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.
One for fans of Jack Higgins. His amazing football education as he skipped Year 12. His dad and fitness trainer detail why he took the path less travelled https://t.co/okekgBxbmm
— Jon Ralph (@RalphyHeraldSun) April 25, 2018
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.
Will Pucovski is third player to withdraw this summer citing mental health concerns. Follows Glenn Maxwell and Nic Maddinson.
It’s a sad and alarming trend. https://t.co/UkbgpE6w0d
— Peter Lalor (@plalor) November 13, 2019
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.
— flynn™ (@nufcflynn) October 27, 2019
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.