Ex-champion boxer Charlie Williams reveals his greatest opponent was his mind

The sleepless nights and constant pressure to perform were too much for Charlie Williams, reports ITV Central's Ellie-Rose Griffiths

A former professional boxer has spoken out for the first time about the silent struggles he faced during his sporting career and how his greatest opponent was his mind.

The former undefeated Midlands champion, Charlie Williams, opened up about his reasons for stepping away from the sport he once dominated.

Charlie, from Tamworth, said he stopped boxing because of the sleepless nights and anxiety, adding that losing his sister to suicide 18 months ago made him realise "life is too fragile".

“I stopped boxing because of my own head. I can’t blame anybody else. Some lads can deal with it, some lads can’t," he said.

“For me, the anxiety, the stress, the anxiety to perform, nights and nights on end of no sleep - I used to overthink and overthink, and I could never get over that."

Asked whether he felt like he could speak to anyone about his struggles, Charlie said: "I couldn’t explain how my head was because I didn’t want people to think badly of me."

Charlie is one of several sports stars who grapple with the pressure to always be the best.

This relentless pursuit, while driving them to stardom, often casts a shadow on their mental well-being.

According to figures from the Rugby Players' Association (RPA), 62% of former rugby players have experienced an issue with their mental health, such as depression, anxiety or stress.

The RPA Former Players Survey suggests there is a dissonance between an athlete's public persona and private struggles.The pressure on athletes doesn’t just stem from self-expectations. The sporting industry, fuelled by endorsements, and high-stakes competitions, inadvertently amplifies these pressures.

Social media, while a platform for connection, often becomes an arena of critique and comparison.

But sporting professionals like Charlie are helping to change the narrative.

And Charlie's not alone - a surge in athletes like professional tennis player Naomi Osaka have started voicing their mental health challenges, emphasising the importance of self-care over medals.

Their courage has created a ripple effect, urging sports organisations globally to prioritise mental wellness.

Charlie said: "You have to go through a journey yourself to realise how much you can take of this, and in the end, I couldn’t take anymore. I just needed to leave the sport."

The 29-year-old said that losing his sister made him realise how "fragile" life can be.

Tom Bates, a performance psychologist who has worked with some of the greatest sporting stars said: "It's very difficult for anyone who's not an athlete to understand the demands that sport can create.

"There is an archaic stereotype that says that mental toughness is not speaking to someone when you feel down.

Performance psychologist Tom Bates with Adam Peaty Credit: Tom Bates

"Athletes have to get good at receiving support not just in the sporting arena but also in their lives as people.

"They are normal human beings, with extraordinary talent but have ordinary human needs."

Worried about mental health?


Mind is a mental health charity which promotes the views and needs of people with mental health issues.

It provides advice and support to empower anyone experiencing a mental health problem, and campaigns to improve services, raise awareness and promote understanding.

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CALM, or the Campaign Against Living Miserably, runs a free and confidential helpline and webchat – open from 5pm to midnight every day, for anyone who needs to talk about life’s problems.It also supports those bereaved by suicide, through the Support After Suicide Partnership (SASP).

  • Phone their helpline: 0800 585858 (Daily, 5pm to midnight)

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For practical, confidential suicide prevention help and advice you can contact PAPYRUS HOPELINEUK on 0800 068 4141, text 07860 039967 or email pat@papyrus-uk.org

Suicide is the biggest killer of young people in the UK. PAPYRUS aims to reduce the number of young people who take their own lives by breaking down the stigma around suicide and equipping people with the skills to recognise and respond to suicidal behaviour.

HOPELINEUK is the charity’s confidential helpline service providing practical advice and support to young people with thoughts of suicide and anyone concerned about a young person who may have thoughts of suicide.

HOPELINEUK is staffed by trained professionals, offering a telephone, text and email service.

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Samaritans is an organisation offering confidential support for people experiencing feelings of distress or despair.

  • Phone 116 123 (a free 24 hour helpline)

  • Email: jo@samaritans.org

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YoungMinds is a resource with information on child and adolescent mental health, but also offers services for parents and professionals.

It is the UK’s leading charity fighting for children and young people's mental health, and wants to make sure all young people can get the mental health support they need, when they need it

  • YoungMinds Textline - Text YM to 85258

  • Phone Parents' helpline 0808 802 5544 (Monday to Friday, 9.30am - 4pm)

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The Martin Gallier Project

The Martin Gallier Project are a Wirral-based charity dedicated to helping individuals and families across the North West of England.

They were the UK's first Suicide Prevention, Intervention and Postvention charity. The project offers non clinical suicide interventions on the high street, with no barriers to access, waiting list or criteria.

The service is open 7 days a week 9.30am-4.30pm - lines and emails are only monitored during these hours.

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