The taxing psychological side of football


TWITTER – @jclark182


As a kid, I imagined the AFL to be a utopian world.

How fun would it be to run around playing the game you love and getting paid handsomely for it?

And while I still think it would be a great gig, it is not the perfect world that many people may think.

I believe we will see an era of players retiring at a younger age.

Not because of the increasing speed of the game, but because of the crippling mental exhaustion and mounting pressure placed on these athletes.

Playing sport at an elite level would have to be right up there on the list of high-pressure occupations.

This should not come as a surprise considering the environment of mentally-driven sportsmen, with many motivated by a fear of failure.

A simple on-field mistake could result in it being scrutinised all week by coaches, the media and fans of the game.

Sports psychology is a growing industry and it may eventually become one of the most important roles at a football club, if it isn’t already.

Confidence is everything in football and it is something that is easy to lose.

It can turn a skilful player into someone that is nervous and indecisive when they have the ball in hand.

They will often choose to go short or kick sideways for fear of making a crucial mistake, thus limiting their overall influence on the match.

But on the other hand, confidence can be a wonderful thing for a person’s football.

It can make you feel like superman, just take a look at Jake Carlisle’s recent form.

Fans sit back in the luxury of their lounge rooms and criticise players for being lazy, unprofessional and perhaps not caring enough about their side they so passionately support.

But the reality is that these people would have little idea about the mindset of particular players.

I found the comments of Sydney premiership player Mitch Morton particularly interesting upon his retirement from the game.

As a Richmond supporter, I followed Morton’s career closely after he was traded to the Tigers from the West Coast Eagles.

He often appeared laconic and lethargic on the field, and gave off the perception of having all the talent in the world but not caring enough about his performance.

However this could not have been further from the truth.

Morton suffered from extreme anxiety such was the pressure he placed on himself to perform.

He said he had thrown up before every AFL game, including ten times before the grand final, and often wondered whether his career would have been different had he not had this issue.

“At Richmond, it got to the point where I wanted it so much and it wasn’t happening and I’d drive to training and I’d almost be regurgitating my food before every session.

“I’ll always be a worrier because that’s how I am, but it was out of control.”

We all know about former Melbourne star Mitch Clark, who revealed he was suffering from depression and subsequently announced his retirement.

Clark reportedly felt he was letting the club down due to his persistent injuries resulting in him being unable to get out onto the field.

Depression is a much bigger issue than football but there is no doubt being in that pressure-cooker environment would not have helped him, hence his decision to retire.

So before we, the fans, sit back and try to predict a player’s mindset, we need to realise that we really do not have much of an idea about what is going on inside that player’s head.

About Jackson Clark

Born and bred in Darwin, Northern Territory, I am a young, aspiring football writer that lives and breathes the game of Australian Football. I'm also a keen player and coach.


  1. Malcolm Ashwood says

    Great article Jackson and we all must remember how every 1 is so different we had a guy at , Ad Uni fc who threw up before every game he played what ever the grade and yet professionally is a doctor v high up and performs remarkable feats also the issue of depression as players are either cut or leave the system and don’t no what to do with there lives is another aspect .
    Thanks Jackson v thought provoking

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