TRIALS BY SOCIAL MEDIA
Players are facing a growing pressure off the field. Greg O’Keeffe reports
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