The human connection and its relation to performance with Tefu Mashamaite Part 2

Sport Scientist Dr Khatija Bahdur and Tefu Mashamaite continue their discussion, this time on the rigours of professional football

Tefu Mashamaite has captained both Bidvest Wits and Kaizer Chiefs, and while every player should be committed to raising dropping heads of teammates, the captain has the added responsibility.

Coaches and teammates look to him for that leadership on the field. So how did Captain Mashamaite handle it?

"As a captain, I tried hard to engage affected parties because players are just as important as fans but the violence couldn’t have in any way helped the cause of the team. At Chiefs, we tried hard to come with initiatives to stop that violence and also to provide solidarity and support to the players that were booed," Mashamaite told Goal.  

Kaizer Chiefs fans, April 2019

As mentioned before fans can be a positive or negative influence. When they turn on their own players it creates an environment not conducive to success but when done right, fans become the 12th man.

So how does it feel being on the opposite end of a hostile home crowd?

"One of the most hostile environment I have ever been subjected to was when I played for Chiefs against Raja Casablanca in Morocco. The fans didn’t make it easy for us from making noise outside the hotel where we camped the night before the game, to the constant whistling and booing before and during the game to the deployment of lasers to distract us."

However, the right approach can minimise the impact.

"For me personally, I wasn’t intimidated in any way because ultimately the fans can scream all they want in the stands but on the field, it’s 11 vs 11."

Raheem Sterling Manchester City 2018-19

A few weeks ago Raheem Sterling and Kalidou Koulibaly were both targets of racist abuse. This sadly is still too common an occurrence in football where despite all the campaigns, the prejudice of the real world is still reflected at football stadiums. And because these comments are often so personal the way they affect players differs.

In light of the Sterling incident, many players of colour came out to speak about their experiences and not all prejudice comes from fans, sometimes it’s from the media and within the team set-up.

So where does the media fit in?

In years gone by, papers wanted to increase readership so nothing was off limits and anything that increased paper sales whether true, intrusive or relevant to football was fair game.

In today’s day and age, it is not only about the publications but the journalist’s personal brands and their interactions on social media.

Tefu Mashamaite

According to Mashamaite the media have power and must decide how to wield it.

"The media depending on the aim of its propaganda can create divisions between various stakeholders in football. It could be through the spreading of rumours or just entertaining one side of the story. Equally, the media can create harmony by bringing the stakeholders closer to each other and creating compassion and cohesion."

One of the biggest problems with both fans and media is the desire to build people up and then the joy with which we tear them down.

Fans get elated by seeing what they perceive as disloyal players 'failing' after leaving their clubs.

Mashamaite has first-hand experience with that. But the broader sociological context contributes to the hype when an unknown player does well and then the rush to throw sand on their graves as yet when others decide they haven’t lived up to expectation.

"We live in a society that is exploitative in nature and players are treated as commodities sometimes, the industry can chew you and spits you as soon as you deemed futile."

However, are players just victims in this case?

"It’s up to players to know the kind of environment they operate in because not everyone who is close to you is actually, genuinely in your corner."

When speaking to people in football you realise sometimes the problem is players themselves buy into the hype and stop putting in the work.

We have just seen the end of another transfer window and while the outside view on transfers may always be about fairness and integrity that is not always the case.

Money talks and sometimes players are coerced into moves they would prefer not to make or blocked from moves they want to happen.

Science of Football 22 May-01

Coaches don't always get a lot of input into these "boardroom" matters. So how does the silly season impact team dynamics?

"Oh depends on whether the move is going to be mutually beneficial to the stakeholders involved. I have seen players plunder into a depressive mode in anticipation of being offloaded to a smaller team vs. them brimming with confidence if the transfer is to a bigger and better opportunity. On the other hand, coaches may face a dilemma of losing an important member of the squad and there’s no suitable replacement."

There are also the cases where a player is nearing the end of their contract and is allowed to speak to other clubs, however exploring one's options can in some cases lead to players not being allowed to play unless they sign the contract extension.

Social media is also a fully utilised tool, for brand building and marketing, allowing players to get their messages across, interact with fans and other people.

But there is always the internet trolls, the people who take out their frustration on any celebrity purely because they can.

Often people behind a cell phone or keyboard forget that player you feel entitled to is a person with real emotions and real things going on in their life, including their football but not exclusively just that.

Females in football can be exposed to rape threats, harassment, and just the basic sexism that they might not know anything on the basis of their gender.

The constant criticisms and insults also make it harder for coaches or psychologists to help players put the bad games out of their heads.

Players also need periods where they need to switch off from the game to prevent burnout.

With social media, this is often not possible. Players should be guided on the use of social media, differentiate between personal and private accounts and be warned of the negatives linked with overexposure or too much usage.

In a previous column, I addressed the issue of mental health in sport and the high incidents of depression.

Gianluigi Buffon PSG Paris Saint-Germain 2018-19

Players like Iniesta, Buffon, etc have spoken about their experiences, and mental health education is key. Because when players are experiencing mental health problems, their performances will go down, but the reality is, the dangers associated with mental health leave stakes much higher than just losing a football match.

So what are 'Masha's' experiences with regard to mental health?

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"Football is a highly demanding sport emotionally and it’s the reason why we have seen cases of mental health challenges growing within the sport or should I say the increase in players coming out and acknowledging that they have these challenges because it was somehow stigmatized," he added.

"I feel like society is slowly making progress in acknowledging these challenges as humans and trying to come with solutions to deal with them. I remember when I was at Hacken in Sweden, we had a team psychologist who was always available to talk to us and I feel like PSL teams need to take a step in that direction as well. Anxiety, depression and stress-related challenges are real issues challenging our society and we have to take proper steps to address them without further inflicting more harm," Mashamaite concluded.