In this weeks interview, we had the marvelous opportunity to interview former professional footballer and sports mentor, Jason Lampkin. Jason has hustled his way to the top of English football, making it to the Premier League’s ‘big boys’ including both Manchester United and Aston Villa. However, his professional sports career came to a standstill due to an injury, Jason was then proactive enough to make the best out of a bad situation by exploring ventures in the sports industry away from the pitch. Brace yourselves for a juicy insight leaving you inspired more than ever to chase your career ambitions.
Q1) What did your journey look like to becoming a professional footballer?
A: Most people start playing when they are two-three years old. This was never my plan. I am half Spanish and always have been highly active. Spain is like a wonderland for an active child. Initially, I wanted to be a bullfighter instead of a footballer. However, I do not ethnically agree with being a bullfighter now. Now I live in North Wales, and there are plenty of synergies with my childhood in Spain, considering my active lifestyle.
I was a late developer in football. I moved to North Wales when six years of age and this was when I took an interest in different sports. I joined a local side when I was eight years old and ended up at Manchester United when I was twelve years of age. It was far from a typical circumstance for a child to be in at such an early point in life, playing for the biggest club in the world! Adding pressure to the cooker, I came into the academy at the time of the Ronaldo, Rooney, and Scholes era! Despite it being inspiring playing amongst some of footballs greatest players, it was also rather daunting.
I was a right-winger, therefore, looking over at Cristiano Ronaldo I could not help but think, “how on earth am I supposed to be better than the 2nd best player in the world?!”. For me, the best in the world is the one and only, Lionel Messi!
It was one of the toughest parts of my career, I was already at the top of the tree, and there is only one way you can go once you are up in the sky. The environment at The Red Devils was cutthroat and extraordinarily competitive, but as players, we understood the consequences.
Q2) It is every boy’s dream to play for a Premier League club. However, from your experience at United, do you feel you would have benefited from starting at a lower league club at the time?
A: Absolutely, at the time, I wish I stayed at Tranmere Rovers. They were the club I transferred from at the time who were in League One or Two. I would have been a big fish in a small pond, received more attention and focus from the coaches. This is because you had to be within the top 1% of players to receive that type of attention at Manchester United.
The statistics state that players going through the academy phase, 0.01% will make it as a professional player. This stat was a real eye-opener for me considering how good you had to be to make into the Manchester United first team. Therefore, staying at Tranmere Rovers would have provided me more opportunity to get noticed not only nationally, but internationally.
While coming through the academy, you tend to feel shy and embarrassed about asking for more money because you simply stay grateful for the opportunity to be selected. Whereas, signing an official contract adds that feeling of security and understanding that the club genuinely wants you in their team. Getting the full-contract approved would have been an ideal scenario for me, considering I suffered a bad injury to my knee when I was 18.
The injury occurred when I got my first contract at Aston Villa FC; once I was injured, I knew all of my bargaining power was flushed down the drain because my knee was hanging by a thread and there were concerns of myself never walking again. Villa offered a one-year rolling contract, but I feel I could have negotiated a better deal if the injury did not occur.
Q3) Talk to me more about your injury, I understand you were out of the game for nearly two years, how did you keep yourself mentally stimulated?
A: When I got the injury, I experienced so many emotions considering I was so close to making the transition of getting that long-term contract which was hard to take.
It was a tedious process going through rehab, seeing the same four walls every day while learning to walk again. Unfortunately, four of the other lads suffered the same injury to their knees in that year. However, not being the only one in the physio room helped to ensure we were doing the exercises correctly, keeping each other in good spirits and morally supporting one another.
Q4) From your experiences in professional football, including the good, the bad and the ugly, what advice could you pass onto aspiring young players also wanting to break through into being a footballer?
A: It is hard to advise due to my injury seeing me out of the game so early on in my pro career. I say this to everyone I meet through My Football Mind, which is an initiative I currently run to support professional footballers psychologically.
I also touched on this question in one of my blogs when you have made it as a professional it feels that almost everything that could have gone wrong went right. Unfortunately, I was in the opposite boat of ‘everything that could have gone right, went wrong’. Therefore, I see through a different perspective in that regard.
Q5) Comparing the typical player experience while at Tranmere Rovers compared to Manchester United, did you notice much of a contrast in the environment?
A: It does change your perspective on ‘making it’. Tranmere was more geared around fun, whereas when I went to United, it suddenly felt a lot more professional as it is not a past time. I used to love going to Tranmere on the ‘banter bus’ and getting ready in the porter cabin. However, when I was with United, I started to expect things at a higher level which was detrimental for someone so young. For example, if I were not in a bus with fancy seats and leather chairs, I would be disappointed. Although, this is a warped mindset now and I cannot believe I used to think that way.
