Sport Comment: "Why do we not listen when young men tell us they're not happy?"

16:48  12 september  2017
16:48  12 september  2017 Source:   Mamamia

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Today, Australians hate two things almost as much as they love tennis.

The first is 24-year-old Bernard Tomic.

After losing in the first round of Wimbledon, the world’s oldest and most prestigious tennis tournament, Tomic reflected during the press conference, “I felt a little bored out there to be completely honest with you. You know, I tried at the end… but it was too late.”

Nine-time Wimbledon winner Martina Navratilova said, “It’s disrespectful to the sport and disrespectful to the history of the sport. If you can’t get motivated at Wimbledon it’s time to find another job.” Inarguably, she has a point.

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Tomic sits on the front page alongside his fellow ‘bad boy’ of tennis, Nick Kyrgios, who is in trouble not because of what he has said, but rather what he has done.

The 22-year-old competed at Wimbledon for less than an hour, before he retired due to injury while down two sets to love.

Hours later, Kyrgios was photographed (against his permission, I might add) at a nightclub in Wimbledon, partying until 3am.

“A blonde and a brunette, no wonder he’s got dodgy hips,” Samantha Armytage said on Sunrise this morning regarding the paparazzi images featuring Kyrgios with two women.

“Where was the girlfriend?” she added.

Sports reporter Mark Beretta said, “If he can put one foot in front of the other, he should be on the court… If you can be out at a nightclub you can play Wimbledon.”

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By that logic, we should all be playing Wimbledon.

Today, the commentary is particularly cruel. Kyrgios is almost ubiquitously referred to as a “tennis brat” and the tabloids are doing nothing more than pointing a finger and laughing at what they term a “series of embarrassing pictures,” that they – of course – chose to publish.

Former tennis world number one, Rennae Stubbs said of Tomic,  “You’re an embarrassment to yourself, and not only to the sport but to Australian tennis.”

This is an opinion which she is more than entitled to but, as always, the conversation is lacking nuance.

During Tomic’s now infamous press conference, he said, “It was definitely a mental issue out there.”

"I don't know why, but I felt a little bit bored out there, to be completely honest with you... This is my eighth Wimbledon, or ninth I think... and it's tough to find motivation...

"I couldn't care less if I make a fourth-round US Open or I lose first round. I believe you have to respect the sport, but I think I don't respect it enough. I just believe playing many years on tour now has sort of taken a toll..."

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Love him or hate him, what we've seen over the last 24 hours is not the face of a happy man.

He is young and confused, but instead of acting out in some nameless Aussie suburb, being reprimanded by his parents in their rundown kitchen, he is doing so on the world stage.

Now, that's not our fault. There are people in the world more worthy of our sympathy. But ought we all have some compassion for a man who is in the midst of some personal turmoil?

A professional tennis player announcing as publicly as he possibly could that Wimbledon made him bored is as clear a cry for help as I've ever seen.

This man is not okay.

And neither is Kyrgios.

He isn't happy, and he certainly isn't satisfied. These are just two boys who happened to be really, really good at tennis, which has become both their greatest accomplishment and their greatest curse.

Late last year I spoke to Jeff Bond, one of Australia's leading sports psychologists, who has spent 22 years with the Australian Institute of Sport, and is best known for his work with Pat Cash and the national swim team.

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Although he has never worked with Kyrgios, he had some valuable insights into the psychology of tennis.

"All of the indications suggest he is quite conflicted about, not just about tennis, but I think conflicted about where he's at in his life," Bond told Mamamia. 

"I don't think he's settled. I don't think he's found what it is he loves about tennis."

"There is a lot of pressure and expectation surrounding Nick Kygrios. I mean he's the golden haired boy for Australian tennis," Bond added.

"I think the people who are pretty quick to judge him are the ones who are desperate for a champion to pop up. And they see the level of talent and they see what's possible and they get glimpses of it but they don't see it consistently and they get really disappointed."

"He needs to take a bit of a break from the game I reckon. A proper break," Bond said. He suggested Kygrios needs to rediscover why he loves tennis. Peter FitzSimons has offered the same advice.

Sadness or disorientation or anxiety doesn't always manifest itself in tears. Often it doesn't.

Unhappiness can look like anger and brattiness. It can look like an ungrateful 24-year-old who feels nothing standing on a court at Wimbledon. Or a 22-year-old who throws a tennis game because he has no idea who he is without a racquet in his hand.

Unhappiness can look like apathy. It can sound like a frustrating monotone, coupled by cold, vacant eyes.

Unhappiness can be ugly. And grossly unappealing. And it inflicts our top athletes as much as it does our poorest children.

Tomic and Kyrgios are looking us in the eye and telling us they're in pain. They are symptoms of a culture that values sport above just about everything else.

So instead of throwing our metaphorical racquets and stomping our feet because people don't always say quite what they mean, perhaps we could extend some compassion.

Because when young men try and tell us they're not happy, it's important that we listen.

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