Joe Thompson is into his third season delivering Life Skills sessions to LFE apprentices across the country, but today he made an emotional return to Rochdale A.FC, the club he began and ended his career at.
It was at the Crown Oil Arena in 2017, where Joe was diagnosed with Hodgkin Lymphoma for a second time, after beating the rare form of cancer three years earlier.
His ‘Darkness and Light’ workshop highlights his inspirational journey of conquering adversity, and has been delivered to over 2000 participants since its formation in 2019. The interactive group session places a strong focus on resilience and overcoming certain obstacles that arise during a football career.
The Sir Tom Finney award winner spoke to LFE after delivering this morning’s session at the Crown Oil Arena: “I was quiet emotional, personally, to be back presenting and looking out onto the pitch where I’d made so many great memories.
“It was an honour and privilege to be brought in. It was great to present in front of players and some of the staff that have been with me at various stages in my journey. I wanted the players to understand the opportunity they have in front of them, but also focus on the mindset and psychology aspect that will serve them well in any profession they go into.”
Having enjoyed a 14-year career in the professional game, the 32-year-old now uses his past experiences to inspire the next generation of footballers. “It’s all about empowering them and opening the mind to create mental resilience. I use my stories as an example, but I want them to think about how they would deal with certain situations,” he explains.
“A lot of what I do is about goal-setting, identity and getting them to understand themselves. I touch on mental health, which is becoming more of a prominent and relatable subject. There’s a stigma that surrounds mental health that needs eradicating.”
Incredibly, after beating cancer twice, Joe returned to the football field at both Tranmere Rovers and Rochdale. Shortly after his return, he scored the only goal of the game against Charlton Athletic to help keep Dale in the football league. It is those highs and lows that Joe touches on during the workshop.
With increased support in player care and education, he is now encouraging apprentices to utilise the resources that are out there. “The support system and education programme has improved since I was a young kid – that’s for sure. There is still more to do, though.
“I think players need to realise and take advantage of the resources that are on offer. If it is somebody at the LFE, PFA, club representative, sports psychologist – leverage those relationships, and harness that experience and knowledge to make you a better player.”