The football field, like any other workplace, can be grounds for stressors and toxic behaviors. Bring in the competitive aspect of a professional sport and the effects are multiplied. Now that the Super Bowl is over, as clubs prepare to renew contracts or bring in new top talent, they also need to think about how they can help their players succeed. These conversations should not be limited to physical training or monetary incentives – they need to incorporate mental well-being.
The teams and the League cannot sit on the sidelines and watch as players struggle with mental health. The NFL acknowledges the need to support its players in this regard. In 2012, the League launched a comprehensive wellness program, which includes support for mental health issues, and clubs also provide certain resources for its players. Yet, many players are unaware of the benefits and support programs offered by the NFL and the NFL Players Association, according to the recent report “Life on an Emotional Roller Coaster: NFL Players and Their Family Members’ Perspectives on Player Mental Health”.
The report also found many players battle depression, anxiety, anger, loneliness and stress during and after their time on the field, with many of these issues linked to job performance and job security. The stigma around mental health hinders conversations in the workplace, whether this place is an office or a field. Leaders – coaches, team owners, League executives – need to foster an open environment that nurtures these conversations, where there is confidentiality and flexibility, and the necessary accommodations are provided. Otherwise, players, like many employees in the United States, will not seek timely help.
Supporting mental well-being benefits both the players and their teams.
Mental health is an important contributor to employees’ productivity and performance. Employers can see the impact of absenteeism clearly: an employee who doesn’t show up, doesn’t contribute. However, this may not be as common on the football field, where players are expected to adhere to rigorous training schedules and often miss a game only as a result of physical injuries.
But what about presenteeism – the reduced productivity and engagement of an employee as a result of mental health illness? This type of behavior is estimated to cost $550 billion annually in the United States. Unmanaged mental health issues at work can also bring down the morale of the wider team and intrude on teamwork.
For sports leagues, like any other employer, having a workforce that is engaged, motivated and rewarded in ways that maximize mental well-being can boost productivity, long-term commitment and enthusiasm, all of which can impact players’ performance. Eventually, conditions like stress can also negatively impact physical health, which is undeniably essential in a professional sport. Mental health should be an integral part of players’ overall conditioning programs.
Mental health disorders impact all professional sectors and socioeconomic classes. Ultimately, addressing this issue needs to be a priority for everyone, be they individuals or businesses. And the conversations need to permeate the workplace, independent of the industry. If leaders of influential national organizations such as the NFL put this topic in the spotlight, they can help reduce the stigma around mental illness in the workplace and bring wider visibility to the issue, which can benefit not only their workforce, but also our