BY PATIENCE LEPHOGOLE
There is a perception that modern footballers live a charmed life that they play the sport they love and are paid lavishly for that.
They have all fame and adulation of supporters. Theirs is a life on the fast lane. Snazzy dressers, flashy cars and all the trappings associated with being a star. They are living the dream.
However, contrary to this popular belief, the life of a professional footballer has the darker side.
Research is proving that beyond the facade of their glamorous lifestyles and popularity, many modern professional footballers are prone to mental problems.
Evidence is coming up that ignorance to the modern footballer’s mental health is real, hence the need for them to be given a chance to express their inner thoughts and get medical assistance from psychologists.
The situation, however, is not helped by the stigma attached to mental health.
Due to their larger than life personas and lifestyle, it seems people forget that footballers too are human beings, they have feelings.
It is worthwhile to note that these athletes are under great pressure, each performance is scrutinised in public by society, and more often than not they set themselves goals that are too high. Their day to day lifestyles are criticised and made fun off by the public.
Dealing with such can be a challenge to other athletes, whilst for others they have learnt to live with it for the rest of their football careers.
With this in mind, reports on mental health of footballers have become the basis for the international football community to develop and implement optimal strategies to protect and promote the sustainable health of professional footballers and Botswana is no exception.
According to the Footballers’ Union Botswana (FUB) Secretary General Kgosana Masaseng, statistics point to a growing trend of mental health problems for professional footballers.
“As a union, we took part in the 2015 FIFPro research that showed that symptoms of mental health problems are more widespread in current and former professional footballers than in the general population,” Masaseng noted.
The FUB Secretary General said as a footballers’ union, they are aware of mental issues that prevail in footballers’ lives beyond their glamorous and most admired lifestyles.
“We are alive to the challenges faced by our members including societal pressure. We continue to offer our members continuous solutions and to this end our medical committee headed by a former national team striker Patrick Zibochwa has been raising awareness about mental health.”
“Zibochwa who possesses a Masters degree in mental health is designated as a person of trust such that players can turn to him if they are anxious or depressed. This was after a realisation that it is important for footballers and other athletes to be able to speak to an independent person if they are suffering mentally,” Masaseng added.
Masaseng further noted that they are aware that athletes may shy away from such mental issues, although they are a reality.
“We know players won’t tell their own coach or other officials if they have mental health challenges and our arrangement is to use of our own who has been a player before and appreciates all these dynamics,” he added.
Concerning the 2015 FIFPro findings, Masaseng said the study also found that current professional footballers who had sustained three or more severe injuries during their career were two to nearly four times more likely to report mental health problems than professional footballers who had not suffered from severe injuries.
The data shows that the rates of depression and/or anxiety in both current and former professional footballers appear to be much higher than those of groups controlled to represent the general populous, and even other elite athletes. Scientific studies have placed the rates of feelings of depression and/or anxiety in a general population between the 13% reported in Australia and the 17% reported in the Netherlands, while a 2000 study on French Olympic athletes placed the rates at 17%.
In the report, FIFPro chief medical officer Dr. Vincent Gouttebarge indicated that the research will spur leaders in football to create “supportive measures” such as “exit-career examinations” which will, “aid the transition into post-career life and provide comfort to both current and former players that there is support for a previously taboo issue.”
However, Botswana Football Association (BFA)’s Public Relations Officer (PRO) Tumo Mpatane has highlighted that they are not widely exposed to mental health issues affecting footballers.
“In our football, it is not really common or should I say we are not commonly exposed to it, although we are aware that it can take place,” Mpatane said.
While this may be the case, the BFA spokesperson says the association has not totally neglected the problem and is always seeking to ensure players get the help they need.
“We have always asked our structures and teams to utilize government facilities to and regularly have psychologists interacting with them,” he highlighted.
Mpatane said: “When our national teams are in camp we always try to highlight the importance of sharing mental thoughts hence we invite psychologists to regularly talk to our players.”
“Normally this benefits footballers as they get empowered with life skills and get taught on emotional intelligence,” Mpatane noted.
On the other hand the national team performance may pose a different aspect that indeed mental health has an effect on players, although it is not widely communicated to them. It is clear that in most cases, athletes choose to keep to themselves than sharing with psychologists.