In defence: a footballers‘ story

By Alun Charles Jones

A belief held by many, is that all professionals have their lives sorted. Of course this isn’t the case at all. We are all of us governed by the same or similar life events and psychological influences – no one escapes the challenges of growing up, growing old or even daily living.

Our upbringing influences adult life and all relationships. We all protect ourselves from harm and our psychology has an important role in doing so.

Psychological defences help us cope and are ideas, dating back to Sigmund Freud. Instinctively stirred to reduce anxiety, they are common to all.

Defences help us to avoid distress and manage emotional conflicts. Much like the body’s physiological protection, they are necessary to remain healthy. Defensive styles can nonetheless, shape our personalities.

Sometimes, life is too much and so we modify events to suit our ability to manage. Psychological coping forms a vital part of our lives – but things can go wrong.

Denial and projection, to explain, involve rejecting unpleasant aspects of ourselves and viewing them as belonging to others. We subsequently see ourselves in the behaviour of friends, family, or colleagues – often with disastrous consequences.

Denial and projection in social and professional settings

Group events can be ideal settings for denial and projection. Competition, sexual orientation, race and ethnicity, feeling judged or not good enough, as well as being different to people in various ways, can all cause discomfort, tensions and anxieties – spoiling enjoyment.

Memories of family rivalries or early schooling are sometimes activated in conversations and can cause problems. Conflicts are projected and people can be seen as behaving according to the projections.

In some circumstances, scapegoating can occur. This is a situation where a number of people project negative feelings on to others who are then blamed for problems and are subsequently scorned or remove themselves in order to be safe.

Michael: a professional footballer’s story

Michael for example, is a young professional footballer – playing in his team’s defense. He was brought up in a family riddled with conflict and disagreements. While Michael shared a likeness to his mother, his two brothers were similar in looks to their father. Michael subsequently grew up viewing his father as favouring the two brothers over him – which in part may have been true.

This set the scene for a lifetime of difficult relationships for Michael – both personally and professionally. Situations involving three or more people would cause competitiveness and anger. Michael believed that he was the less favoured child and needed to feel special.

Competitiveness, along with a need to prove himself, served Michael well as a gifted footballer. Anger, on the other hand, would be all-consuming and he viewed others as having an unfair advantage over him. Michael viewed friends and team mates as rivals and untrustworthy – taking from him what was rightfully his.

Michael denied his angry feelings projecting them on to friends and team mates. He would also brood over situations in which he believed others wished to hurt him or he was overlooked in favour of other players.

Money was also an issue – Michael would be guarded surrounding finances. However, his mindset led him to believe that it was others who were dishonest. Coaches, managers and fellow players would all irritate Michael, arousing his anger and hostility. Performances began to suffer and he eventually became distant from his fellow players.

With everyone’s’ guilt established, Michael would constantly look for evidence of their faults – ruining his relationships, including those vital to his career as professional footballer.

Michael would deceive and be resentful – believing he needed to protect himself from others cheating him. Whenever events were activated in Michael’s mind, a pattern of relating to people would be set in place, leading to accusations of wrong doings, spoiling things or withdrawing from uncomfortable situations.

Gossiping, putting people down and conflicts became features of Michael’s life – leading to a drop in his football abilities along with his commitment to friendships and social activities.

Trapped in mindsets, Michael became uncooperative – repeatedly misleading people regarding his intentions.

Michael’s behaviours were a hindrance, impacting on the spirit and teamwork at his club. He had without knowing, set himself up to be scapegoated. With his fellow professionals at a distance, and losing contact with friends, life became miserable and Michael was advised by his coach to seek advice.

Following discussions with the club’s medical team, he decided to embark on a period of self-development in the form of personal life coaching.

During meetings, Michael, found that personal support wasn’t all that different to coaching at his club and was able to recognize patterns of behaving, bringing difficulties to his life, along with their sources. Attitudes towards himself and others changed for the better and he began to enjoy his friendships. Concentrating more on his football abilities – life was improving.

Conflict and professional sports

It is possible to see how groups of people, concerned with professional sports, could experience difficulties similar to Michael. The media reports accounts of team conflicts, a need to feel special and scapegoating, impacting on performance with no one seemingly knowing exactly why.

Organizational and personal consultations could help all involved with professional sporting activities to unravel difficult situations – leading to better lives, improved performances and healthier competitive environments.




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