On R U OK? Day, PFA Head of Player Relations and former footballer Beau Busch reflects on how the football industry needs to better support players’ vulnerabilities.

By Beau Busch | PFA Head of Player Relations 

“Can I have a word? 

When my coach uttered this, I knew what was coming next.

“I am leaving you out of the team.”

Despite being devastating, those words were often of little surprise to me. 

I could sense it coming in the days leading into a match. When I had been off at training, I had felt off at home and not right in general. I knew the coach had made his decision.

Often, when I drove home from training, I would repeat to myself: “Tomorrow I will be different. I will no longer be wracked by self doubt. I will be confident. I will be someone else.”

But when the coach delivered the bad news, my response on this occasion was: “I am sorry, I just can’t find a way out of this hole. I’m trying, but it’s getting worse.” 

Despite my plea for help, that was the end of the discussion and I took my seat in the stand. 

I reflected on this moment of my career, as well as many others, ahead of R U Ok? Day. 

Had the coach added a simple, ‘Are you OK?’ at the end of the conversation, or acknowledged and empathised that I was struggling at the time, then perhaps that would have helped me – as both a person and a player – to emerge from a challenging period.

A simple question would have been the support I needed to overcome a period of self-doubt.

The truth is professional footballers are regularly asked are you OK? 

Are you OK to train today? Are you OK to play? Are you OK go to attend this event? Are you OK to do this interview? 

But these questions often reflect your role as a player; they say very little about who you are or how you feel as a person.

This is exacerbated by regular and public feedback on your how you are performing. Fans rightly celebrate excellence, but often with significantly more vigour deride those who fail. 

The potential impact this can have on the person is rarely considered. It is as if the public nature of their profession and the money they earn from ‘living the dream’ is presumed to provide a shield. 

This inadvertently reinforces for many professional footballers the simple notion that their value is derived almost exclusively from whether or not I can help the team win. 

Play well and I am valuable. Play poorly or not at all and I am of little value to anyone. 

The challenge that the football industry and all its stakeholders face in this regard is borne out in the numbers as well. 

PFA research shows that players who are injured are far more likely to engage in harmful substance use, whilst one in five can’t stop worrying about injury or performance and one in four have been abused or harassed on social media. 

These challenges are not easy to solve but few things worth achieving are. It will take the industry and all of its stakeholders to reflect deeply on who are as a sport. Who we are will ultimately be defined by the way in which we treat each other. 

Will we choose dignity, respect and compassion or will we continue to be fractured by a sense of otherness which undermines our collective ability to support each other?

We are all more than what we do, no matter how much we earn or the publicity that we garner.

It may be simple to ask R U OK? But the message we send is a profound one; I value you as a person. You are worth my time. You have my support and I am not seeking anything in return. 

“Can I have a word,” may no longer come with such a sense of dread. 

R U OK? Is a charity whose mission is to inspire and empower everyone to meaningfully connect with people around them and support anyone struggling with life. Visit https://www.ruok.org.au