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Thread: Emotionally damaged minority must be carefully managed by footy clubs

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    Emotionally damaged minority must be carefully managed by footy clubs

    Emotionally damaged minority must be carefully managed by footy clubs

    John Connolly | September 21, 2008

    Times have changed, players haven't. The game off the field is now just as big as the game on it. There are up to 1200 professional footballers across AFL, NRL and rugby in Australia and this year we've had more off-field incidents than ever before.

    By my count, there have been about seven alcohol-fuelled indiscretions this season which, to put things in perspective, is about 0.5 per cent of the players.

    Over the years, we've seen assaults, drug issues or just a bit of old-fashioned larrikinism, and they cause problems for the respective codes. Community standards have changed and more is expected of the players. There used to be only one or two journalists covering a sport in any city, but now there's more than a dozen competing for stories. Nothing is hidden. Nothing gets swept under the carpet any more.

    Many years ago, in the amateur rugby days, I got a call from a nightclub in Brisbane early one morning. There was a player on the dance floor boogieing away in his No.1 shirt and tie. It was time to close up, but he refused to let the DJ turn the music off. The bouncers were too scared to do anything. I had to drive to the club in my tracksuit at 2am to convince him to get off the dance floor. Imagine if that happened in this day and age! I can laugh about it now, but I didn't see the funny side then. The player remains a good friend of mine.

    These days, sponsors are tipping in millions of dollars and they don't want their brand tarnished. But, in essence, the players haven't changed.

    They are still good blokes. The problem is they don't have full-time jobs. They have big disposable incomes and too much time on their hands. I don't agree that young sportsmen should be made role models, but the fact is they are. They have to come to terms with that.

    There are plenty of athletes in more obscure sports who are just as good but they have to work to make a living. All clubs recognise this issue and have support organisations set up to teach the players life skills. Players today often leave school and immediately earn six-figure salaries. Many don't live in the real world. There's a lot of talk about living in a fishbowl, and we probably create that closed environment.

    Michael Blucher, director of the Third Half, specialises in tutoring players about preparing for life after sport and appropriate behaviour. He believes they can be split into three categories: players who come to an understanding of their responsibilities straight away; players who learn appropriate behaviour as their careers progress; and players who are clueless and will never adjust to expectations.

    Unfortunately, other social issues are usually responsible for the behaviour of the latter group. Blucher tells the story of a top-flight footballer who grew up in a caravan park and was beaten up by his father - and reckons he's the sort of player who will always run into strife. The clubs that take these players on take on a great responsibility. Surely the answer is identifying the third group and working very closely with them.

    Most players don't know what it's like to have bills stuck on the fridge they can't pay. They end up having a very warped sense of life.

    I've often wondered over the past few years why coaches and managers refer to the team as "the group". The term annoys me. All coaches aim for a certain amount of self-government within their teams, but the idea of "the group" sitting in on disciplinary matters isn't the way to go. Surely the team is run by management and you don't want players put into awkward positions by judging their teammates. You wonder if calling them "the group" can make them more insular and more distant from society's expectations. After all, they are just a footy team.

    The football codes are going to be dishing out some tough love in the future and that may be the answer. If a player has just one indiscretion, he could be forced to move on. Public opinion and sponsorship pressure will dictate this course of action.
    Although there are loopholes in the system, such as when banned rugby league players jump ship to union, particularly to European clubs.

    The last issue that needs to be addressed is work-life balance.

    In league's National Youth Competition, players are expected to have a job or study to help set them up for life after football.

    I like the idea.

    Though it's important that players study for a bona fide degree, not a diploma off the back of a Corn Flakes packet.

    Somebody at the club needs to ensure the study is appropriate and followed through and that Blucher's third group is identified.

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  2. #2
    Legend Contributor Thequeerone's Avatar
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    Isn't a lot of this already happening ?

    It is thought provoking though

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