One struggled with fame and criticism in the media. The other was ridiculed on a TV show every week. Another became the coach’s pissing post. Some suffered in silence and only a few received psychological help from the club. As the new football season approaches, NRC with seven (former) professional players on the importance of mental strength in their sport.
The world football association FIFA launched a campaign last week to draw attention to mental illness among professionals. According to a study by the International Players Union Fifpro, 23% of active professional football players suffer from sleep disorders, 9% suffer from depression and 7% suffer from anxiety. These percentages are even higher among ex-pros.
Last season, some famous players spoke out about their mental health. Like former international Gregory van der Wiel, FC Utrecht player Willem Janssen and Ricardo Kishna of ADO Den Haag. “For over a year, I have been dealing with panic attacks and anxiety, which started when I was relaxing at my home in LA,” Van der Wiel wrote in a statement. “At that point, I didn’t know what was wrong with me and thought I was having a heart attack.” His words sparked a national debate.
“It strikes me that more and more players are revealing their mental problems in the course of their careers, as gymnast Simone Biles did at the Olympic Games,” said Bart Heuvingh, AZ’s top sports coach. “It removes the taboo and ensures that footballers can talk about it among themselves and with experts. The FIFA campaign should be seen in this light, he said.
Heuvingh also goes to training camp in AZ. “People sometimes ask me if I have enough to do in such a week. But they don’t ask a physiotherapist. Granted, these are the same processes to improve your performance, but in the head.
At AZ, Heuvingh started with players from the age of twelve. Prevention, he says, is the crux. “In presentations, I often use the quote from Frederick Douglass: ‘It’s easier to build strong children than it is to mend broken men. ”Footballers don’t easily talk about their feelings, he says, so there’s no point waiting in your office for them to come in. “Precisely because I’m always there, I can stimulate them in between, by training with them. I give them a book, organize meetings for the whole team, share articles through the app.
Since the statements of celebrities such as Van der Wiel, more and more footballers are knocking on his door, explains Afke van de Wouw, performance coach and sports psychologist, who works for the KNVB football association. “In psychology we call this ‘normalizing’: finding your normal thoughts, feelings, and behavior given your situation. Athletes experience this, for example, when they hear that other athletes are going through the same thing under similar circumstances, such as the feeling of competitive tension and pressure to perform. You saw it in Willem Janssen’s YouTube video, she says, which appeared after Van der Wiel’s statement. “He said: It was a great relief that several people were touched by this.”
And that’s not surprising, she says, because you just have to check it out. With a lot of major life events that cause stress for the average person, professional footballers have to deal with: a change of job, a move (often to another country with a different culture), a sudden change in salary. “And then it’s often boys of eighteen, nineteen, an age at which most young people still live with their parents.”
Former international Edson Braafheid tells NRC that he regrets that clubs prefer to invest in a personal trainer for the body rather than a personal trainer for the mind. “Both are important, because young talent, in particular, often has no idea what kind of world they are entering.” Former ADO defender Gianni Zuiverloon: “As a football player you are continuously evaluated. Are you training well? Do you pass the ball tight? “We’re looking at you, mate.” Dominique Janssen, just back from the Olympic Games in Japan: “One day we enjoy great respect, the next day we are put aside. Meanwhile, the pressure to present themselves well on social media is increasing. But what is good? Is it okay if you distance yourself from yourself to please others? “
“The game is also getting more difficult off the pitch”
Last name: Dominique Janssen (26)
Native country: The Netherlands
East: Professional football player at VfL Wolfsburg
“I have been a pleasure to people for much of my life. I did not dare to say “no” and I did not set any limits. Never learned to defend myself.
“My parents divorced when I was fifteen. There were tensions in the house. I subconsciously carried this tension with me. Football seemed to be an issue. But when I was lying in my bed at night, the emotions came.
“Sooner or later it’s going to start to twist, and it happened to me when I was twenty. I played for Arsenal and, along with a few others, I became the snitch. If the team was not doing well, the coach spoke to us personally. Not only was it exhausting, but it also left me feeling lonely. Like I’m a puppet in the FIFA game. It made me doubt: do I still want this?
“I started talking to a psychologist. It was only then that I realized how angry I was. And also: how I was afraid to express this anger. I have associated anger with screaming, biting, scratching, hitting. Something I should stay away from. I didn’t mention anger either.
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