As a footballer you should not give the impression that you are insecure

One faced fame and criticism in the media. The other was ridiculed on a TV show every week. Another coach’s piss became a pole. Some faced silence and only some got psychological help from the club. For the new football season, NRC With seven (former) professional players about the importance of mental toughness in their sport.

World football federation FIFA launched a campaign last week to draw attention to mental illness among professionals. According to research by international players’ association Fifpro, 23 percent of active professional football players suffer from sleep problems, 9 percent suffer from depression and 7 percent suffer from anxiety. These percentages are even higher among former professionals.

Last season, some famous players talked about their mental health. Such as former international Gregory van der Wiel, FC Utrecht player Willem Jansen and ADO Den Haag’s Ricardo Kishna. “For over a year I have been battling panic attacks and anxiety, which began when I was chilling at home in LA,” van der Wiel wrote in a statement. “At the time I didn’t know what was wrong with me and thought I was having a heart attack.” His words sparked a national debate.

“It amazes me that more and more players are revealing their mental problems during their careers, as gymnast Simone Biles did during the Olympic Games,” says AZ’s top sports coach, Bart Hewing. “It removes taboo and ensures that football players can talk about it among themselves and with experts.” He says that the FIFA campaign should be seen from this perspective.

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Huwingh also attends training camp in AZ. “People sometimes ask if I have enough to do in such a week. But they do not ask the physiotherapist. While it’s the same process to improve your performance, have that in mind.”

In AZ, Huwing begins with players at the age of twelve. Prevention, they say, is the root. “In presentations, I often use the Frederick Douglass quote: ‘It is easier to raise strong children than to repair broken ones.'” Football players don’t talk about their feelings easily, he says, so there’s no point in waiting for them to walk into your office. “Well because I am always there, I can provoke them in the middle, quarrel with them. I give them a book, organize meetings for the whole team, share articles through the app. ”


Since the statements of celebrities like van der Veel, more and more football players are knocking on his door, says Afke van de Vau, a performance coach and sports psychologist who practices at the KNVB Football Association. “In psychology we call this ‘generalization’: generalizing their thoughts, feelings, and behavior to their circumstances. Athletes experience this, for example, when they hear that other athletes have similar experiences in similar situations. , like competition tension and a sense of pressure to perform. You saw it in Willem Janssen’s videos on YouTube, she says, which surfaced after van der Wiel’s statement. “He adds: It was a great relief that many People are affected by it.”

And that’s not surprising, she says, because just check. with lots big life events What causes stress for the average person professional football players have to deal with: a job change, a move (often to another country with a different culture), a sudden change in salary. “And then they are often boys of eighteen, nineteen, an age at which most young people still live with their parents.”

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Former international tells Edson Brafid NRC That they regret that clubs invest money in a personal trainer for the body rather than a personal trainer for the mind. “Both are important, especially because young talents often have no idea what kind of world they are entering.” Former ADO defender Gianni Zuiverloon: As a football player you are constantly evaluated. Are you training well? Are you passing the ball tightly? “We’re looking at you, friend.” Dominic Janssen, just back from the Olympic Games in Japan: “One day you enjoy great respect, the next you are isolated. Meanwhile the pressure to present yourself well on social media is increasing. But What’s good? Is it okay if you walk away from yourself to please others?”

Dominic Janssen
‘The game is getting difficult even outside the field’

Name: Dominic Janssen (26)
Native land: Netherlands
Is: Professional football player at VfL Wolfsburg

“I was a people pleaser for a large part of my life. I didn’t dare say ‘no’ or set boundaries. Never learned to stand up for myself.

“When I was fifteen years old, my parents got divorced. There was tension in the house. I unknowingly took that stress with me. Football kind of felt like an exit. But when I lay on my bed at night, the emotions came.

“Sooner or later it will start to shrink, and it happened to me when I was twenty years old. I played at Arsenal and became Snitch with a few other guys. If the team was not doing well, the coach spoke to us personally about it. Not only was that tiring, it also made me feel lonely. Like I was a puppet in a FIFA game. This got me in doubt: do I still need this?

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“I started talking to a psychologist. That’s when I realized how angry I was. And also: How afraid I was to express that anger. I associated the anger with yelling, biting, scratching, hitting. Something Something I should stay away from. I didn’t even talk about anger.

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About the Author: Piers Parker

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