Leading sports professionals from around the world will gather in London on Monday as part of a global initiative to prioritise athlete welfare across the sports industry.

The International Player Care Conference will bring together coaches, scouts, agents, medical staff, and a range of sports administrators at The Corinthia Hotel to explore best-practice strategies to improve the experiences of athletes at and away from the competition arena.

The initiative was created in 2015 by Founder and CEO of the Premier Sports Network, Spencer Hidge, and is aimed at changing the way people view the topic of player care with a focus on support for professional athletes away from the pitch.

Hidge (pictured below) spoke to UCFB in advance of next week’s event: “The main driver was the amount of young professionals who fail to fulfil their boyhood dreams of playing elite level sport, and what impact that has on their mental health in transitioning into a non-sport player career.”

Player Care

The events and player welfare magazine produced by Premier Sports Network cover an array of key themes including mental health issues, youth development, hurdles and pitfalls present in elite sport, and the transition to life after retirement.

Monday’s conference will open with a keynote presentation and one-on-one interview with Mauricio Sulaiman, President of the World Boxing Council. The Mexican, who became head of the sanctioning body in 2014, will address key issues around player care in boxing and the global sports industry.

Panellists including super-agent Christophe Henrotay, whose dozen Belgian clients include Thibaut Courtois and Yannick Carrasco, and retired striker Drewe Broughton, who represented over 20 football clubs including Norwich City, Rotherham United and Peterborough, will then explore the agents’ view on managing professional athletes.

Pressure, injury and mental health

The event will then analyse what life is like as a hot prospect and how precocious talent from a young age can be a curse as well as a blessing. Speakers including Ryan Smith, the former Arsenal, Southampton and Crystal Palace midfielder, will share their own experiences of life as a teenager in the spotlight, the pressures it brings and the advice they would give to today’s young players.

In an exclusive interview, former England international footballer Ryan Mason will then discuss the injury which ultimately ended his playing days, as well the help and support he received and how he has carved out a new career beyond competitive football.

A panel featuring West Bromwich Albion winger Thomas Robson-Kanu then considers the important issue of selecting trusted professional advisors, before Jermaine Pennant, Champions League Finalist with Liverpool in 2007, and former Wales international David Cotterill, open up about the pressures of the professional game, how it affected their behaviour and mental health and the support they did or didn’t receive.

Support in a global industry

Experienced North American and European operators including Paul Barber, CEO at Brighton & Hove Albion, Meryl Hershfield, First Team Ops Manager at Vancouver Whitecaps, and George Wrighster, Former American Footballer who represented the Jacksonville Jaguars and New York Giants, then look at the complex logistics of running a major sports team and how players can be supported through an international move.

The conference will then see elite representatives from across Italian and Belgian football highlight their approaches to player care, before Nicky Butt, Academy Manager at Manchester United, talks about the transition to coaching and what he learnt from his time working with Sir Alex Ferguson.

The event closes with a look at how player care starts in the boardroom as senior executives reveal how they assess the costs and benefits of investing in player care and the role of the board in creating a culture of care at an elite sports club.

New pathways

Founder Spencer Hidge explained: “I started this with a colleague from a south London coffee shop, and fast forward 4 years later, our player care network is firmly established as the number one management and welfare event to attend that professional sports clubs and governing bodies trust.”

“It was very apparent that I was never going to make it as a professional footballer, so I felt that more needed to be done to give professional athletes a pathway outside of sport in helping them with general life-skills attributes that sometimes can be overlooked.”

The Premier Sports Player Care Network is made up of a series of invite only events and player welfare magazines designed for CEOs, Directors and Player Care managers at clubs across the Premier League and the English Football League, as well as Rugby Union and Rugby League, professional cricket, boxing, Motorsport and governing bodies.