Feel­ing the strain

The Southland Times - - Sport - Olivia Cald­well olivia.cald­well@stuff.co.nz

Pro­fes­sion­al­ism in women’s sport is grow­ing in a pos­i­tive di­rec­tion, but with pro­fes­sion­al­ism comes re­spon­si­bil­ity, longer work­ing hours and emo­tional de­mands.

There has never been a big­ger need for men­tal health sup­port than now in the White Ferns camp and for­mer cap­tain Suzie Bates says cricket has more need for it than most sports.

Due to the men­tal en­ergy cricket of­ten de­mands of an ath­lete, the sport has one of the most alarm­ing rates for sport­ing sui­cides around the world.

The com­pli­cated and fas­ci­nat­ing game is also a men­tal health tick­ing time bomb.

Tour­ing for long stints away from home, the in­di­vid­u­al­ism of the ’team sport’, suc­cess mea­sured on statis­tics and per­haps the ugli­est part of the game sledg­ing - all con­tribute to a sport proven to ex­ac­er­bate men­tal ill­ness in play­ers.

"It is prob­a­bly one of the worst sports, well I think, for men­tal health," says Bates.

Bates played her first game for her coun­try in 2006.

On the side she stud­ied, worked, which gave her the per­fect bal­ance around the game she loved. To­day, how­ever, her sched­ule reads a lot dif­fer­ently.

Bates spends nine months of the year in the United King­dom ei­ther play­ing pro­fes­sional club cricket, or tour­ing with the White Ferns.

"I think pre­vi­ously in women’s cricket that wasn’t such a ma­jor is­sue. You have your work life, or your uni life, and then you went on tour for maybe three or four weeks then came back into that rou­tine.

"Now there is your life with cricket and you are away. Also when you come back you are not nec­es­sar­ily com­ing back to work and study to get away from it, you are com­ing back to train again.

"Cricket has def­i­nitely brought a lot more chal­lenges than it used to when I first started to play."

At times Bates has strug­gled be­ing away from fam­ily be­cause they are her sup­port net­work. Her na­ture is to talk over things and when she can’t do that, due to time zones or cricket de­mands, it can take a toll.

Not only that, when Bates and about half her White Ferns team-mates re­turn home from the end of the UK sea­son, they jump straight in to the de­mands of the south­ern hemi­sphere sea­son.

"You do, a lit­tle bit, just get used to it. Which per­haps isn’t al­ways healthy, but I know the first year I played in Eng­land I ab­so­lutely loved go­ing over to the Eng­land sum­mer and play­ing over there. It was a new en­vi­ron­ment, a fresh en­vi­ron­ment.

"I re­mem­ber com­ing home and it was the start of our sea­son and I was like, whoa, I feel like I am at the end of my sea­son and I have got to start again. I re­mem­ber the first year I re­ally strug­gled with that.

Bates ad­mits she has of­ten strug­gled with emo­tional and phys­i­cal fa­tigue, as there is no real op­por­tu­nity for a proper break from cricket.

"Af­ter the first year I learned that I had to be a lot bet­ter planned with my time off and ac­tu­ally block out times to com­pletely get away from cricket.

"I don’t think I will ever nail it, but I do feel that in the past 18 months I have learned a lot more about how to cope with be­ing a full time ath­lete."

Cricket is tough on the mind

Tour­ing aside, cricket is a men­tal game. More than20 years ago, re­search by well known cricket au­thor David Frith showed top class in­ter­na­tional crick­eters had taken their own lives at a rate of 1.72 per cent, much higher than the av­er­age male sui­cide rate at the time.

Frith wrote two books on the topic and by the sec­ond he had amassed de­tails of 151 English crick­et­ing sui­cides, among them 23 test play­ers.

The Eng­land test scene has had two no­table ex­am­ples in re­cent years of play­ers opt­ing out of tours be­cause of the men­tal pres­sure on them.

English test bats­man Jonathan Trott took an ex­tended break in 2013, dis­rupt­ing his Ashes cam­paign against Aus­tralia due to a stress-re­lated ill­ness.

Test vet­eran Mar­cus Trescoth­ick twice flew home from over­seas tours, once from Aus­tralia in Novem­ber 2006 to re­build his life in Som­er­set. He has since spo­ken out about de­pres­sion and reached out to for­mer Black Cap Lou Vin­cent, who went through de­pres­sion him­self and has spo­ken openly about it.

Frith’s re­search showed that in South Africa 4.12 per cent of reg­is­tered play­ers had taken their own lives. In New Zealand the rate was 3.92 per cent and in Aus­tralia 2.75 per cent.

A num­ber of Black Caps are known to have suf­fered from de­pres­sion.

Bates says it is be­com­ing in­creas­ingly im­por­tant for the women’s game that their lead­ers and or­gan­i­sa­tions are aware of the men­tal fa­tigue cricket can of­ten bring.

"Just be­cause of the in­di­vid­ual as­pect to it in a team game. At times when you might have a poor per­for­mance and let your­self down and the team down."

It is ex­ac­er­bated by be­ing a key player at the top level. "Once you have made that level there is a lot of men­tal skill rather than phys­i­cal skill."

"You do learn to deal with it but there are some tough times es­pe­cially when you or your team aren’t go­ing well. It is a lot harder to be away then, than when ev­ery­thing is rosie and you are win­ning."

One of the big­gest dif­fer­ences be­tween the Black Caps and White Ferns en­vi­ron­ments is while many Black Caps are on the path to pro­fes­sion­al­ism at a young age, the White Ferns are thrown in to the na­tional team some­times much later.

