What’s troubling our sport stars

AFL Player welfare is a hot-button issue and a renowned sports psychologist says form, failure and the future is what constantly weighs heavily on their minds.

Phil Jauncey, who spent 15 years with the Brisbane Lions and the Brisbane Broncos and is travelling with the Sri Lankan cricket team, said elite sports men and women hit their esteem to how they, and their team, perform.

The Queensland psychologist said while your Average Joe worries about mortgage stress, AFL players' issues were quite removed from such everyday concerns.

"It's not a financial pressure at all. Money is not the issue," Jauncey said.

"How's the future going to go for them? How is their form? It's about self-esteem and who I am. If you're a performer, your status and esteem is based on how you perform and if the team is not doing well there is also pressure on that."

Former Brisbane Lions premiership star Michael Voss and sports psychologist Phil Jauncey walk the boundary during Lions match at the Gabba in 2005. Jauncey spent 15 seasons with the Lions. Picture: David Kapernick
Former Brisbane Lions premiership star Michael Voss and sports psychologist Phil Jauncey walk the boundary during Lions match at the Gabba in 2005. Jauncey spent 15 seasons with the Lions. Picture: David Kapernick

The welfare of AFL Players is under the spotlight after an incident with North Melbourne defender Majak Daw this week.

Former North Melbourne premiership star and mental health advocate Wayne Schwass said the AFL needed to be more proactive on player welfare.

Jauncey has seen the worst and best of times at an AFL club having joined Brisbane when they were the 'Bad News' Bears in 1994 and was still there during Lions' three-peat premiership era (2001-03) until 2008.

He said when a team had success like the Lions, even those on the fringe of selection get a kick out of it, but the exact opposite can occur in struggling sides.

Then there was the fact that judgment on their careers or form was out of their control and that can have a detrimental effect on their state of mind, especially for young or inexperienced players.

"They're not judged by themselves but they're judged by other people's perceptions and they don't get a chance to be in control about how people think about them," he said.

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Adding to the burden is the perception that AFL and NRL players had great jobs and had nothing to worry about when they don't enjoy "a lot of freedom" and there is the burden of the expectation of others.

Everything is organised for them from the time they have visit a physio to training and team, meetings.

Then there were the restrictions within the job that the public rarely had to deal with such as being unable to easily leave for another club if they're unhappy in the workplace.

Broncos coach Wayne Bennett with sports psychologist Phil Jauncey and former star Darren Lockyer during a Broncos game at Suncorp Stadium in 2007
Broncos coach Wayne Bennett with sports psychologist Phil Jauncey and former star Darren Lockyer during a Broncos game at Suncorp Stadium in 2007

"A great job is looking forward to work and know you are going to do a good job and feel good about that job," Jauncey said.

"In cricket, if someone goes out to bat and the team is three for 10 that is not a good feeling and they're not thinking this is a great job, they're thinking the whole nation is looking at me and how am I going to perform.

"The same thing with footy. It's about what other people think you are."

While players are encouraged to come forward and speak about depression or any mental health issues, it's still not an easy path to tread, said Jauncey.

Many remain quiet because they believe they will be perceived as being weak and without expressing their thoughts and bottling it up, it becomes "emotional constipation …. and it causes a hassle".

"The brain says that if you have a problem and you try and fix it, it's says 'it's good' but if you're not trying to fix it and avoid it, it will cause more pain and more emotional stress."

He also said players should not engage with social media in any form which he says is "the worst thing that has happened because you get judged"

"Don't get on it and don't look at because the amount of good you get will be far outweighed by the amount of bad you get."