Clubs around the globe are embracing emotional openness as a means of fostering team spirit.
It is a Thursday morning during the Victorian school holidays, and the semi-rural grounds of Geelong Grammar School are deserted but for the luxe new theatrette of the prestigious boarding school, which is overflowing. Inside, more than 600 educators and facilitators sit quietly, filling even the aisles between rows, craning their necks at a handsome young man in a blue polo shirt as he strides to the lectern. A barrel chest on panther legs, the 28-year-old keynote speaker seems affable and relaxed, radiating muscular confidence.
But, he explains to the audience at the educational conference, he does not always feel this way. After all, he says, the life of a professional AFL footballer is filled with myriad challenges to happiness. He recites a list of obstacles. First, you live inside "an industry of winning", and yet perversely losing has become the dominant aspect of the sport. "That's what you're judged on: the losses and poor performances." He holds up his hands. "That's a really difficult thing to adjust to."
A career in footy, he adds, is challenging immediately; you're plucked from a junior talent pathway and thrust into a ruthless scrum of competitive beasts. "You're no longer the oldest or the best. In fact, you are literally the worst player in the side." Anxiety takes hold, he says, and it eats away at your self-assurance. Ephemeral worries – contract negotiations, injury, fluctuating form – conspire against you. "You're fearful of getting the ball in your hands. The joy you once got out of footy has … changed."