TOPIC: Mental Health

shane Mental Health 1 week 4 days ago #1

There seems to be an increase in awareness around footballers and their mental health, with a few players leaving the game altogether because it's just too much for them. The finger always gets pointed first at social media, and then at regular media. Obviously it can be a factor, people can get harrased and bullied online or in the main stream media but if you look at the people who are dropping out if the game, they're not under that pressure.

I think this is a horrible fallacy that is stopping the AFL from addressing the actual issue, which is the internal workings of football industry. It's become a very unhealthy work environment.

You've got young men being told what to eat, when to sleep, when they're allowed out, where they can go on holidays, where they have to live, who they have to take orders from and who they have to work with, with little means of changing that, and it's delivering crippling mental illness, and then they turn around and blame it on Twitter or people who yell things out at the football.

You've got young men who grew up celebrating every success. Winning football games is a rush. Making the combined squad is a rush. Getting drafted - they throw a massive party for them like it's a coronation.

Then the footy starts, it's hard work and they probably go at it with gusto but they spend a lot of time kicking around in the twos, they might have a debut and that's another big deal but after that, each win is just the 4 points not to be celebrated, each performance is dissected and their mistakes emailed to them in video files, it's just a boring slog. There's not much release, not that great enjoyment of the game, not even the ability to be creative with your football anymore.

And if you think about the gambling problems that were highlighted last week, it's an obvious way to go for a footballer. There's a rush with gambling. The tension build up and the release when you win. It's what they used to get before they joined the professional ranks of football and nothing is to be celebrated much past the song.

And I think about the Eagles and how they treated winning the 2006 Grand Final like it was the ultimate experience - but then it wasn't so they went on drug fuelled benders to make themselves feel the way they'd been told winning a grand final should feel.

In short, I think they need to have a look at the work environments of football clubs and stop this disdain they're developing for the outside world, because football should be a great occupation to have, where you leave it in good health and with full pockets.
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larkin Mental Health 1 week 4 days ago #2

Maybe its just that you get to hear about it these days and the few people that find it so tough aren't called weak … s. Being a public person is not an easy task. Many young people would find it a stretch and being slagged in places like this is no bed of roses. Before Gategate Harvey suggested we should be more circumspect with our criticisms. A little respect is always a good thing.
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shane Mental Health 1 week 4 days ago #3

Obviously mental health is not a new thing.

I remember Dale Kickett saying that the only reason he came back to play for Fremantle was because Gerard Neesham was coach and he new that if he took a risk and made a mistake, he wouldn't get dragged and shouted at by the coach.

That was a long time ago and, while they don't shout as much now, there's a lot more intense pressure on footballers to approach perfection from within their clubs now. It's not just a shouty coach, it's an entire workforce of pressure and passive aggression.
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moodindigo Mental Health 1 week 4 days ago #4

I have always been very conscious of what a strange and artificial world AFL footballers and coaches must live in and how stressful it must be to have every moron in the country - press or otherwise - feel able to tell the world about all your shortcomings as they perceive them. Its no surprise so many struggle. The pressure of 50 000 people sighing or groaning or booing when you make a mistake in your workplace would be bad enough, but then having to read the "Moodindigo is hopeless and should be sacked" headlines or social media every day would mean you could never escape it. Its worth all of us thinking about being in their shoes from time to time I guess before we add to the chorus.
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larkin Mental Health 1 week 4 days ago #5

I guess in part its why recruiters consider the 'character' of the person. Are they tough enough to handle the pressures and work rate required to be elite? Yesterday there was an interesting discussion of four players who did everything right with one even recommended for the leadership group (not a docker btw) but just didn't have the talent for the highest level. His fellow teammates really rated him as a person but he wasn't in the first 22 and management weeded him out.
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shane Mental Health 1 week 4 days ago #6

Do you really think it's like that. Most of them say they can't hear the crowd noise, they tune it out. They can choose not to read the papers, they can not look at Twitter. It's very manageable.

What they can't escape is the pressure put on them internally. The job itself. You have to ask what has this corporatisation of the onfield side of football actually achieved that it's worth only choosing footballers who can survive it's pressures?
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Tragic Mental Health 1 week 4 days ago #7

There has been increasing recognition of mental health issues in elite athletes/elite sport in recent years. The problem is certainly not confined to the AFL. There is a an editorial here which summarises recent research reasonably well. No currently obvious simple fix to a common but complex problem.
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pollyanna Mental Health 1 week 4 days ago #8

I've met and spoken with a number of old players from times past - legends I guess most would call them. They hobble up to book launches, pressers and games all battered and sore from the years of playing the game - on crutches, with canes or simply rocking to and fro on replaced joints and ortho reconstructions. Almost universally they are happy and full of humour, I haven't met a grumpy old fella amongst the lot - even those like Syd who should have a real beef with the world. I haven't spoken with Gormie for a while, but I expect he would concur with what I've said - he's spent time with them all.

Yes, Shane's observations are spot-on - you look at some of the recent players and you've got to pity them all, especially the ones that simply feel there's nothing to do but walk away from the game.
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shane Mental Health 1 week 4 days ago #9

Thanks. Lots of interesting stuff there.

