(By name supplied)
I have written about my experience-of playing women’s soccer and the effects out spoken referees can have on a women’s mental health. I am sharing my story as sport has historically and anecdotally helped people battling mental health. My experience shows barriers and a willingness to fight through them.
Pulling into the club grounds an hour before kick-off, I park the car and try to catch an already racing heartbeat. With shaking hands I collect my soccer boots from the back seat and walk anxiously to the changing rooms.
This isn’t my first experience grappling with a debilitating panic attack before a soccer match and it won’t be my last. Once again, I begin the challenging task of preparing myself to take to the pitch. I know now that delaying strapping on my shin pads will buy me privacy to compose myself in the bathroom. Avoiding eye contact with the coach will ensure my name is not mentioned in team discussions and sitting on my hands while we review plays has meant no one notices just how badly I’m shaking.
You could be forgiven for expecting this experience to be that of a W league soccer players. When in fact I play for (team name removed) senior women’s state four soccer team. It would also make a great deal of sense if I had a lack of ability on the ball to match my anxiety. However, that too isn’t the case as the skill level I’m capable of at training reflects a vastly different woman than the panicking player who enters the field every Sunday. Since first enduring these crippling attacks I have thankfully sought assistance from mental health practitioners. Their continual support is what allows me to keep playing the sport I love.
Nonetheless, it’s not only myself on the park each week – there’s also ten others in my family of blue and eleven other women making up the opposition. Adding to that are spectators – encouraging to see at any women’s sporting event – and an official referee. It’s this individual, the referee, who shapes the game, especially for those of us facing the unfortunate task of battling with our mental health.
I can hear his voice now, hurling abuse across the grounds ensuring any focus I have on the ball falls second place, to regaining control of my reactive emotions.
As his behaviour deteriorates and his language becomes more aggressive my moments of brilliance with ball placement become few and far between. All I can connect with is a growing sense of unease as the referee continues to neglect the effects his conduct is having on players. If only he knew the effort it took for me to get on the pitch today. If only he could register how the game changes when he loses control.
This weekend marks the last match of the season, I hope to savour every moment of it. To find the strength to enjoy my game as an equal regardless of the anxiety that plagues me.
A mother, daughter, sister…..a suburban female soccer player tackling mental health head on.