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Speaking to my mental health struggles in sport

(AP Photo/Patrick Post)
Roar Guru
17th July, 2018
7

I thought I would take a moment to continue to share my story and maybe help spread the message about mental health awareness.

As many regulars of The Roar would know, I am a field hockey player and umpire.

Recently I have successfully made my debut in first grade as an umpire after achieving my goal of second-grade men’s the year before.

I am also an active player in the Canberra Cup competition and stepped up to the lofty heights of fifth grade in our State League competition.

The reason I provide that context is because I also suffer from severe depression, anxiety and I am on the autism spectrum (formerly Asperger’s syndrome).

I am also a natural introvert, so attracting the spotlight isn’t my strong suit, and would rather be in the supporting ensemble than the centre stage.

I wanted to write an article to speak to both aspects of my hockey journey, the player (of low grade) and the umpire (of higher grades).

Maybe some of what is said here will strike a chord, or maybe people will skim this article and move on with their lives. I don’t mind which, but if this helps just one person, then it’s worth sharing.

As a player, I play the role of a striker – specialising more in deflections than power hitting. A role that suits my personality type, I don’t take the big glory shots.

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I stand in the goals with the goalie, and try to deflect the shot around them or pick up the scraps. A very dangerous position on the field – I have been hit in the face, mouth, and body countless times. Each time, reminding myself, ‘That’s why they give you a stick.’

Where I find the balance between enjoying my play and not, really depends on the situation around me and speaks volumes to anxiety that people feel as part of their normal lives.

I play a position that requires other players (teammates) to do the hard work in the midfield and then pass off to me to finish. When this is working, the goalie is often occupied taking the ball carrier, and the deflection or lay off results in a goal.

When this doesn’t work, and where I can get in my own head, is when the midfield doesn’t involve you in the play.

A normal person would probably think “well, I will get involved in the next one”, and this is the mindset I try to apply.

But once it happens a few times, this changes into ‘well, they clearly think I am useless up here.’ After being trained in negative mindsets due to depression, anxiety doesn’t have to work too hard.

This gets especially worse, when you know your teammates are not passing the ball to you, you have to go into very dangerous situations to try and get involved in the play (playing within the goal mouth).

Normally, a deflections-based striker will lurk outside the line and ricochet anything wide, essentially going around the goalie.

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When you get the mindset that the ball won’t be coming, you step inside the line. I regularly put myself inside the far post, and try to deflect live shots with no protection.

Without naming names, I have had an opposing goalie remark who is more concerned about protecting me when he is trying to save the ball from my teammate.

I bring that up to speak to my anxiety and depression. I play in two teams, the supportive team I play in can identify when I am getting in my own head.

I owe so much to that team because instead of subbing me off or sending me to nowhere, they will move me into the midfield. This gets me involved in the game with some cheap touches.

The other aspect of my hockey journey is umpiring, and this is where the battle between depression and anxiety is hard.

Anxiety tells me I am not good enough before I even walk onto the pitch. The past Sunday was my debut in first-grade women’s and about two months ago, I debuted in first-grade men’s.

Umpiring is tough at the best of times, and when you start worrying that you aren’t good enough when stepping out, you start on the back foot.

Umpiring is difficult, anyone that believes it isn’t probably doesn’t umpire regularly. You belong to the third team on the field, and the two teams playing the game probably don’t like you.

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I have made plenty of poor decisions on the field and the reaction of players can range between getting on with the game and abusing me. Both sides of the spectrum always make it interesting.

I preface this with the fact I never go out to umpire with any pre-conceived notions and always call the plays how I see it. The autistic quality of my cognitive functions wants to follow the rules to the letter – so umpiring is something that comes naturally.

When players react poorly, it tells me that I am doing something wrong or not enforcing the rules correctly, and therefore breaking the rules and doing a horrible job.

Literally, one decision that I may or may not have got wrong can pull that kind of reaction to me. I will never let the players know that, but internally that is what I am thinking.

I genuinely had a moment during a first-grade match where I had to reset myself because I felt like I was ruining the game. I felt I should just quit and consider more permanent solutions to my problem.

Again, the players and even my umpire coach never knew that was what I was feeling, as I continued to umpire as best I could. But internally, I was hitting crisis mode and working fast to try to minimise the impact.

I bring this back to why am I sharing these stories, and it’s to try to share with people that are feeling similar things that they are not alone in feeling it.

Trust me, I don’t have the answers – but am seeking for answers right now from everyone I trust to offer an opinion. But talking about it, and working through it, is helping.

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As a player, I need to work with my teammates to stay safe on the field. As an umpire, this is why we have umpire coaches. In fact, I am training to be an umpire coach myself.

No, I am not okay. And I am coming to terms that it is perfectly fine to not be okay and need help.

I am hoping that this article maybe helps others and raises awareness for their teammates that are struggling.

The Roar encourages all readers who may be struggling with mental illness to seek support from organisations such as Lifeline, Beyond Blue or Headspace.