It’s the last week in September – one of the most eagerly awaited weeks in the Australian sports calendar… AFL finals fever is palpable! Recently Slade Group and the Interchange Bench were fortunate enough to get our own Aussie Rules footy fix, hosting well-known football journalist Caroline Wilson, CEO of Geelong Football Club, Brian Cook and Marc Murphy, Captain of Carlton FC at our annual Footy Lunch.

Our panel (with me as MC) rapidly covered off: Who can beat Richmond this year? (Collingwood); Can the West Coast Eagles win at the MCG? (I think so); How long will it take Carlton FC to make the final eight? (About 3-4 years!); And why are players leaving the Suns? (Global warming??)

Seriously though, what was most interesting about our panel discussion was Marc Murphy’s take on the current state of player welfare.

Back in the 80s, when I was playing, the big question was how do we get into Chasers nightclub and the Underground (without queuing, and a drink card would be nice too, thanks)? Innocent times in comparison.

Seriously though, Marc got everyone’s attention when he identified health and wellbeing as the top issue facing current AFL players. As someone who works in the people capital business, I was really interested.  Let’s talk about them here:

Mental Health

This is a massive issue, so much so that the AFL Players Association (AFLPA) has established a specialised in house Mental Health and Wellbeing team to provide counselling to current and past players. Statistics from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare reveal that up to one in five Australians will experience a mental illness in their lifetime – AFL players are no different.

Stress

All of us have work pressures – present stressors that can lead to mental health issues. However as AFLPA Head of Mental Health and Wellbeing Brent Hedley wrote, the current stressors for players include: performance anxiety, public scrutiny, media attention, injury and being away from the family. The public spotlight simply magnifies these stressors.

General Health and Wellbeing

Other common health issues amongst AFL players may include: depression, anxiety, drug and alcohol problems, eating disorders and gambling, side effects from injuries such as concussion, not to mention a whole range of other physical injuries related to contact sport. They may appear to be super human on the field, but often spend more time off field recovering.

Social Media

Social media can be a frenemy, especially for high profile footballers. Hedley’s advice is “Social media can be a confronting environment for players and cause significant stress, but it can also be one that gives players a chance to express themselves and show their human side.” This highlights the importance for players in having a strong network away from their sporting identities, which can support them when football is causing them stress.

Our Footy Lunch was a great event – we even picked a winner for Saturday (that’s right, your tip’s the one)! Yet Marc’s comments really hit a nerve with me. Footy players are like you and me (well, perhaps a bit more like me)… They win, they lose, they struggle, they laugh and they cry. The major difference is for a sports star, it’s all played out on an open stage for everyone to see. Players need help in the workplace from time to time, just like us. I think it’s great to see through the AFLPA that they’re getting it.

How do you manage stress and other pressures in your workplace? What are some of the strategies you have used to help improve the health and wellbeing of others @work?

 

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