The Toll Sports Take on Mental Health

We, as sports fans don’t often realise just how seriously the players take themselves.

For us, sports are an escape. It’s a cause for us to get behind, because we love the game.

But for some of the players, their motivations stem from the opposite end of the spectrum.

They play because it’s their livelihoods. Many players join professional clubs straight out of high school.

We see it every year in the AFL, where the majority of players who are selected in the annual AFL Draft are 18 years old.

Many are then required to move away from their hometowns and families for an unknown period of time, without much if any prior notice.

As fans, we don’t truly understand how surreal that must be.

Imagine one day, you have to leave everything you know and love behind for a new job with people you’ve never met before, in a town you have never been to before.

It would be quite daunting.

Then, there are some who don’t even finish year 12 prior to starting their professional sporting careers.

For example, Richmond Football Club’s Jack Higgins decided against going through year 12 at school in his bid to become a professional player.

Higgins recently underwent brain surgery to repair a brain bleed and is on the road to recovery and hopefully, he’ll return to the field in 2020.

But so far, his career has been a success, establishing himself as a regular member of the Richmond seniors side. In time, he’ll become a seriously good player.

But let’s take a moment to think about what would happen if, for whatever reason, his career didn’t work out.

He has no VCE education and no university degree.

It would mean he’d have to go back to school or to university and almost start from scratch.

With that in mind, the pressure to consistently perform would be palpable. Completely unenviable.

One too many mistakes could be the end and for some, they would not know where to go. That kind of mammoth pressure would take its toll.

These players give their all to the sports they play. They live and breathe it. It’s their way of life. It’s their job.

When you’re at work, there’s always pressure to perform and get your duties done. You feel awful when you don’t do your job properly, knowing that there could be consequences.

When these players dip in form or succumb to injuries, they feel they are unable to do their jobs to the best of their abilities.

And that can seriously impact upon their confidence.

We’ve seen players take breaks away from sports to focus on restoring their mental health, which is both nice to see and also devastating.

We want to see them strutting their stuff at the highest level, but we also hope that, above all else, they stay healthy in both a physical and mental way.

In recent times, Victorian cricketers Nic Maddinson, Will Pucovski and Glenn Maxwell have taken breaks away from the sport to look after themselves.

Maddinson and Maxwell have both represented Australia at different forms of the game, while Pucovski has been touted as one of the highest potential players in the country.

But that is partly why they are taking these breaks.

They know what level they can play at or what level they will play at in the near future.

But under that pressure, combined with the minority of people on social media who lack any form of empathy, they lack the self-confidence they need to be able to play to the best of their abilities.

Speaking of social media, it can be a brutal place at times.

When players don’t perform at the standard they feel are required, some people are very quick to blast them from the safety of their keyboards.

They say these things without any thought to how a player is feeling off the field or how they may respond to those comments, whether that’s verbal or not.

A great soccer example is that of former Arsenal club captain Granit Xhaka.

Ever since his arrival at the club from German club Borussia Mochengladbach, the Swiss international has faced criticism from fans for what they see as a lack of ability to ‘make it in the Premier League’.

Those fans became irate when he was named club captain ahead of the 2019/2020 Premier League season.

His performances were still viewed upon as poor and many fans felt those on the substitutes bench would do a better job.

This all came to a head during Arsenal’s 2-2 draw at home to Crystal Palace on October 28.

Xhaka was substituted out in the 60th minute and the fans were quick to let him know how they felt.

He then told the fans where to stick it and quickly went down the race. He is yet to return to first team football nearly a month on from the incident. There are even rumours he may leave the club in the January transfer window.

Clearly, the Arsenal fans had struck a chord with Xhaka, forcing a reaction out of him that was extremely uncharacteristic.

Who knows how much of an impact this has had on him and his mental health?

Imagine a large contingent of people began berating and badmouthing you online because you were underperforming at your workplace.

You never know how a player is feeling deep down. You can make assumptions, but you never truly know.

