Ever wondered how athletes deal with that part of their day or entire season when they feel all alone, caught by themselves trying to figure out where they’ve gone wrong, whether it’s all their fault or what will tomorrow bring?
Why does a top coach or manager feel alone? How can you feel isolated, with no-one to turn to, in an activity-filled dressing room? Why can a jet-setting sporting lifestyle leave you feeling like a stranger in your own home?
The perception is that once you’re in the spotlight, receiving a decent wage package, living in a nice home and moving around in a nice ride, that the person is privileged and living their dream life.
A BBC report stated recently: “Elite sport can appear a privileged profession, a chance to live out the childhood dreams of millions – and get paid for it. But there is a darker side. For some, the instability of life in the public spotlight can be as fraught as it is thrilling.
“People at the top of organisations can find themselves in isolation and that is a lonely and vulnerable place, especially as there is a lot of criticism that potentially goes with it,” says world-renowned sports psychologist Dr Steve Peters.
“Alongside this can be a feeling of being assessed publicly, which can further add to a sense of isolation. It has parallels with other professions such as the police, doctors or teachers. Not having an acknowledgement of what you are going through can be very stressful and isolating.”
The same feelings can afflict a sportsperson living a life where every public move is forensically scrutinised. Like anyone in any field, success is rarely a constant in the sport. Failure, or the fear of it, is never far away.
For years, depression was something no athlete could talk about openly. Yes, there are team sports. There is camaraderie, bonding, travelling together, and a lot of fun. But, ultimately, when it comes down to performance, the elite athlete is suddenly all alone. A player’s performance is being monitored by everyone around including the media. People in regular jobs often worry about their performance during their appraisal cycles but not otherwise. Top athletes have no such luxury.
Training for hours, making sacrifices for years and putting up with abuse and mistreatment along the way guarantees nothing. Professional sport guarantees nothing. It takes a lot just to stay alive in the race. Just to remain competitive, a player has to engage in an extraordinary, energy-sapping fitness and practice routine. Consider the curious case of Novak Djokovic. The Serb willed himself to the No 1 spot in the hugely competitive men’s game and went about crushing every major record. Suddenly, when everybody was anticipating how far he could go, Djokovic’s world came crashing down.
Dr Rudi Webster, in his book “Think like a Champion” wrote, “Many sportsmen suffer from a form of “combat fatigue” or mental fragility at some stage of their career”
Webster went on to state: “Unlike Tiger Woods the golfer, Lara was not prepared or trained to deal with the trappings and the intense and chronic pressures of superstardom, nor did he have the support network around him to protect him from the constant pressures that he faced. The continuous battles and chronic stresses that he encountered eventually took their toll and at one stage he showed signs and symptoms of “combat fatigue”. He then gave up the captaincy and withdrew from the team for a while to get some rest and recreation and to recharge his physical and psychological batteries.
“When he returned to the game, later on, his mind was rested, fresh and alert and he played some of the most magnificent innings imaginable,” Webster stated. Lara did also speak about persons whom he could rely on for support during those difficult periods in his career.
Perhaps the most dangerous time for an elite sportsperson is when the moment comes to call it a day. The void of retirement can be acute. For this group, activities like the Veteran Footballers Foundation Annual Carnival lime happening today in Barataria is a good way to reignite things. Great friends and colleagues from times gone by getting the chance to reminiscence in one place, to feel good again and to be valued for their contributions from however long ago. Activities like these, as often as possible are a good remedy for those who need to feel that buzz once more.
I think it’s advisable to have the right people around you even if it means always having at least one person you can talk to. It could be a life companion such as a girlfriend or wife, an old friend, the best buddy or someone whom you consider a great deal and trust. It’s important for young people, young athletes to start developing those habits that will benefit you at some point in your lives when you may need it the most.
Shaun Fuentes is the head of TTFA Media. He is a former FIFA Media Officer at the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa. He is also currently a CONCACAF Competitions Media Officer and has travelled extensively, experiencing and learning from different cultures and lifestyles because of sport and media over the past 20 years. He is also a certified media trainer for athletes.
LINK ORIGINAL: The Trinidad Guardian