If you look much deeper, then this statistic shouldn’t be a surprise.
Things to consider through the whole process, not just after retiring.
For many they fall head over heels in love with football, for most it’s their first true love. There’s a sense of knowing when you’re on the pitch, you forget your worries and feel free. You practise as much as you can because you love it so much and as a result it’s not hard work. You make a decision that you’re going to be a Professional Footballer in the future, no doubts or fears, you believe it 100%, you can’t explain why but you just know it. You face many challenges on your journey but due to this knowing & belief you overcome those obstacles. As you grow up, if you’re still focused on your goals then relationships are a distraction, you like the physicality of a relationship but you’re already committed to your first love & nobody can come between that no matter how hard they try.
You become an apprentice, then a pro & then the end of your career. From the time you made that decision to follow that dream you’ve been competing, competing to get in the team, competing to stay in the team, competing against players as good as you all while being judged, criticised, abused, ridiculed both on and off the pitch. You’re a commodity at the end of the day and deep down you know it but don’t want to admit it.
You have to become selfish to protect yourself during your career after all the heartaches, disappointments and criticisms. You learn to close yourself off, become hardened and wary of people. The emotional rollercoaster is so immense that with practise you become almost oblivious to it all & can’t see the impending disaster that’s waiting to happen. That disaster is you!
Your relationship with yourself, your fragile ego that everyone has but try to hide in the never ending cycle of toxic masculinity that is the dressing room & football culture. No place for sensitivity, emotions, compassion or empathy. It’s frowned upon & will damage your chances of playing so you keep quiet and ‘toughen up’. Your only doing what most males have been taught to do from a very early age. Laugh it off, have some banter, hide behind the insults, innuendos & passive aggressiveness which all stems from fear.
Within that though, there’s a stability, a belonging because when you go out on that pitch for 90 minutes you’ve got 10 brothers or sisters who’ve got your back no matter what. Your life is mapped out for 11 months of the year so there’s certainty.
That certainty disappears when you retire, identity, perceived value & self worth, confidence, self belief, the knowing. All these things built around what you could do and not who you are. You’ve played the role that long, hell, you don’t even know who you are anymore so how is the person you’re in a relationship going to? They probably married the character you were playing and not the real you. The real you who’s about to emerge but not without a huge fight from the ego who’s been front & centre and now doesn’t want to get off stage, he can’t, it’s like a drug and he’ll do anything to feel those highs again even if it’s at the cost of those he claims to love. He does love them but not like his first love who he’s grieving for. So what does someone do who’s grieving & hurting but don’t know it? They act out & hurt those closest to them, trying everything to numb the pain but feel again at the same time. This ultimately destroys relationships because the people in our lives don’t understand it because they haven’t experienced it.
I’m not sure the powers that be are ready to hear this or not but it’s going to start with education. Education around self awareness & awareness of self. Understanding the journey and what’s at the end of it so that they can prepare, not just the players but family and friends as well.