Generally in life it is accepted that to do anything to the best of your ability you must enjoy doing it.
It’s what we tell kids: ‘Do what you love and that will be the thing you are best at’.
Which is why the conversation about footballers not enjoying playing at the highest level is a worry.
The caretaker coaches of North Melbourne and Carlton again highlighted the issue. Both spoke of the importance of playing with passion, freedom and returning fun to the club.
It makes you wonder how clubs ever let players get to the point of not enjoying what they do.
There is no doubt today’s football is oversaturated with game-day analysis.
Every aspect of the game is measured and scrutinised. The pressure is indeed relentless.
We have become a supporter base that looks ‘at’ the stats to determine who played well rather than ‘using’ stats to reinforce our opinions.
Player’s performances are there in black and white for all to see, and for the endless number of football broadcasters and writers to dissect.
Where once a player could ride out a form slump with little outside scrutiny, these days there is nowhere to hide.
It can be enthusiasm-sapping when you are doing the work and your best.
Unfortunately the scrutiny doesn’t confine itself to on-field performances.
In 2019 if a player puts even one toe out of line, the story will definitely hit the back of the papers, and likely the front page as well.
Take Steven May’s one beer at a pub as a prime example.
The majority of players will tell you the only way to avoid the scrutiny is to hide away like hermits.
Many say that going out in this era of the mobile phone camera and instant social media is asking for trouble.
These examples in isolation would lead you to believe that being an AFL player isn’t at all fun.
But let’s also consider this. Instead of concentrating on the privileges of normal society that have been taken away, try looking at the positives.
What benefits do young footballers have over the peers with whom they grew up or went to school?
For one you are getting paid extraordinary amounts of money compared to the average man your age.
Sure, you could get injured and it could all end quickly.
But for the time you are there, you are raking it in. The average footballer’s wage has now reached a staggering $375,000.
You also get to run out on a field in front of thousands of adoring people and actually live the dream of every football-loving youngster.
Most likely it was your dream when you were a boy.
The day when that is no longer a buzz is when you should hang the boots up.
If you do have to live like a hermit, there is every likelihood your ‘cave’ is a nice house with a huge TV and flash car in the driveway.
At the end of the day, if you’re worried about the added scrutiny that comes with the modern era of endless stats and game dissection then it is up to you to use that information to become a better footballer.
Don’t stuff up so much or go through a game without a contested possession or miss a goal from 15 metres dead in front.
All that is in your hands.
If you can’t handle the saturated coverage, ask the AFL to reduce the media rights money along with your share of it.
If you’re worried about cameras catching you doing something wrong when out with your mates, then don’t do anything wrong – it’s not that hard!
Perspective is a wonderful thing and why my advice to young players is to actually read the newspaper every day … and always start at the front.
There are many things going on in the world that have nothing to do with AFL.
I do get perplexed when I hear professional athletes talk about returning to the joy of playing, while at the same time so many parents are pushing to get their kids playing seriously so they can be spotted by AFL recruiters.
But that’s another story.
Nathan Burke is a former St Kilda captain who played 323 AFL games for the Saints, winning three Trevor Barker Awards as best-and-fairest player.