One that caught my eye, although maybe not that big a deal with the size of football ovals, was the study on the natural environment. When you think about all the AFL clubs moving from low key training rooms towards big built up concrete facilities, it's something for them to think about. Essendon even have that indoor synthetic grassed shed thing and the Victorian clubs don't seem to head down the beach as often as they used to now that they all have swimming pools. And Australian cricket seem to have gravitated towards the big indoor facilities over the outdoor nets.

All these little changes add up over time.
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Morgan Mental Health 1 week 4 days ago #10

It’s great there is more focus on mental health across the board.

The first thing that would be worth investigating is whether AFL footballers have worse mental health outcomes that their non-footballing peers, and if so why? Footballers have a high profile, so when players battle mental health issues it receives a lot of attention. It might stop players from taking the steps they need to get help because that might lead to missing games and therefore putting them under the media spotlight (or be seen to be letting their teammates down).

It's also worth noting that young people as an entire cohort have alarmingly high rates of anxiety and depression, and while certainly AFL football has become even more pressurised, there’s a greater societal trend at play here too. Social media gets a lot of the blame for that too, but while that certainly is part of the equation, it’s clearly not the whole story. While I tend to agree that young people – including footballers - can choose not to go on social media, very few manage to disconnect completely.

There certainly seems like a bubble for AFL footballers, and some contradictions. Take Ross Lyon: on the one hand he encourages players to do outside study and have a life outside football (there was even stories of him telling players to leave training because they had an upcoming exam), and on the other hand he uses the Doig Medal address to tell his players that there isn’t really an offseason and they need to come back in super-shape.

I also think player peer pressure is a bit to blame, and leadership groups seem very determined to come down hard on young players that stuff up. Think about how Fyfe handled the Blakely situation? Maybe that’s the right way to handle things in one way, but I’m not sure feeling like you’re always being watched and about to be narced on by your captain is great long-term. How that weighs up against the genuine comradery players feel for each other, I’m not sure.

Personally, I reckon the AFL would be wise to lift the draft age by a year. Putting 18 year old kids in AFL clubs, often far from home, seems like a recipe for disaster. Even having one year out of high school and having to get a real job would be some good grounding, but I know there are problems with that idea as well.

I think a lot about Jesse Hogan, who of our players seems to be battling with this most obviously. It's foolish to try and guess his state of mind, but he is a talented footballer who seems like he manages to play AFL football despite the system instead of because of it. When on song, he's the type of player people pay to watch, so helping him enjoy football is paramount. I'm not sure clubs are well set up for that.

But even if you were to take the most hard-headed approach, he is a key asset for the Freo footy club, who have invested a lot to get him. I just don't understand why the clubs risk burn-out the way they do. Perhaps I'm missing something.
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FDB Mental Health 1 week 4 days ago #11

Morgan - pour encourager les autres
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rogerrocks Mental Health 1 week 4 days ago #12

Sure there is pressure in AFL, no one is going to argue with that. But just in general the level of pressure and insecurity all round has ramped up in recent times. How many organisations go through restructures where lots of people end up losing their jobs? And those that keep their jobs are supposed to work 50+ hours a week.

We have become a leaner, meaner more efficient society - but at the cost of leaving people behind, and increasing the stress and worry of everyone, including the "winners". Life imitating football? No, its the other way round. Football is just following the general trend.

I worry for young people. They can study, got to uni, do everything right, but not end up making it - and if they do end up with anxiety, even less chance that they'll make it.

It is worth remembering that we chose this. We voted for people who we knew wanted a more competitive society. We voted for the tax cuts. We voted against the "dole bludgers". We voted to end inefficient industries. We voted to privatise things. At least in WA we didn't vote to fully privatise electricity generation. And then we sat back and wondered how come so many mansions were being built on the river.

And I'm torn on this. I like efficiency. I like real competition between businesses. I like that this gives me choice and cheap prices. I remember when kids would walk out of school into a job with a bank, or the public service, or as some or other trainee in a government/semi-government job (or if they had talent into a real job). Horrendously inefficient, and we all paid for it in poor service and overly rigid organisations. But you had security, and its surprising just how important security is.

Footy is just following, copying, drifting with the tide. Its not setting the pace. Mental health problems amongst AFL players are a symptom of a more widespread problem.
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hypen Mental Health 1 week 4 days ago #13

Look no further than the recent performances of Carlton and Nth Melbourne when they were set free from their micro managing coaches.

There’s an artificial construct in place around these kids who are yet to develop the coping mechanisms. It’s suffocating: every bit of a play analysed, how they speak analysed, what they eat analysed. It doesn’t have to be like this.

And I’m not talking just about professional football now but the art of managing people is considering what makes an individual tick and managing them accordingly. Knowing when to interfere and when to let stuff go through to the keeper. Nothing is going through to the keeper for these lads.

A coach must have a high EQ, can you imagine the levels of some of these blokes over the years? Walls almost killed Ken Hunter, I mean that literally.

So yes Shane.
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Raglan Matt Mental Health 1 week 4 days ago #14

Raglan Matt
I think the problems start back when these players are tagged as AFL prospects, back in their schooldays. All of a sudden they cant be your average ratbag anymore, they are under a microscope from parents, mates, coaches, teachers and social media. By the time they get to the top level, of course they are a time bomb, ticking away.
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