Mental health a serious issue and way too many lives have been lost to it.

During times like these, when so many people need help for issues they can’t resolve on their own, we need to come together.



Caelum Ferrarese is a Senior journalist with Soccerscene. He reports widely on micro policy within Australasia and industry disruptions at grassroots level.

Record Optus Sport statistics backed up by immediate A-League Women support

-League Women - Sydney FC v Western Sydney Wanderers season 2023-24

Following the memorable FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023, supporters have already started to show that crowd and viewing numbers won’t dwindle down.

Optus Sport revealed their data and insights from the tournament, where they were the only place to see all 64 matches. During the four weeks of the World Cup, viewing figures and social media numbers rose at a considerable rate.

In a Women’s World Cup that saw the Matildas finish fourth, Optus Sport captured the substantial ratings generated.

Below are the findings as per Optus Sport:

  • Coverage of the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023 delivered the highest total minutes streamed for a tournament in Optus Sport history – up 30% from minutes streamed for UEFA Euro 2022.
  • Biggest month ever in Optus Sport history for total minutes streamed – up 17% on previous record.
  • On average, Optus Sport customers watched more than 21 hours of FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023 coverage, with 75% viewing on TVs.
  • Three FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023 matches are now in Optus Sport’s top five games of all time in terms of minutes streamed, with nine FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023 matches now in the top 20 overall.
  • Over 100 million video views across all social platforms throughout the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023.
  • Over 4000 pieces of content created/published throughout the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023.
  • Optus Sport social platforms reached approximately 3.6 million Australians.
  • More than 400 articles covering the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023 published throughout the tournament, achieving the highest ever monthly engagement in Optus Sport history, with 7 million reads.
  • Optus Sport FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023 Google Web Stories for the Matildas matches against France and England are the highest viewed Google Web Stories recorded in Australia.
  • Optus Sport experienced the biggest sign-up day ever in Optus Sport history.

Based on the start to the A-League Women’s season for 2023/24, the above numbers and figures are not a fluke.

After an off-season that saw Brisbane Roar, Canberra United, Melbourne Victory and Sydney FC all achieving their highest membership numbers ever, fans have begun to flock to games in a similar vein.

In opening round, Central Coast Mariners v Newcastle Jets was the record for the highest attendance for a standalone regular season Liberty A-League game, but that number was surpassed in the very next match by a Sydney FC v Western Sydney Wanderers derby that welcomed 11,471 fans to Allianz Stadium.

This will build a fantastic platform for the Liberty A-League – one that features penalty-taking hero Cortnee Vine running around for Sydney FC each week.

Not only that, the relaxed atmosphere of matches will allow young fans to look up to their favourite players and get them aspiring for bigger and greater goals.

Clive Dickens, Optus VP Television, Content and Product Development, stated that Optus Sport will be continuing to drive the positive momentum and shine the light on the women’s game going forward:

“Optus Sport continues to invest in – and be a champion of – football in this country,” he said via media release.

“And the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023 served up some of the most incredible action we’ve ever seen; to have this played out across Australia and New Zealand and to see the crowd’s reaction to these amazing athletes has been truly incredible.

“We are dedicated to growing women’s football – and football more broadly – in Australia. The results reinforce the audience’s appetite for our best-in-class content strategy that brings world-class commentary and access-all-areas content that you can’t get anywhere else.

“We’ll continue to shine a light on the world’s best footballers, including our very own Matildas Sam Kerr, Caitlin Foord, Steph Catley, Mary Fowler, Alanna Kennedy, Clare Wheeler, Courtney Nevin, Lydia Williams, Teagan Micah, and Mackenzie Arnold.”


