Becoming a sporting star is the number one aspiration for kids growing up in modern society. Think about it, from a young age advertisements are plastered over television screens with sports star after sports star. Whether it has been through Weet-bix commercials or Friday night footy, the sporting star has been emphasized as the ultimate dream job for any Aussie kid.
For good reason, professional athletes within Australia seem to have great lifestyles. They are idolised throughout society to play the sport they love and are paid handsomely.
Unfortunately, the dream doesn’t last forever. The average professional athlete’s career is over before the age of 33. This is often due through injury or by the next crop of talent.
For most athletes the transition into a life without sport can be hard. Imagine focusing on one physical skill since you were young and making a career through that skill, then 20 years later you can no longer make a living that way.
Professional athletes sacrifice a lot in their personal lives in order to succeed in their chosen sport. Education, time and family all are affected due to the high demands of the professional lifestyle. Of course, most of the general public don’t think about it this way. However, this is the case for many of Australia’s top athletes. Their identity has been forged through years and years of competing at the highest level and after no longer being able to compete, they struggle to find a new identity unrelated to sport.
For athletes this becomes a reality, these dark days that no one sees happen and some have recently opened up about their struggles with mental health. Australian sporting legends Dan Vickerman and Barry Hall have both played at the highest level of their respected sport. However, both of these men suffered greatly with their life after sport.
The former skipper of one of Australia’s most famous AFL teams, the Sydney Swans, Barry Hall has recently opened up about the time that followed his retirement from football.
“I had two or three months … that I really struggled. I didn’t get out of bed, I didn’t answer mates’ phone calls, I was eating terribly, I was drinking heavily. It was a tough time.”
It wasn’t until Hall opened open about his struggles with mental health was able to find help and move on from this disastrous chapter in his life.
Dan Vickerman was a beloved character within Australian rugby, playing 63 tests for the Wallabies throughout his decade-long career. Having a successful career representing his University, state, and country, Vickerman was forced into retirement in 2012 due to constant leg injuries. Vickerman seemed to have a bright future beyond professional rugby. Educated at Cambridge University, Vickerman quickly earned a career in economics. Meanwhile supporting a young family, Vickerman struggled with his identity on his new path. Not knowing until it was too late Dan Vickerman tragically took his own life due to battles with mental illness.
Dan Vickerman was not as lucky with his mental health as a lot of other former athletes. Athletes are pushed both mentally and physically for years in order to master their chosen sport. When this suddenly stops it can be hard to relate to any other lifestyle. Imagine performing in front of thousands of people every week then suddenly having to pack the shelves at Woolworths, obviously this would mess with your mental health.
Mental health is a major issue that affects nearly 1 in 3 former athletes. Leading to battles with anxiety, depression, and addiction. These battles stem from athletes who struggle to find a new path in life that challenges them the way in which their sport did.