Professional Footballers grow up playing the game from a young age, committing their life to achieve the dream of becoming a professional footballer. So why do some players willingly throw it away?
They give so much, which leaves them vulnerable and hyper-sensitive to the environment and the people within.
Commitment: The commitment involves giving up time. Giving up their youth, a key time to explore self and be curious, missing out on building relationships with family and friends, exploring other interests, sacrificing education and their most important currency – time. Time and education are important within their own right but between 16 and 21 even more so, because this is the period where people in life pull away from each other. They go into employment or education in support of their overall mission/employment goal. Footballers during this time have a limited pool of subjects they can study whilst pursuing their career as a professional footballer and are more than aware of the sacrifices made to pursue their dream.
Emotional Volcano: Over the years I have seen players casually ruin their career. On the surface they have been seen as being a problem, having a bad attitude and more. The type of player that would argue with the manager about tactics, mannerisms and team selection. What’s this really about? Fear. A fear of being hurt again. In a fight not to be the victim the player seeks control within the situation, which results in them losing control. This not always the case but extremely common, a scene that has plagued football for years.
Lack of Communication: After committing to the game, during their careers players will find themselves on the subs bench, dropped from the match day squad or released from their contracts without much being said. Feeling as though their manager could of explained their reasons behind their actions and/or returned the investment into the relationship. Players experience great sadness within these moments.
The Result? After committing to a relationship where you invested your life, the other person involved doesn’t invest the same amount, there’s a lack of communication and results in you being dumped, there’s going to be pain. Pain that will affect how you behave in future relationships, with players not wanting to feel this pain again. A pain I refer to as ‘Performance Trauma’, which has players opting to leave the game all together, being a shadow of themselves or carrying out self sabotaging behaviours.
Signing to a club is a commitment. A relationship. Many see the new relationship as a fresh opportunity, ignoring the old baggage that gets carried. As I am write this blog, I’m reflecting on two players I watched three hours ago. Both under the age of 21, playing for a non league football team, after from two of the biggest football clubs in the country three months ago. One has been to trials for a few teams and has struggled to secure a contract. Football is a game of opinions but to be good enough for one of the biggest clubs in the country and arguably the world, and be seen as not good enough for other clubs should tell you that the reason stretches passed the physical.
How Can We Improve This? Understanding the relationships within the environment is important, if you look at football as a separate entity in life you will always be limited in what you can offer. The relationship example above is the same as a relationship with your spouse, strip the context away and you’re left with a commitment to manager and club, love and passion (for the game). The lack of communication and rejection brings pain, distrust and insecurity, birthing a self sabotaging player that will go on to cause havoc everywhere. However, a player centred approach will provide a safe environment for the most bruised talents to flourished.
Communication is key! You set out your playing style and philosophy, so it’s only right that you set out your relationship style and philosophy. Having processes for how you drop players makes them feel safe! This doesn’t mean they will like it and you shouldn’t want them to, but clarity, consideration and consistency will reduce turbulence. Rio Ferdinand spoke of not wanting Sir Alex Ferguson to come to his hotel room the morning of a game because that’s what Sir Alex would do when he dropped a player. That was how Sir Alex carried out the process, he would tell the players they were dropped and explain why. Admittedly angry, Rio accepted and appreciated Sir Alex Ferguson’s strategy.
Warmth and mindful communication plays a key role. Delivery and being empathetic to the responses you get from players go a long way. It changes how they feel, thus changing how they play for you. For youth coaches who want to develop warmth and mindful communication I would suggest modelling a youth worker/primary school teacher and for senior coaches, read up on the intricate ways Sir Alex Ferguson managed his staff and players (key points in his book ‘Leadership’).
Please note that this blog is only an example to open the mind of the reader and not the only reason for players to self sabotage and not the only solutions. For example, a player may sabotage their career because they feel that they do not deserve it or are afraid of what the success will bring (born from an unfortunate childhood).
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