Todo Por Jugar / All to Play For
Role: Director, writer, producer and editor.
Carlos, is 38 and is living with Schizophrenia.
He’s also a goalkeeper and the captain of a football team. Some days, he can’t face getting out of bed. Some days he ends up in hospital. Yet every week he’s there for training. Cold nights. Hard drills. Barked orders from a tough, demanding coach called Max. Max might be unrelenting, but he’s getting results – the team is undefeated in the last two years, and in Barcelona, a city so synonymous with football, even in a local league, that’s a record worth taking notice of.
Max is getting other types of results as well. He’s not only Carlos’ manager, he’s his therapist as well. He’s using football as therapy for Carlos, and several other players in this unique team – FC Pol Positiu.
It might seem like a risky strategy. Football, for so long the domain of the ‘mentally tough’ alpha male, is competitive and unforgiving. Personal mistakes can cost a whole team. Fingers are pointed. Blame is shouldered. Then on top of that, for this team there’s the question of the Mental Health World Cup being held at the end of the season. Spain will not compete so a Catalan selection will be there in its place. Places in the squad are up for grabs. Hopes and pressures are raised once again. For people with already fragile emotional and psychological well being, the result, you might think, could go either way.
But on this front, Max seems to have his tactics just right. He is tough with players. They want to win matches, and cope with the burdens of life. So, real, hard training is the least he can offer them, to prepare them for both of these battles. But, of course, it goes way beyond that. Young men, still the most silent and at risk group on the mental health compass, have few spaces where they can be open about their illnesses with other young men, without the fear of stigma. The changing rooms, bench and pitch of FC Pol Positiu, are one of those spaces. Some players talk a lot, some not so much. But everyone listens. Max tailors the drills to the brain as well as the body. There’s exertion and acceptance – everyone breathes a lot heavier, and a little easier.
For Max, the theory is simple – “Football heals. It makes you fight, it makes you suffer, it makes you care. It makes you feel alive.
“Pills make you numb. I’m not against medication, medication that’s managed and reduced, but I’m against overmedication. We can’t just numb people” He says. And he should know. He’s no armchair pundit. Max has worked on the front line of mental health for over 20 years.
But health, like football, is rarely straightforward. The mid season brings a dip in performances. With big matches coming up the unbeaten run is under serious pressure, but bigger issues are at stake. Carlos has returned to hospital. No training, no matches. For now, no FC Pol Positiu.
“Every time you end up in hospital, you have to start again from zero.” he explains. “Every time, you have to face up to new medication, new limits being placed on your life.”