Pelle Blohm is a former professional footballer who works for Canal Plus in Sweden as a football analyst and writes a column for the Nerikes Allehända newspaper in the Swedish midlands. This piece appeared in that paper on Dec 2 and Pelle has kindly agreed to allow me to translate it.
Time to start working with elite athletes’ health
It takes a spectacular suicide to get the debate going on depression and mental illness in elite sport.
It’s as bad as that.
Coach Gary Speed’s suicide has stirred things up sharply last week. Suddenly everyone is talking about elite athletes wellbeing. Athletes talk about how bad they feel. The pressure is intense, but they must live up to the stoic ideal.
It is a good thing that the debate is under way again. It is important.
Yet still the biggest issue remains- is not it time to stop talking and instead grab the opportunity and start working more actively with our athletes?
Let me take it all down to a more local level. In just over three years, I and two colleagues in the company Adato Sports & Development tried to get football in particular in our town to see the value in these matters. We imagined that football, which has the most resources, was a good place to launch the business in. We wanted to help create safe, calm, focused and high-performance soccer players in what is a troubled, tough and competitive existence. On the outside, many football players look extremely confident and exude a confidence that knows no boundary- this means nothing.
My colleagues and I know that behind the facade, deep inside, sit small, scared people with low self-esteem, day after day brooding over a thousand different things in life. Everything from pure football-related issues to private ones, drilling straight into the schools, families and friendship circles. All this affects every training session and every match. Most people get through this themselves, but far too many are allowed walk around with confused thoughts and a thousand questions, but no answers. These individuals are lost to the football community, but even worse is that even society at risk of losing them because they are not ready for life outside the football field.
For three long years we have tried to bring in Adato to Örebor SK and make them realize the value in this. On paper, in its organizational chart – Adato was there, but only for cosmetic purposes. In reality there is no structure for how long-term, meaningful work should be done. Örebro County Football Association found after three long meetings that yes, this we have to drive on. Then they sent us out on a few lectures. Then silence. No monitoring or evaluation. Wasted.
Adato closed down last week. We were not skilled enough to convince the environment to invest resources in this important matter. You just have to hope that someone else does. The topic will not die down. It will only increase in strength in the future.