The overwhelming power of expectation can inspire greatness, but it can also create a mountain of unsurmountable pressure which may have longstanding negative implications.
We sometimes look at some of the greatest players in the world and envy their life. The money and fame are evident to all through the advancement of social media and globalisation. However, if we look beyond the amazing images on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, are their lives really so desirable?
The greatest footballers in the world are under such immense pressure to perform for a Global audience - sometimes up to three times per week. Their actions on the pitch have a massive influence on the lives of so many people – supporters and their families, owners, the media, the underworld, their loved ones and ultimately themselves.
German World Cup winner, Per Mertesacker recently announced that he was looking forward to retirement. The pressure of success became so unbearable that it was beginning to negatively effect his mental health. He stated that his nerves would hit such heights before matches that we would have to throw up.
Recently there was a report in the UK referencing the fact that 26% of top level footballers suffer from anxiety and depression. Arsene Wenger stated that young players lack normality due to the attractiveness of being a professional footballer even impacting their parents. When most of us were young, our parents would ask us how school was whereas today, when placed in a footballing environment, kids are asked how they performed on the pitch. A result is that they never understand football as enjoyable but rather a responsibility and expectation.
In 2013, there was a study encompassing 167 players under the age of 16 and a significant portion showed signs of chronic stress, exhaustion and disillusionment with a sport they pinned their dreams on. Imagine the long-term havoc that these emotions may play on their emotional stability.
Culturally, football is almost sacred in many countries throughout the world. In some, the criminal underworld wins and loses on the basis of their team’s success. A tragic outcome of the 1994 World Cup was the Captain of the Columbian national team, Andreas Escobar, being shot outside of a bar for scoring an own goal during the tournament. Ultimately, the beautiful game cost such an honorable man his life.
I love football and it was always a dream of mine to play professionally. Do I have the mental strength to have been able to play at the highest level and dealt with the pressure of expectation – I like to think so but cannot be certain as it’s never been my reality.
It’s important as parents to teach our kids to admire the time, effort and dedication it takes to play professional football and to carry those characteristics into whatever path they choose. It’s more critical that we do not place the weight of expectation on them because that is when football no longer becomes a game.