Son Heung-min: family, teammates support key to mental wellbeing in high-pressure career

·3 min read
Son Heung-min of Tottenham Hotspur celebrates a goal in the English Premier League.
Son Heung-min of Tottenham Hotspur celebrates a goal in the English Premier League. (PHOTO: Marc Atkins/Getty Images)

SINGAPORE — With mental health becoming increasingly valued among the current generation, interest grows on how top professional athletes manage to stay mentally strong despite having to constantly deal with pressure situations.

For Tottenham Hotspur star Son Heung-min, he believes his mental strength was honed during his younger days when he trained with his brother under his dad, who was also a professional footballer.

Those were physically intense sessions for the then-10-year-old Son, as he had to practise shooting 500 times on each foot among other drills. His father was a demanding coach, but imparted to his son valuable traits that made him stand out in one of the top football leagues in the world.

"My dad saw what I needed, which was the hardest part for me as this is what I didn't want. But there is no point to do only your favourite exercise or drills. Sometimes you need to train harder on your weak points," Son, now 29, said during an online interview as part of an AIA Live in Singapore 2021 event on Thursday (21 October) for Spurs' official shirt partner.

Nowadays, his family continues to be key to Son's mental well-being, albeit in another way — as an outlet for him to chat with, especially after tough defeats.

"Sometimes it's so hard after you lose game, it gets really painful when you recall what you had done wrong during the game," he said. 

"But there's always a game coming up in a few days' time and you need to be mentally strong to keep going. For me, I'll give my father or my brother a phone call, and we'll talk about the previous game. His words usually makes me more comfortable for the next game."

Tottenham players Ben Davies and Son Heung-min taking part in the AIA Live in Singapore event.
Tottenham players Ben Davies and Son Heung-min taking part in the AIA Live in Singapore event.

Dealing with pressures of EPL season as a team

From his humble beginnings training with his dad in Chuncheon, a city about 75 kilometres from Seoul, to his current status as one of the most successful Asian footballers in the English Premier League, Son understands the mental strength needed to cope with daily life, especially if one is adapting to an unfamiliar environment or dealing with a demanding career.

Which was why he readily participated with Spurs teammates Ben Davies, Joe Rodon and Oliver Skipp in the AIA Live in Singapore event, which centred on the theme of mental well-being and how to live healthier lives in fun and unexpected ways. 

With COVID-19 restrictions having been lifted in England, the players have been able to spend more time together compared to last season, when they had minimise interaction and play in front of empty stadiums around the league.

Left-back Davies believes the pandemic has made the players appreciate their social interaction more, and not take mundane things such as their lunchtime chats for granted. He also encourages those who are stuck in quarantine or lockdown to "get some exercise in every day... for your mind as well as your body".

Both Son and Davies believe that, given that the pressure to win game is inevitable in the Premier League, they have learnt to embrace the pressure before games, as it spurs them on to perform well. At the same, when setbacks and defeats happen, it is also important to not worry too much, and see them as opportunities to learn from.  

"The most important thing for (new manager Nuno Santo Espirito) is togetherness," Son said. "We attack together from the goalkeeper, and we defend together from the striker. That is what I feel to be really important as a team dealing with the pressure."

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