This is football season in the United States and Canada. It is not the kind of football that grabs most of the world’s attention but both types generate enthusiasm in the fans and stress in the players. A posting on Yahoo.com describes how pressures to achieve extend beyond athletics and are seen in business people, students, and others who are driven to be successful.
The Yahoo article describes the anxiety, depression, relationship conflicts, breakdowns and sometimes the suicides of professional football players. Consider the following, some of which also might apply to the people we lead or try to help.
- Professional players encounter persistent pressure to perform. They are watched and critiqued every day. According to one former player, “This is probably the only profession where you walk into a building and say hi to somebody who is going to their office to look at film trying to find somebody who is better than you….Can you imagine going to work like that every day, thinking that somebody you work with is doing nothing but trying to replace you?” Coaches, reporters and commentators add to the criticism and pressure to perform.”
- These external pressures encourage players to blame others. But a lot of the pressure is internal: the drive to succeed, fear of injury, loss of confidence, the tendency to build one’s whole identity around being a successful football player. And like everybody else there are worries around finances, relationships, or keeping one’s marriage in tact.
- Football leagues provide ample opportunity for help. Professional counseling is available and encouraged. But almost nobody asks for help. This would mean admitting to oneself that “I’m not tough enough to handle this.” One former player commented that these people have been told often and have come to believe that “they can overcome anything, do anything, if they work at it…. You see the same thing in doctors, lawyers, bankers. Athletes think they are stronger than anyone else. Doctors think they’re smarter.”
What does this mean for those of us who are pressured or who work with pressured people? How do we intervene to make a difference? Please share your comments.