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In a recent article from nrl.com, Ben Hunt spoke openly about the feeling of loneliness and that he is seeking for help. It turns out he is becoming a great example of what men must do, especially those who want to awake to their Authentic Selves. I have already written about loneliness and its differences between the anxiety one and the existential one: the former is our fear of abandonment while the later is the understanding of the former as part of a larger whole.

Loneliness among Professional Athletes

Professional Athletes & Authentic Male Journey


From the article mentioned above I noticed some similarities between a sportsman and the main themes of the Authentic Male Journey:

1. He first start to play for the joy of it;

2.Then, the game becomes an obligation to attend expectations of the fans - which don’t show much sympathy and all they want is to win at all cost (White Male System myth);

3. Led him to excluded himself and go silent, doubting his worthiness as a player (“Am I good enough? Am I worth it? Should I play hooker? Should I even be here? - normally related to the sacred wound).

 

Entertainment and Existential Crisis

The obvious need to be pointed out here: the players and athletes are just human beings, not gods, neither extraordinary men with super powers. The real goal of a game is entertainment. Sadly, we live in a broken and wounded world where the athletes think they have an obligation to fulfil their life’s fans with victory that the joy of it doesn’t last longer. Obviously, an existential crisis among the athletes of all sports is happening globally.

Ben Hunt is not the only who have spoken publicly about the existential issue and the pressure of being a professional athlete. Names like Greg Inglis (NRL), Darius Boyd (NRL), Caitlin Thwaites (netball), Jana Pittman (athletics), Nathan Bracken (cricket), Lance Franklin (AFL), Murray Hall (AFL), Matthew Mitcham (diving), Lauren Jackson (basketball), Courtenay Dempsey (AFL), Libby Trickett (swimming) and Belinda Hocking (swimming) are a few brave ones who have the guts to assumed and named out loud - read here the full article.

'Am I Worthy’?

The question of being a worthy man is a human question that is not exclusive to athletes. ‘Do I have what it takes to be successful?’ This is one of the first question a young man must answer to himself. As this question is rarely named and addressed properly, and with the fans always questioning and demanding victories, the outcome is loneliness, anxiety and depression.

The problem is not only from the sports industry. It is a human issue part of the development of life. This is difficult to understand, and no wonder there is a suicidal epidemic happening globally among men. In my opinion, the existential crisis is, mostly, related to validation. External validation is always dangers, as there is no guarantee how long is going to last. The internal validation, the one that comes from within, the one that the answer comes from the heart is always the answer - sadly sound a cliche. Understanding that the sports industry belongs to the entertainment industry is part of the solution. The players and the athletes has no obligation to fulfil anyone’s expectations, but their own by becoming the best version of themselves. Hopefully, not only on the sport field, but outside the ‘arena’ as well.

Self-Compassion & Self-Validation

Once the professional athlete is playing from his heart, he knows winning or losing don’t matter. He knows why he does what he does, and he knows he is doing his best, and feels joy (as Hunt mentioned in the article). That for him is enough, because he is working with self-compassion and understanding of his own limitations. He has self-validation and does not seek external approval. In my opinion, that’s where the issue lies and not only on the sports industry, but also in the corporate world among the executives.

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Felipe Oliveira is a registered counsellor for male athletes and executives who are facing challenges in life. He holds a Master Degree in Counselling with a large experience in men's work.

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