In the past week many conversations centered on the tragic murder suicide of Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher and his girlfriend Kasandra Perkins. Although the couple recently experienced a separation and relationship problems, no one who knew them could predict the looming powder keg of violence or heartbreaking end to their story.
Teammates remember Belcher as a hard worker not known for trouble either in his professional or collegiate career, but rather displaying a strong football mind, confidence and overall mental toughness. Although Belcher may not have exhibited outward indications of the potential for such deadly violence, his actions demand the NFL to analyze their policies for treating players who may suffer from any mental illness or seek treatment from a mental health professional.
On Thursday, December 6th TJ Quinn hosted a panel of coaches, players, a sport and clinical psychology expert, and team executives in a live interview on ESPN’s Outside the Line. http://espn.go.com/espnradio/play?id=8721601. Their discussion focused on the current procedures the NFL uses to address mental health for the football players, and also possible solutions to increase the scope of services so that the athletes feel comfortable to seek help when needed.
Football psychologist understands the isolation often felt by men in the sport built on toughness. Any weakness, whether physical or mental, may be interpreted as grounds for less playing time in their minds. All football players understand that more playing time equals more money, so anything that hinders time on the field is avoided at all costs. Perceived weakness lessens football confidence.
Previously NFL teams employed veteran players in a role of the team Player Engagement Director. These men mentored current players to assist with life outside the stadium. Some athletes argued they felt these directors often acted as “spies” for executive management and coaches. As lack of trust grew so did the lack of true transparency into what areas might cause an issue with the player.
Others felt the Director provided a fatherly figure with sound advice, vital to their transition to a professional athlete. However, even the best directors as a mentor are not trained professionals in mental health. While they may provide necessary insight into a player’s thought processes, and build a great mental game of football, they are not fully equipped to deal with true mental illness.
This past year the NFL instituted a confidential hotline for players seeking counseling for emotional issues at the website www.NFLlifeline.org. This is one step to reach players outside the team’s executive realm so that there is true confidentiality. Praised should be given to the NFL for the current measures, but the need for interaction with professional mental health counselors as a common practice within a team will enhance the mental well being of the players.
Sports psychology in football emphasizes the need to reach players where they are. This may sometime mean non traditional methods of building relationships while maintaining individual confidentiality. This still requires the athlete to accept accountability and seek outside help when feeling overwhelmed or experiencing unfamiliar emotional stress.
The player seeking true mental toughness understands the power provided by mental game coaches in achieving confidence on the football field and in their outside lives.
I encourage players to seek help when needed and from time to time just check in with a counselor or mentor. Find a counselor that is thinking outside the box and reach out to them. They are out there and so am I.