Sober, we all know the difference between right and wrong. But as drink after drink erodes the layers of conscious thought, our intoxicated actions can tell us a lot about the fundamental needs we are not paying attention to.
Under the influence, some look for love and affection. Others big note themselves and try to gain the significance they can’t attain in normal life, while others still just crave variety and adventure not thinking of the consequences.
The greater the perceived restriction seems to the individual, the larger and wilder the outbreak.
This is not unique to athletes, as recent examples in high-pressure environments such as the Military and ANZ have shown, but athletes are the most recognisable and therefore the most discussed.
So why, with all the education and team-building that these individuals go through, do we still have incidents like we had recently in the NRL?
There are a few questions to consider here;
- Are organisational values alone enough to govern personal behaviour?
- Can sport by itself fulfil all of an individual’s needs?
- Can personal responsibility be taught or is it learned through experience?
I think we would all agree that whilst organisational values are important in uniting people towards a common belief, they are only successful if people can see themselves aligning with these values. To do that, firstly people need to have the self-awareness of knowing what is important to them as an individual. When people blindly adopt the values of organisations they lack self-direction and as the old saying goes ‘if you stand for nothing you fall for anything’.
This may explain why some sporting stars seem to be falling more and more often – indoctrinated into an organisational/team mentality from the age of 15 and babied by sports managers, there is a significant threat that they are deprived of individual thought and direction.
Then there is the question of whether sport can effectively meet the needs of individuals on a sustained basis?
For optimal psychological functioning, each of us needs to fulfil a combination of certain core needs. These vary in priority from person to person, though each must be present to some degree.
These core values include;
- Connection or Relatedness: Feeling that we belong
- Significance or Acknowledgement: Feeling that we are enough
- Variety or Adventure: Being challenged and excited
- Security or Control: Knowing that we are safe
In the fickle world of professional sport, obtaining these on a sustained balance is near impossible. There are selections, injuries, performance and media pressure and leadership responsibilities. These change through a player’s career and even more rapidly throughout a season and even a week. As such, to expect an individual to have these all met within one environment is impossible.
What many don’t understand is that these needs must be met, and we will violate our values to meet our needs. We will either meet them resourcefully, or as we are seeing more and more in the athletic space, individuals are meeting them un-resourcefully. Drinking alone can un-resourcefully meet a number of these needs – significance through loss of inhibition, comfort through escape, variety through adventure and larrikinism and connection through promiscuity. Violence and aggression can give some a sense of control in a sporting environment where they may perceive they have none.
Drinking alone can un-resourcefully meet a number of these needs – significance through loss of inhibition, comfort through escape, variety through adventure and larrikinism and connection through promiscuity. Violence and aggression can give some a sense of control in a sporting environment where they may perceive they have none.
Without an awareness of this dichotomy, anyone, athlete or non-athlete can beat themselves up, not understanding why they keep self-sabotaging themselves, why they keep violating their values and the values of their team.
So, can this be taught? Is there hope for athletes in an increasingly pressured environment?
There is, and it can be taught and here’s how;
- Understand our own values – This not only makes us better team players, but also gives us a true north upon which to make our own decisions. It allows us to take control of our own lives rather than wondering why we can’t live up to the expectations of others.
- Determine what your core drivers are – Know your priorities, whether you need variety or routine, significance or connection. What’s more, find them in more than one area of your life so that a bad day in one doesn’t mean a dark day in general.
- Reflect on whether you are meeting your needs resourcefully or un-resourcefully – This self-awareness alone will help you identify areas for improvement and design a life that meets your needs with less bumps in the road and achieve integrity by living your values.
With many young athletes living sheltered lives in the pursuit of sporting excellence, to expect them to possess knowledge and experience beyond their years is a futile solution.
Perhaps by helping them become more self-aware of their own behaviours and why they behave this way, not only are we arming them for a successful career, but also a successful life!