Arsenal and Borussia Dortmund coaches involved in development of new mental health app for academy footballers

A new smartphone app to train youth coaches to support the wellbeing and mental health of academy footballers is being developed with coaches at Arsenal and Borussia Dortmund.

The app – called Homeo – is being created by Kevin George, a former West Ham trainee who played in the Premier League for Charlton. George was selected by Zinc, a venture builder and investor aiming to “solve the most important social problems faced by the developed world”, as one of 70 start-up businesses to join their six-month program.

The group of entrepreneurs were whittled down from more than 900 applicants and include founders of start-ups who previously worked for tech giants Facebook and Amazon, as well as doctors and professors.

After being selected, not only does George receive support and guidance to develop his business he could be in line to receive initial £75,000 funding to build his idea during the next six months with the potential to land major investment down the line.

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To fine tune the support services and the eventual Homeo app and website George, a qualified counsellor, has worked with Arsenal coach Julian Gray and tested prototypes with Borussia Dortmund coach David Steinke. He is also interviewing and prototyping at recently relegated Championship club Derby, League One side Charlton and Scottish Championship team Kilmarnock.

The Homeo app will initially focus on academies but it is hoped it could be scaled out to support first-team players and coaches. The aim is to provide a bespoke mental health and wellbeing support service that could be rolled out across football in England and eventually around the world and to other sports.

It will include advice and guidance videos and actionable audios for coaches, plus instant message support. Future development could include TED-style talks from current and former footballers.

Initially, the key areas the service will deal with is stress and anxiety, addressing childhood experiences and how players can regulate themselves.

“Young players are often recruited from tough backgrounds in the belief it gives them grit and resilience,” George, 39, told i. “But the downsides are ignored, such as the struggle to control aggression if they come from a violent home.

“People get their Uefa coaching badges but they don’t know how to coach the person within players like Nile Ranger or Paul Gascoigne. In some cases, coaches tell me they don’t have a clue what’s going and don’t know how to deal with it.”

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The app name Homeo is based on the word “homeostasis” – self-regulation to maintain stability while adjusting to external factors. George believes in addition to supporting footballers with their mental health, the app will enable players to maximise their potential and empower coaches to unlock it.

An NHS report in 2020 revealed that one in six children aged five to 16 “were identified as having a probable mental disorder”, an increase from one in nine reported in 2017.

The treatment and mental health of academy footballers has been under intense scrutiny during the past few years. As a result, the Premier League made it a key priority of the ongoing review into the academy system.

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