“I get knocked down, but I get up again. You’re never going to keep me down…”
Are you familiar with the lyrics? That is the expectation in boys and men in sports and life, “Man Up” is often heard on the sporting field. When you get knocked down, it’s expected you get back up again, brush off your knees and go forward. If you don’t get up you’re considered soft, weak, or less of a man (in some codes it’s even considered taking a dive).
And boy does that affect the ego.
However, did you listen to the prelude to the Tubthumping song, “… when we’re winning”?
In comparison, it can be much easier to get back up again when you’re winning, but what about when you’re losing, or things aren’t going so great?
Emotional Intelligence and talking about ‘feelings’ are widely more accepted amongst men in the 21st century… or are they?
In a sporting environment, you’re expected to be tough, after all, you’re judged on your physical capability, your grit and determination. Selectors and coaching staff look for more than just your talent on the field. They assess your ability to overcome adversity, manage your behavior and your resilience when you’re winning; and losing.
How does that relate to someone’s emotional and psychological well-being? You may be the toughest player out there, but mental health issues can be hidden from those closest to us. Stress, anxiety, and depression all play a huge factor in the well-being of whether someone can get back up again emotionally and psychologically.
Time and again the media is reporting on our elite athletes falling to the ‘Black Dog’ of depression. Why is it not obvious, how does it go unnoticed for so long?
Consider the pressures applied to a professional athlete and the demand on their thoughts, emotions and physical capabilities. Do you believe an athlete would have the confidence to approach coaching staff to address an emotional problem, especially when their being judged on their ability to perform?
Besides, don’t you only speak to a psychologist when you have a problem or you’re broken and need something fixed. What if there is something mentally wrong with you… how would that affect your career?
The stigma attached to men not being able to express thoughts and feelings reduces any opportunity for athletes to trust the system.
Boys don’t cry!
Yes, it can be confidential with qualified practitioners. Although they still have a duty of care. Do athletes really want to take the chance of being told, “perhaps you should sit it out for a while”, or “how about rehab?” That could be career ending. Sitting it out simply isn’t an option.
Imagine the fear involved in admitting your depressed or upset, especially when a sponsorship deal or a career contract is on the line? A professional athlete will never have the luxury of feeling safe. An injury could be just around the corner. Young up and coming contenders are continuously nipping at their heals. A form slump. Sickness. Salary Caps.
Men struggle to admit to their closest friends and family that they’re depressed. What chance has an athlete of telling their employer they think they’re emotionally or psychologically unstable? How easy is it to admit you have a drinking or a gambling problem?
What’s the solution?
We need to be proactive, rather than reactive. We need to educate at the grassroots level (and not just our athletes). We need to provide tools and strategies to develop self-efficacy, emotional intelligence and the confidence to manage these aspects of life. And we need to provide a safer environment so they believe they are not going through it alone.
Considering many professional athletes and aspiring athletes give up so much to achieve success, including their childhood, school grades, friendships, relationships, even their identity. They become known for the sport they play. They live and breath it, they become it.
Imagine taking that away from them. What fear does that create?
The fear of not being good enough.
The fear of retirement.
The fear of injury.
The fear of not belonging to a team.
The fear of not knowing who they are.
The fear of not being loved.
The fear of having no self-worth.
Of course, they’re going to admit they’re emotionally or psychologically unfit! Seriously?
Perhaps it is time to ‘Man Up’ and lead the way. We need to implement programs to develop
confidence and courage for boys and men to speak up, speak out and ask for help. Developing self-efficacy, emotional intelligence and the confidence to know who they are as men, even outside of sport, is a key component to succeed. Then when they do ask for help we need to give them an answer.
Looking for what’s wrong, or broken isn’t always the answer. Concentrating on weakness adds to the issue. We need to offer these athletes the ability to discover their own identity outside of sport. We need to identify what they do well off the field. What excites them, what engages them, what gives them the energy to succeed and feel fulfilled.
What are their strengths? And we don’t mean how much they can bench press. What can they do well other than run, jump or tackle? Give them purpose, meaning, something to look forward to for life after sport. Create habits now in how they think, feel and behave and develop those habits on and off the field. Give them the courage, compassion, and creativity to never have to fear to ask for help again.
There are already some great programs addressing mental health issues for men from advocates such as Beyond Blue and R U OK? We’re proud to be one of them. Focusing on strengths is a key component to developing these skills. If mental health is an issue for you, or you know someone you think may be struggling emotionally or psychologically, then reach out and ask for help. Our doors are always open.
For more information or assistance email firstname.lastname@example.org or complete the contact form below. Our programs (such as the Habits of Strength) are designed to prevent and avoid stress, anxiety, and depression by focusing on strengths (according to the Clifton StrengthsFinder®). Strengths Coaching is based on the positive psychology movement developing an individuals patterns of thought, emotion, and behavior. We believe to achieve success and live a happy and fulfilled life, you’ll go a lot further when you focus on your strengths.