By ASHLEIGH EBERT.
Training outdoors in the sunshine, for a sport that you live, breath and love to play, attending coffee and lunch dates in-between…
All that’s required is the ability to switch on and perform at your peak once a week, whilst receiving plenty of attention and a worthy pay check.
These are the perceptions which many people have of an AFL players so called ‘luxurious life’.
They base their opinions on glamourised stereotypes and struggle to fully understand that the players do, in fact, face many challenges that can affect both their physical and mental health, as well as their general well-being.
With the start of the AFL Premiership season last weekend between Sydney and the new Greater Western Sydney, many of the teams and players have had their anticipation replaced with expectations of performance.
These feelings can be overwhelming and have the potential to cause mental illness.
In recent weeks, Geelong midfielder Simon Hogan has come out and told of his suffering of depression.
The former Warrnambool boy was just another Geelong kid trying to break into a legendary side when he was hit by the debilitating illness.
“With the physical fatigue and mental stress of the season coming up and with expectations building, I guess the actual symptoms you feel are that you are tired and training is such a big effort,” the 23-year-old said.
AFL players face the pressure and expectation of performing on the big stage weekly and society then forms its opinions of these players based on just that…their performance!
If they are playing well and the team is seeing success, the boys are very much in favour.
However, if they happen to be out of form, continuous criticism and scrutiny is fired in their direction.
It only takes one week for an AFL player to go from the top of the food chain and flavour of the month to come crashing to the bottom with a very loud thump.
As a result, mental health issues, such as depression, come into play.
Hogan has recently become an ambassador for national youth mental health foundation Headspace through a partnership with the AFL Players’ Association (AFLPA).
The AFLPA said 43 per cent of players had spoken to a mental health expert.
Through research, it found that 127 players were referred to the AFLPA’s psychologists last year, with the main reasons being stress (39 players) and anxiety/depression (33 players).
Combine both the pressure that players put on themselves to perform and the external scrutiny from the media and supporters and you come up with something quite lethal.
Combine this with the harsh reality of leaving the comfort of the family home, which many young boys have to succumb too, and you realise the not-so-glamorous side to a footballer’s life.
Port Adelaide midfielder Brad Ebert had to leave his family home at the raw age of 17 and discovered a harsh reality.
His entire life was packed into two large suitcases bound for Perth, nearly 3000 km’s away from his hometown of Adelaide; a huge task for a boy who had only turned 17 that year and had a close relationship to his family and friends.
“It was definitely a very big challenge,” Ebert said.
“Living at home was all I had ever known and felt comfortable with.”
Ebert, along with many other young AFL prodigies, was forced to leave the family home to pursue his dream of one day making it to the big league.
It is such a huge task and something which most 17 year olds do not even have to contemplate.
“I was forced to grow up and mature very quickly, compared to a lot of my mates,” Ebert said.
“There were plenty of times where I got homesick and just wanted to be back home with my family, which is the main reason I moved back at the end of last year.”
Having settled back into his home state of South Australia in October last year, Ebert is finding that his football is benefitting immensely.
“I guess I don’t have to deal with the challenges of being away from the family home anymore,” he said.
The challenges faced by AFL players continue throughout their entire careers.
The horizon brings with it the possibility of leaving home, which, in turn, paves the way for constant pressure and expectation.
A footballer’s life is, in fact, a far cry from the glamour and ease we so often assume it to be.