Welcome to Moving the Goalposts, the Guardian’s new (and free) women’s football newsletter. Here’s an extract from this week’s edition. To receive the full version once a week, just pop your email in below:
Anyone who has struggled with mental health will know how difficult it is to take that first step. Whether it’s a lack of confidence, anxiety or something else, opening up is a daunting prospect. But, when you do, it is also the most rewarding, enabling you to perform at your best.
For an elite footballer, self-confidence is key. It is often said that a happy footballer makes a successful one and it is important for players to be able to thrive. This was the reason Lisa Naalsund, the Brann and Norway midfielder, jumped at the offer of support in 2019.
Having progressed through Norway’s youth system, she started to realise something was wrong. Feeling her mental boundaries were inhibiting her performances on the pitch she sought help from a performance coach. “I felt like I was really shy and insecure as a person,” she reflects, “not as a football player because that was the one thing I was good at. I felt like my personality was getting in the way of me performing at my best.”
Her support came from a familiar face. Her strength coach was looking to train in mental health education and needed athletes to practise on. For Naalsund, the timing was perfect. Within a year of making that first step, she could see the difference both in herself and on the pitch: “I feel like I have become more mature, and I have become more like me. I’m not afraid of being me. So that gives me confidence that helps on the field or in the games and practice because I don’t care what others say so it’s a good place to be.”
The rewards are clear to see. It has been a whirlwind 12 months for the Bergen native. She played an integral role in the run that led SK Brann – then called Sandviken – to the 2021 Toppserien title, earning high praise from her manager, Alexander Straus. The respect is clearly mutual: “I think it’s as important that the coach is a good coach. [Someone] who can also be good at sports but also with the people on the team … it’s good to have a coach who wants your best and wants you to be the best.”
Domestic success has prompted the national team to come calling and Naalsund finally made her debut against Sweden last summer. “It was really fun,” she remembers. “I have been waiting a long time and I felt like last year was a breakthrough for me on the national team, because I felt like the time was right.”
Once again, the timing is everything. Now with five caps to her name, she is hoping to take part in the European Championships this summer. Brimming with talent, Norway are one of the dark horses in the tournament, something she is embracing: “We’re kind of the underdogs. We’re hoping that we can do well and play good matches against the best teams and maybe we can fight our way to a quarter-final. [We will] take each game as it is and then see how far we go.”
Armed with the tools to succeed, the future is exciting. Naalsund dreams of winning another title with Brann, success at the Euros and qualifying for the Champions League. Seeing the rewards from the help she has received, she is adamant that every player should have access to mental health support: “It’s really important. I think everyone should get some help. Even if you don’t feel like you need it, you probably do … I think it’s a little weird that it’s not more common in every team to have people hired to help the players.”
In the UK and Ireland, Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123 or email [email protected] or [email protected] In the US, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is at 800-273-8255 or chat for support. You can also text HOME to 741741 to connect with a crisis text line counselor. In Australia, the crisis support service Lifeline is 13 11 14. Other international helplines can be found at www.befrienders.org
Erin Cuthbert’s stunning strike at Wembley on Sunday was a goal fit for any FA Cup final. With minimal back-lift, she arrowed a shot past the outstretched Ellie Roebuck to hand her side a second-half advantage in front of more than 49,000 at Wembley. Elsewhere, Christen Press scored her first regular-season goal for Angel City with a spectacular solo effort, while this rocket from Alana Sehitler sent Germany into the U17 European Championships final.