This is a big adap­ta­tion for them, says Bates.

"Some­times we will get girls who come into that en­vi­ron­ment at 24 and they have never been ex­posed to the pro­fes­sional en­vi­ron­ment be­cause the women’s pro­gramme isn’t like that. So there is kind of a bit of a shock and there is some learn­ing as you go, rather than be­ing ready when you hit that en­vi­ron­ment."

Bates says New Zealand Cricket is re­al­is­ing men­tal health is an im­por­tant part of the women’s game.

"There is a hand­ful of their fe­male play­ers con­stantly play­ing around the world and they are start­ing to re­alise they need to man­age that a bit bet­ter as well."

NZC - what they are do­ing

New Zealand Cricket be­lieves it is do­ing ev­ery­thing right for the men­tal health of its play­ers.

NZC’s head of high per­for­mance Bryan Stronach ad­mits cricket has failed some play­ers in the past, with some high-pro­file ca­reers com­ing to an end pre­ma­turely be­cause of strug­gles off the field.

How­ever, he be­lieves the or­gan­i­sa­tion is mov­ing in the right di­rec­tion through sup­port­ing play­ers of the men­tally chal­leng­ing game.

"I think there have been some fail­ings in cricket, I think there’s been some fail­ings in any sport, I think there’s some fail­ings in life.

"Sport is just a sub­sec­tion of the com­mu­nity. . . and just like any other sport we have a re­spon­si­bil­ity to help in this area (men­tal health)."

The New Zealand Cricket Play­ers As­so­ci­a­tion (NZCPA) is tasked with look­ing out for the well­be­ing of 20 Black Caps, 15 White Ferns and 90 do­mes­tic crick­eters.

Four devel­op­ment of­fi­cers over­see this en­tire group.

Stronach does not be­lieve NZC is un­der-re­sourced in the men­tal health space.

"If some­thing goes wrong, do we have enough to help them? I have never heard of any­one in our sys­tem where we didn’t have enough re­sources, or we haven’t been able to sup­ply what they need. I don’t think we are un­der-re­sourced.

"How long is a piece of string with re­source, I think you can never have enough re­source in that area.

"I can’t say we will ever have enough in that area, but we are def­i­nitely not un­der-re­sourced."

Mean­while, the NZCPA na­tional per­sonal devel­op­ment of­fi­cer Sanj Silva says while he is sat­is­fied with pro­cesses, they could be bet­ter re­sourced in this area. When a player is in need of coun­selling or psy­cho­log­i­cal ex­am­i­na­tion, it is out­sourced, rather than hav­ing pro­fes­sion­als em­bed­ded in the team en­vi­ron­ment.

For the first time this year, the White Ferns had a con­tracted clin­i­cal psy­chol­o­gist go on tour with the side.

"We don’t have the re­sources to have an ex­pert on all of the fields." Silva says.

"It’s def­i­nitely men­tally tough, it is prob­a­bly out of all sports, one of the tough­est sports as far as the men­tal side is con­cerned. For the sim­ple fact the du­ra­tion of the game, it is so long.

"Most sports are shorter and over within two, three hours. Once it is done it is done. With cricket it can be played over six or seven hours and all five days. That in it­self is quite men­tally tax­ing.

"The other part is it is a stats-driven game. As a bats­man you only get one chance and if you fail in that first op­por­tu­nity you can be sit­ting for a cou­ple of days stew­ing on those fail­ures and so on. That hap­pens day in and day out over twelve months."

Silva said it was im­por­tant for these play­ers to de­velop a life out­side of cricket so that they have other as­pects to fall back on.

"It is quite a skill­ful game but the men­tal side of things is an­other di­men­sion as well as far as stress and anx­i­ety is con­cerned."

"If you are a bats­man there are 20,000 peo­ple watch­ing and you are play­ing against 11 other peo­ple and you are on your own. They call it a team sport, but it is a sport full of in­di­vid­u­als who are part of a team so to speak."

Frith’s con­clu­sion af­ter 30 years of re­search was rather than cricket be­ing a game that at­tracts the vul­ner­a­ble, it puts a strain on nerves that can be as de­struc­tive as the post-trau­matic stress disor­der suf­fered by war vet­er­ans.

There­fore, cricket can trig­ger or de­velop men­tal ill­ness.

Golfers, foot­ballers, ten­nis play­ers and box­ers all have an as­sur­ance that they have a chance to re­cover from early set­backs in the game. Crick­eters face un­cer­tainty on the grand scale and on a re­lent­less daily ba­sis.

"I don’t think it at­tracts vul­ner­a­ble peo­ple. The game it­self can be quite de­mand­ing. It’s not a game that af­ter two hours you can switch off," says Silva.

‘‘It is prob­a­bly one of the worst sports, well I think, for men­tal health.’’

Suzie Bates

AN­DREW CORNAGA/PHOTOSPORT

For­mer New Zealand cap­tain Suzie Bates says now more than ever NZ Cricket needs to keep an eye on the health of play­ers in the women’s game.

For­mer Eng­land bats­man Jonathan Trott opened up about the men­tal health is­sues that caused him to un­ravel dur­ing the back-to-back Ashes series of 2013.

For­mer Black Caps open­ing bats­man Lou Vin­cent has spo­ken out about his de­pres­sion, and a sui­cide at­tempt af­ter his cricket ca­reer had ended.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from New Zealand

© PressReader. All rights reserved.