The lyric from James- ‘Sit Down’, “If I hadn’t seen such riches, I could live with being poor”. It painted the picture entirely because us lads gave so much at a young age that we began to expect nothing less than the luxurious experience.
When I transferred from Manchester United to Aston Villa, it was a similar level of pressure considering it was still Premier League football. I loved it at Aston Villa; the environment suited me to a tee. However, falling from Aston Villa to the lower leagues in North Wales caused me to struggle a lot as I was used to experiencing ‘top of the range’ everywhere I had been.
Q6) Away from the football pitch, what did your career journey look like to get where you are today?
A: The work I am doing with My Football Mind and First Touch Mentoring are real passions of mine. Both initiatives came because I did suffer from my mental health issues through professional football. Therefore, it is an issue I want to improve. Another passion of mine is fitness; I started developing this while I was in the gym every day throughout rehabilitation; it was a smooth transition for me.
My Football Mind started because I teamed up with two ladies called Rosie, who has is involved with charity work and Susanne, who has a son at Chelsea FC. We all have a holistic understanding of mental health in the football academy system, me at the pinnacle of the game at Manchester United, Susanne coming from an angle of a parent and Rosie with the Third Sector perspective. We can add value in that place for football academies and parents.
Q7) What do you feel the football industry can be doing better to support their athletes with mental health?
A: I would say not enough funds are invested towards mental health by clubs. The game focuses on being more superior than your opposition, and I am a big believer in if your mind does not work your body will not either. So much more can be done, perhaps it is a lack of funds, time, or interest that clubs do not have hence why they may not pursue the possibilities. However, if My Football Mind can be the external resource and take care of the clubs’ players mental wellbeing, then I think they will go for it as there is so much to gain.
Q8) As a professional player, did you find the club foundation supportive towards your mental wellbeing?
A: When you sign as a professional, you become part of the PFA, which is the Players Football Association. They have funded part of schooling at the state and approved my CV being produced by a professional service. For sure, they have been helpful, but it was not in the most proactive service for players. For example, there was not much follow-up care from Aston Villa or the PFA, such as checking that I am okay and vouching for support if needed. This would have been nice considering my traumatic experience with a career-ending injury.
I ended up going back to The New Saints, who were the Welsh champions almost every year in the Cymru Premier League. I thought this was the right choice, but it was a terrible move as it was not a league I was passionate about, and they had a 3G turf which was a recipe for disaster relating to my injury. It took me a long time to recover from this whole experience, and for that reason, this is something football clubs need to be aware of the importance of aftercare.
Q9) While working outside of football, have there been any transferable skills your professional sports career has taught you on your non-elite career journey?
A: Football is disciplined; it is a 24/7 occupation. Footballers make sacrifices that nobody else must make such as waking up at 7 am and training first thing, ensuring you get in the right amount of nutrients during the day alongside remaining fully hydrated always to give 100% to the team and yourself. Footballers cannot switch off; it is almost like being in the army with the level of discipline we need to follow.
As well as the sport being team-based, it is also very individually focused. Not the whole team makes it through the academy. Therefore, you need to have your own back. Applying this into business, you must ensure your tasks are done to the best ability for the whole team.
Q10) Aside from yourself believing football clubs can do more to support mental health with their players, how else can clubs support their athletes?
A: At Aston Villa, I had to complete a BTEC as a player. However, our BTEC courses were orientated around being a coach or a footballer. However, I did not want ‘my plan B’ if I did not make it as an athlete to be orientated around the sport. If anything, there are so many online options to study different subjects we are spoilt for choice!
However, the club’s educational courses were always so limited within the sport. I believe if Villa received funding to bring in more courses such as online degrees, A-levels, apprenticeships etc. it would have represented them as a lot more inclusive. Even sending some of the lads to study further at college would have been great, that is excellent publicity for the college, and it provides more opportunity for the lads to choose something they want.
The sports industry is so broad now; you have so many avenues of education you can explore, including marketing, event management, sponsorship and much more! The problem is they are not being promoted as much by clubs.
Q11) During COVID19, how have you remained mentally and physically stable throughout such a strange time?
A: Its been a tough one as I am in North Wales and we have been on lockdown longer than anyone else. However, we have no choice but to make the most out of a bad situation. As I have touched on throughout this interview, I love fitness, so I bought myself some weights and barbells to keep myself mentally and physically fit as gyms have closed. I am still busy with my business projects as well which is excellent. I appreciate it is a tough time, but we must remind ourselves it will not be forever, and things will get better.