  • QuickSight analytics, total minutes from all matches in OS history.
  • Emplifi, total video views across Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, Twitter, YouTube from July 20 to August 20, 2023
  • QuickSight analytics, total minutes streamed and paid account reach from July 20 to August 20, 2023
  • Google analytics and Apple News, total article views and unique reach from July 20 to August 20, 2023

Sport Psychology Senior Lecturer Dr. Christopher Mesagno: The necessity of mental fortitude in professional sport

Mary Fowler - Women's World Cup 2023

Psychology and sport are mixing more than they ever have before. With the advent of the internet and the increased pressure that has caused for athletes, sporting clubs and teams are now having to utilise sports psychology to get the best out of their players.

Dr Christopher Mesagno is a Senior Lecturer in Sport and Exercise Psychology at Victoria University. He has over 20 years of expertise in the field and has dedicated much of his research to exploring the effects of stress and anxiety in sport. His predominant focus has been in the phenomenon of ‘choking under pressure’.

Following the Matildas’ record-breaking FIFA Women’s World Cup run, Dr Mesagno provided Soccerscene with some key insights into what mentally might have been happening for our girls as they progressed through the tournament.

What might the Matildas have been thinking and feeling during the tournament?

Christopher Mesagno: Generally, they would be feeling excited and nervous all at the same time. It is very individual for different players as some players become very excited, while some people become very nervous and don’t like the anxiety of the experience.

If they do go to a sports psychologist or if their coaching staff knows a bit about sports psychology, they would have tried to train for that amount of pressure as much as possible, which is very difficult to emulate in a practice situation. They would at least have run though that situation and the possible experience they might have. They’ve also probably played enough to be able to deal with that situation.

As the highest viewed sport in Australian TV history, how might this pressure have affected the players?

Christopher Mesagno: With some of their finals being the most watched sporting events ever, some of them would have been dealing with it and loving it while others might have been freaking out and feeling a bit anxious. But people are individual and its very much about the individual player.

When confronted with big losses, how should athletes best prepare for their next match?

Christopher Mesagno: I would suggest as a sports psychologist that they step away from social media. In sports there’s going to be mistakes and it’s not like they want to do them, but it happens.

Stay away from the social media hype and negativity. You don’t want to carry negative thoughts and feelings into the next match. Importantly, come back to your teammates and coaches as they support and trust you. Stick with the core group that already trusts you and block out the “keyboard warriors”.

What general tips can be recommended for players facing a stressful match?

Christopher Mesagno: Athletes sometimes tend to be worried prior. Music is a way to improve mood and calm down players. Stick with regular routines, whether it be something unique in the warm up or eating the same type of food. Then during a match, get accustomed to the environment and the game setting by getting warm and loose.

After the fact during post-game – be it a win or a loss – try and learn from your mistakes and get back to normal as soon as possible and relax. Especially with the hype of winning huge games you need to go off and reset. You’ve really got to come off even the highs and try and get back to normal and relax a bit.

What is a penalty shootout like from a psychologist’s perspective?

Christopher Mesagno: Research suggests that penalty shootouts are a bit like a lottery as they are so stressful that you may not even know what you’re doing. Those who can mentally regulate themselves and bring back calmness are best placed to succeed in that environment.

When you look at the shootout, there are distinct things that players do that show if they are going to score or not. Most players only miss by a small margin but with choking you see very large misses.

The lead up to the shot-making process is the point where some researchers suggest it is more likely for choking to occur, as players in that moment may be more pre-occupied with getting out of the situation than actually lining up and executing the shot.

One thing you to detect if the players are anxious is that they speed up their penalty kick prior to taking it. The idea of relaxing and taking a deep breath can really go a long way.

Final thoughts

These insights are a great tool for players at all levels as stress can affect anyone. For a player, knowing how to control their emotions is a crucial step in high performance and it was great to have an expert lay out some clear and tangible steps for any players to use.

Once again, we applaud the Matildas for their efforts both on and off the field during this memorable and historic tournament.

Speaking directly about the Matildas, Dr Mesagno offered his personal insight:

“It was amazing to see how the girls lifted and with Australia as well, the further they got into the tournament,” he said.

“I thought the national expectations lifted them a little bit which was nice to see.”

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