Play­ers are fac­ing a grow­ing pres­sure off the field. Greg O’Ke­effe re­ports

Rugby World - - FRONT ROW -

ocial me­dia is “one of the biggest chal­lenges” fac­ing young play­ers to­day, ac­cord­ing to a top sports psy­chol­o­gist. Pro­fes­sor Pi­eter Kruger has worked with the Spring­boks, Premiership side Har­lequins and Aus­tralian fran­chise the Brumbies, and is cur­rently per­for­mance con­sul­tant at Mun­ster.

He be­lieves young play­ers who have grown up us­ing so­cial me­dia sites such as Twit­ter, In­sta­gram and YouTube need guid­ance and sup­port when it comes to deal­ing with trolls and end­less crit­i­cism of their per­for­mances.

“So­cial me­dia ex­poses ev­ery flaw they might have,” says Kruger. “If you make a mis­take it’s im­me­di­ately ex­posed to hun­dreds of thou­sands of peo­ple and if you don’t have the men­tal ca­pac­ity to deal with it you’re go­ing to have prob­lems.”

Re­becca Marino quit ten­nis in 2013 af­ter suf­fer­ing from de­pres­sion that she said was ex­ac­er­bated by Twit­ter abuse. She has made a come­back in the past year but her ex­pe­ri­ence shows how so­cial me­dia can af­fect sports­peo­ple.

Kruger be­lieves it’s young play­ers who are par­tic­u­larly vul­ner­a­ble. He says: “You’re in peo­ple’s liv­ing rooms ev­ery week­end so they feel al­most en­ti­tled to have an opin­ion about you. There’s no boundary. The prob­lem is worse be­cause of so­cial me­dia – it’s one of the biggest chal­lenges they face.

S“Mind traps – neg­a­tive ways of think­ing with­out ra­tion­al­ity – can kick in af­ter so­cial me­dia crit­i­cism. You per­son­alise them rather than ac­cept­ing ev­ery man and his dog has an opin­ion.

“But it’s not di­rected at the player as a per­son. They have to dis­tin­guish be­tween them as a per­son and a player. They be­come a so­cial ob­ject as a player. The trolls don’t know you from Adam.

“Young play­ers need to be able to grasp this. If they can’t do it, they have a hard time – be­cause oth­er­wise their en­tire self-worth be­comes de­pen­dent on what they do on the pitch. Those guys of­ten can’t make it.”

Kruger stops short of ban­ning play­ers from us­ing so­cial me­dia, but he helps them to use it in a health­ier way. “You can’t re­al­is­ti­cally keep young play­ers away from it,” he says. “It’s re­in­forc­ing them to think about when they do it, how they al­low it to af­fect them, giv­ing them prac­ti­cal skills to get dis­tance.

“I use that hy­po­thet­i­cal prin­ci­ple that out of ten peo­ple, six will like you no mat­ter what. Two will hate you no mat­ter who you are or what you do: be­cause of the way you look, who you re­mind them of, what you’ve done in the past. Then two peo­ple could go ei­ther way.

“So if you can get eight out of ten peo­ple happy you’ve done a good job. It’s usu­ally the two out of ten who go to Twit­ter and start slat­ing you.”

In the firing lineAlex Cuth­bert and Quade Cooper have suf­fered abuse on so­cial me­dia

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