By Nicole Rogers
We all know being a world class athlete comes with many sacrifices more often than not giving their youth to the sport, but does the strain of being a world class athlete also ultimately affect your mental health? With the news a few weeks ago of the murder suicide involving Kanas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher which has been linked to steroid use, which he inevitably took to enhance his sporting performance.
The taking of these steroids could be a factor in what drove him to carry out this unthinkable act but it begs the question what mind set was he in to take these steroids in the first place. No doubt the pressure he put on himself under to perform would have been a factor; the pressure involved with being at the top of a professional sport is immense which can cause people to break down mentally and physically.
The question I find myself asking is do these athletes become so obsessed with their chosen sport that they become addicted to it, to be a professional sports person takes hundreds of hours of training and commitment and ultimately this will affect their mindset. They eat sleep and drink their sport constantly analyzing their techniques striving for perfection this would in intern have to inevitably put a strain on their mental state.
Snooker player Ronnie ‘The Rocket’ O’ Sullivan admits to becoming obsessed with snooker and not being able to get the perfection he wanted, which enviably lead to him being frustrated with the situation and caused him to want to become somewhat of a recluse at times not mentally being able to be around people. He described it as not being able to do life everyday life outside of the game of snooker.
O’ Sullivan is an example of a man who has suffered from drink and drug addiction and has struggled with depression in his Sporting Life Stories documentary he describes his depression as snooker depression, “I don’t think I suffered with depression I think I suffered with snooker depression”. There are arguably other factors which could have led to his drink and drug addiction with both his parents having spent time in prison his mother served 7 months for tax evasion and his father served 18 years after being found guilty of murder.
In his autobiography he describes his childhood and his daily routine which revolved around playing snooker with little interest in school. He describes having only a couple of minutes to race across the bridge from school to the bus to take him to the local snooker hall, he was always afraid he would miss it and have 15 minutes less on the table while waiting for the next bus.
O’ Sullivan achieved his first century break at the age of 9 with a break of 117, from this early age it was clear he was a talent to watch out for in the future but the pressure of this would ultimately affect his life in many ways.
The perfection that is involved being a world class snooker player can’t be measured, although he has been describes as the most naturally gifted player in the history of snooker but talent must be nurtured through hours of gruelling training. O’ Sullivan used to stay practicing until late every night until he had blisters on his hands in the local snooker club and in later years his own snooker table his father bought for him.
O’ Sullivan experienced socio phobia where he couldn’t be around people, he felt he wasn’t able to function in social situations. He felt he didn’t know what to do and say as a result of his depression. Before he went to the Priory for treatment for his addictions he went to do a radio interview and had to leave mid interview live on air because he felt he could not continue on from the fear he had of the situation.
He described himself not being able to do life outside of snooker because it was his whole world. The socio phobia could also stem from the long hours spent practicing snooker often on his own, his father built him room at the bottom of his garden with a snooker table often only leaving to eat his dinner.
When he was practicing at an early age he would have been around people much older than and because of the amount of time he spent in the snooker hall it could intern affected how he interacted with his peer’s only spending time with them at school with very little social interaction outside of class. He also missed out on the college experience as he took time off from school when his father was sent to prison when he was at the young age of 16 and never returned.
Ronnie O’ Sullivan is only one of many examples of athletes who can give up their whole lives in exchange for success in their vocation sport. It can be a long and turbulent road for professional sports people, with many reaping the rewards. O’ Sullivan has won 4 world titles and 24 ranked titles but would he give it all up in exchange for a healthier mind personally I don’t think so as he’s so engrossed by the world of snooker.
He has talked about quitting on a couple of occasions but he says he only said this on occasions when he was frustrated by the game because of a loss or the idea that he hasn’t achieved the perfection he so desperately seeks. Despite winning the world title at the Crucible in 2012 it doesn’t look like ‘The Rocket’ will be defending his title this year as on November 6 he withdrew himself from all tournaments he had previously signed up for and would not be competing for the rest of the season.
Is this due to family commitments? Or is the game getting to him? Or is it the fact for the first time since he won his way into the top 16 players in the world as a professional back in the 94/95 season he has dropped out the top 16 to 17 in the world? This could mentally have affected his confidence in his abilities despite being the reigning world champion.
Taking all this into account I believe being at the top of your sports field can come with the price of many things and your mental health can be one the casualties due to the pressure and the constant struggle to stay at the top. This is not of course in all cases but over the years we have seen many athletes battle with inner daemon’s.