I recently wrote a blog about the Stockdale Paradox, focusing on how the US Navy vice Admiral James Stockdale obtained a bullet-proof mindset while being captured several years ago. When he was found, he did not reveal any information, but every day, the admiral remained optimistic that he would be found, and his torture would not last forever. It resembles what we are going through now as a world, hence where I got the inspiration from, tough times do not last, but tough people do.
Q12) It is admirable to see how positive you are remaining throughout this period, what helps you to keep your mindset so optimistic?
A: I am always open to trying things. I wake up at 5 am, and I start my day off by practicing breathing techniques to help me relax. Whatever I do, I need to ensure I am productive. Otherwise, I struggle when my mind is not occupied. You could say it is the after effect from football; I was always so focused on being the best player I could be so naturally when I got injured I did not have an escape route from this. I was still learning to adapt to what the injury did to me, so this was when I started to develop other passions such as mental health in football and fitness which I saw as an escape route.
Q13) We’ve touched on First Touch Mentoring; however, would you mind about the team’s plans?
A: We are currently collaborating with other people and organisations in different areas as we have not defined ourselves yet. Despite ourselves at First Touch mentoring having lots of experiences, combating mental health with three people is always going to be a challenge, hence why we want to collaborate. One charity we are looking to work with are LAPS (Life After Professional Sport), they focus on supporting footballers who have recently retired or have exited the game due to injuries. I would like to think First Touch Mentoring is more proactive with our approach, but no man is an island and having this collaboration will help us all strive to support those suffering from mental health in football.
Q14) You own an excellent blog which called JSL, where did the motivation come from to create a blog and how has it benefited your endeavors?
A: It has always been a passion, funnily enough, I am not much a talker, I tend to be quite reclusive, which is ironic as I have spoken more than usual throughout this interview! I am also quite tentative; I like to try out new things and apply them practically. The blog started by myself gathering my thoughts together, and I gradually came towards designing a platform which promotes my views of the world.
JSL has benefitted my career as it got me my first role in New York City. I was there for a full-year and loved it so much that I plan to go back to the US as soon as COVID19 has passed. Multiple opportunities have come from it, and it is a great way not to be restrictive as they are precisely your thoughts. It has been great to build my network as I began publishing blogs on LinkedIn, people liked what I was producing and eventually connected with me from it. It is also the right way not just to engage with people, but with people who think similarly to you.
Q15) During Ed Bower’s Education2Sport podcast, I remember you said ‘I notice a master when I hear one’, on that note, who have been the masters that have helped shape your career to where you are today?
A: There are so many podcasts I listen to for many different purposes. One podcaster I love is Joe Rogan, he is simply very inspiring, creative, sports orientated and unique, he asks questions that nobody else asks.
Another one which may raise a few eyebrows is the Wolf of Wall Street podcast. I am not looking to live the luxurious lifestyle of Jordan Belfort as such, but he makes a lot of good points. Business development is a crucial topic on the podcast, and this resonates with me strongly, if you do not develop a business, you are not going to achieve your goals. Learning how to influence people is what his podcast predominantly focuses on which also synergises with me greatly as to be a good businessman, you need to know how to sell.
Ed Bowers Education2Sport is another podcast I enjoy. He has connected a lot of different people in the sports industry, so it is excellent to understand multiple perspectives.
As I am a mentor at First Touch Mentoring, My Football Mind, and another triathlete project, I appreciate the value of having good mentors. There is a mentor I have in New York who works in operations, he has been brilliant from the first moment I met him, his advice, guidance, and support has been invaluable.
Despite the value mentors can bring, always remember to follow your heart and be you rather than over-aspiring to be the next ‘someone else’.
Q16) You have smashed it in professional football, education and throughout the sports industry, what does the future hold for the great Jason Lampkin?
A: The world we live in is harsh and is not easy for anyone. The plan is to keep grinding, and I would like to share that message with the readers. I expect to have ‘down periods’ like anyone else, I would be lying if I said I was positive all the time. However, we get through them and find our feet again as we only have one life, so you have to make the most of it.
This interview with Jason has indeed reminded me that life is what you make of it. I can only imagine the amount adversity Jason went through suffering a life-changing injury. However, instead of dwelling in his sorrows, he became inspired to create his ventures that focus on directly supporting similar individuals to fill in a gap in the football industry.
Did you enjoy Jason’s story? If so, leave a like, star rating and comment below on what your most personable moment was throughout this blog.