you to enjoy your football’. Just having that conversation helped. I came off social media – I still don’t read Twitter now – and spoke to a psychologist, which helped so much.
"If I hadn’t taken those steps, I’m not sure any of this would have happened. It might not be for everyone, but it worked for me; that’s the path I took and it’s had a positive effect.”
Fortunately, Walsh didn't quit football. Instead, she went onto become one of the best players in the world, though that didn't just happen overnight.
Working with sports psychologist Kate Green, Walsh began to understand how to get the perform at her best on a consistent basis, while also blocking out the anxiety around making mistakes.
“I spoke to my psychologist about how, especially at the World Cup in 2019, I was so afraid to make a mistake that I wasn’t the best version of myself and was holding back a bit," Walsh explains.
“Playing under Sarina massively helped, too, because she gives me the confidence to try things, which is what I need. My psychologist says I’m at my best when I’m on my front foot, trying different passes and threading balls through on the edge of the box to dictate the play. It’s about trying to find the best version of myself, in a zone where I’m almost not thinking and everything I do is very natural.
“That’s how I felt in the Euros final against Germany. I wasn’t really thinking too much about anything I was doing; I was almost playing on instinct. Speaking with her [Green] helped hugely, and I read books, listened to podcasts and did loads of preparation leading up to the final. It wasn’t a case of just turning up on the day and winning Player of the Match – plenty went into it beforehand, from fitness to psychology work. That’s what got me to a place where I was on the day.”
Being so open about mental health issues certainly isn't the norm, though, especially not within a football environment.
Walsh has now realised this isn't useful for anyone, and has started to talk to more people about her feelings and what she is doing to try and combat any negativity in her mind.
“There’s still a lot of stigma around it,” Walsh says. “I was the same when I was younger: I’d say, ‘Oh, I don’t need a psychologist – I’m confident, I’m fine, I’ll play and just do what I always do.’ It doesn’t always work like that.
“I’m open about it now, as I was in such a bad place in terms of how I was playing and how I felt that I wouldn’t want anyone else to go through that. It’s not something I’m ashamed of.
“I speak honestly to the girls about going to see a psychologist – what help I need and what works for me – but that might not be the same for some players. They might have different ways of switching off or building confidence. For me, it was a massive first step to even talk to a psychologist, and then to carry on meeting her.”
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Ryan is a staff writer for FourFourTwo, joining the team full-time in October 2022. He first joined Future in December 2020, working across FourFourTwo, Golf Monthly, Rugby World and Advnture's websites, before eventually earning himself a position with FourFourTwo permanently. After graduating from Cardiff University with a degree in Journalism and Communications, Ryan earned a NCTJ qualification to further develop as a writer while a Trainee News Writer at Future.