There are perils in the lives of professional sportspeople. Injury, mental stress and the short-lived nature of success all spring to mind. So is life as a professional sportsman or woman all it’s cracked up to be?
Injury can be devastating. It prevents them from doing what they enjoy most. It hinders individuals from developing into better players and can undermine future sporting prospects. Not ignoring the fact that, obviously, it hurts. When sports matches encounter significant delays due to visibly painful injuries, spectators can see the hurt engraved on the individual’s face. What races through one’s mind when lying on the floor, clutching a damaged limb? It probably goes like this: First, ouch. Second, how did that happen? And third, how long is this going to set me back for?
Arguably, the frustration of sitting on the side-lines, watching friends or rivals compete is even worse. The desire to “be fit again” can be overwhelming, particularly for those who were on the cusp of something special. This could range from playing for your school’s rugby team on a Saturday afternoon, to walking out to the cheers of thousands to represent your country.
As a young teenager, I once broke my arm in a rugby match, preventing me from playing the next week in the county cup quarter final. This is slightly overshadowed by the injury sustained by Theo Walcott last weekend. He has received news that he will not be able to represent his country in the World Cup; crushing news for any footballer. Whatever level you are playing at, injury is painful and extremely frustrating.
The mental pressure of being a professional sportsperson is immense. Constant scrutiny from all angles – the media, the coaches and the fans – one’s staunchest advocates can turn on you in the blink of an eye, all for the sake of a poor shot, a missed tackle or a miscued forehand.
The pressure to always improve places immense strain on professionals. The revelation during the Ashes series that Jonathan Trott was suffering from a mental stress condition should not be surprising. That the opposition respected his need to leave the sporting world shows recognition of the mental strains inherent in professional sport.
From two recent tours in Australia, Alastair Cook now has two different sets of memories. One filled with remarkable success, the other with failure. In one he scored over 700 runs averaging over 100, and more importantly, was part of a winning team. Returning three years later as captain, his England side suffered one of the more humiliating series defeats in recent sporting history.
How do you recover when luck turns against you? For those who have enjoyed sustained success, it should be a simpler task than for people who are just beginning their careers.
Yet whoever you are and whatever your experience, one can look back to the reasons for pursuing the career; enjoyment and natural talent.
Whilst a professional sporting career is something that many crave, there are many perils and pitfalls. However much we idolise our sport heroes, they remain human beings subject to failure and injury, just like us all.