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.

 

 

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

Venezia FC: cultivating a unique fashion and branding profile

The heritage, the charm, the biennales, the architecture, the art, the canals, the fashion and now football has been added to that list.

Venice boasts a wealth of cultural treasures, and for the first time in 19 years in 2021 the city had its own football team, Venezia FC, playing in the top division of Italian football.

Despite the city’s brilliance and beauty, Venezia FC’s path to the top has been far from conventional. Over the past couple of decades, the club has faced financial chaos, backroom turmoil, relegations, and takeovers. Yet, despite these sink-or-swim moments, the few years prior to being promoted to Serie A, have seen the club flourish on the world stage in a completely new way.

Despite players and fans needing to travel by boat to the 11,150-capacity Stadio Pier Luigi Penzo, the club has ascended with a clear Moneyball philosophy and a marketing team that has transformed them into a true powerhouse in style and with the highest level of craftmanship to the making of clothes.

The kits have been an undeniable success, generating the kind of buzz and headlines usually reserved for Nigeria and PSG releases. The home kit sold out on its first day of sale, and since then, 95% of online sales have come from outside Italy. Venezia FC has truly gone global.

Naturally, any marketer understands that successful brands don’t just provide products to purchase; they offer something to be a part of. While selling items is beneficial, selling a lifestyle is even more effective.

Before long, the website of Venezia FC began featuring poetic essays about the city and interviews with esteemed cultural figures like Cecilia Alemani, the artistic director of the Biennale. The post-match report adopted a passionate editorial tone that is rarely observed in the realm of football.

Ted Philipakos, the former Chief Marketing Officer of Venezia FC, is one of the key architects behind the club’s rapid success both on and off the field. As the club started to emerge from its depths, the former NYU sports marketing professor managed Venezia’s transition from Nike to Kappa – a change that has significantly transformed the club ever since.

Venezia’s fairytale return to prominence has been widely chronicled, but a lesser-known story is how the club swiftly transitioned from the verge of collapse to flourishing once more.

The club’s initial connection to the fashion world came through a scarf created in collaboration with the New York collective Nowhere F.C., produced in 2017 featuring in a photoshoot in NYC.

Under the art direction of Fly Nowhere, Venezia FC’s marketing, creative strategies, and merchandise were managed between New York and Venice, providing the club with global visibility through a stylistic perspective for the first time.

In February 2020, Duncan Niederauer, the former CEO of the New York Stock Exchange spearheaded an ownership restructuring and assumed the role of president, a time when the club was undergoing one of the most dramatic rebranding’s in recent football history. The club aimed to align its identity more closely with the city’s renowned classical art and architecture.

The Winged Lion, central to both the club’s logo and the iconic Piazza San Marco, received a redesign. The kits were revamped to emphasise the club’s signature green and orange colour scheme, enhanced with subtle gold features, creating one of the most visually striking combinations in world soccer. Suddenly, Venice boasted a soccer team as glamorous and stylish as the historic buildings lining its canals.

Venezia FC will be vying to be promoted once again to the Serie A in a two legged playoff against Cremonese over the next week, with avid enthusiast of football culture will be hoping to see more of what has been famously described as “football on water” being played at the Pier Luigi Penzo Stadium once again in the top division.

The Isuzu UTE A-League and Liberty A-League clubs can take learnings for some of the techniques and strategies that have worked so well at Venezia FC, whether that is partnerships, kit launches stylishly shot around the teams home city, or even if its to standout by not having a typical football club badge, Venezia FC has set the standard on how to market their merchandise through social media platforms as well as having an upmarket boutique store.

Philipakos noted a shift in the global football landscape he said via the esquire website:

“There was a technological evolution, a generational change and a psychographic shift, where this new generation had an entirely different relationship with football.”

It is important for teams around the country to understand that a club doesn’t need a top player or be playing in the top division for them to have a huge following on social media, understanding the marketing aspect will be enough.

NSW Football Legacy Fund delivers LED lighting for Collaroy Cromer Strikers

Collaroy Cromer Strikers Football Club (CCSFC) in the Manly Warringah Football Association (MWFA) are a grant recipient in Round 2 of the NSW Football Legacy Fund for 2023-24.

This will go towards the construction of 100 lux LED floodlighting at Inman Park, located within Northern Beaches Secondary College.

The NSW Football Legacy Fund is a $10 million investment from the NSW Government.

This program’s primary focus is the support of the growing women’s football scene through new community facilities, participation initiatives, development programs and international/ tourism engagement.

CCSFC was the eighth largest club in NSW in 2023 and only recently became the biggest club per participation in MWFA with over 2,000 members.

The MWFA itself was the largest association in NSW in 2023 and had an impressive 10% participation from local northern beaches council communities with 20,000 members.

Cromer High's LED lights by day.

Soccerscene spoke to David Manson, CCSFC Vice President of Girls/Women’s Teams, on this player influx and the new project for the club.

“The club executive team had dedicated a lot of time in arranging the ability to utilise the ground at Cromer High through the Council,” he said.

“The club growth has been finding it difficult to allocate training enough training space on its existing fields within suitable hours.

The Football Legacy Program has given CCSFC a grant of up to $68,000 with a co-contribution from the club itself of $68,000 for the lighting installation specifically. The club also invested another $60,000.00 for the Irrigation ($45,000.00) and the lighting development application ($15,000,00) costs.

“Once the access was granted, the club committed to the installation of an Irrigation system and then new sports field lighting.

“The costs to install lighting is significant so applying for the grant to fund 50% was an easy decision.

“The grant process itself has been very simple and effective process.”

This expansion will importantly allow for an extra field to be open for longer hours through the afternoon, and also help lessen the impact on the other available fields, increasing the quality of all playing sites.

“The inclusion of lighting at Inman Park will enable the club to allocate another area for teams to train and play in winter competitions,” Manson said.

Manson also indicated the wider future community impacts of having another field available.

“It will enhance facilities for the local community by increasing the percentage of children and adults participating regularly in football, increasing the number of facilities designated for football and improve participant retention for football and active recreation,” he explained.

A wide view of the LED lights in action.

A key part of the investment application is the impact on women’s football, Manson added about the impressive growth the club has had in their women’s participation.

“Since 2020 Collaroy Cromer Strikers have seen its largest growth in women between the ages of U8-U18,” he said.

“Season 2020 has the strikers (CCSFC) players in these age groups at 397. In 2023 we have 577.

“That means a total increase of 180 players at roughly 65% increase in that period.

“Overall female participation rose from 2022 (693) to 2023 (743) a total of 50 more participants” In 2024 the club has a total of 882 registered female players.

This investment in the upgrade in facilities has been accepted as welcomed support for the Club, towards its ever-expanding registration numbers and quality of football.

It also indicates how investment into existing club programs for facilities or equipment upgrades can elevate the local clubs and the footballing opportunities for all in our communities.

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