Do We Need To Change Our Attitude At Junior Football?
"We should never judge someone’s story because in most cases, we have no idea what they might be dealing with privately."
– Wayne Schwass - AFL Footballer.
Recently I have been speaking to Melanie Jorgensen, mother of Lachlan who died by suicide last year.
Melanie said, "As a mother who is trying to deal with the loss of my 15-year-old son to suicide, there are many ways I could run with this. It is true I am overwhelmed with sadness and grief. I am so angry but not for one second is that anger towards Lachlan, sometimes it's for myself. I am mainly mad for the fact that although we knew he was suffering depression and anxiety and had previously had suicidal thoughts and attempts, I couldn't stop him, and I didn't see any signs that night we lost him."
Many things happened to Lachlan that led to his final decision and one of these was most certainly the bullying he was subjected to. The bullying was from school and the community, including football. He tried to escape the harassment which began when he left one club to play for another with his brothers. But he couldn’t escape it - when his new team played his old club (which was often as the club had 3 teams), the parents and club officials became abusive towards him.
"I am angry at the adults that kept telling him he was worthless by yelling abuse at him over and over from a football club. Why didn't people in the position of power try to stop this abuse?"
"Why did they turn a blind eye? Not my child? Not my problem? Not my club?"
Lachlan was a champion athlete and a gun footballer who played the game hard. He was tall and built like a man, but what the adults forgot was that he was still a child.
"Funny isn't it that Lachlan himself would have stood up for anyone's child, as he did that so many times throughout his life. But when he needed support the parents of these players stood back. There were a select few that did know about Lachlan’s suicide attempts, depression and anxiety, and still stood back."
After speaking with Melanie, I want to share this message with you:
Please remember junior footy is for kids. It is somewhere they can run around and have fun!
Many children have other pressures in life they have to handle; their sport needs to be an outlet where they can enjoy themselves. They need be encouraged and loved by their coaches and parents, regardless of the result of the game.
Junior footy is not for the parents – they are simply the taxi driver to and from training and games.
Sadly over the years, I have witnessed parents trying to live their successes through their children’s football. They want their child to be the champion and put huge pressure on them to achieve this. I saw one father follow his son up and down the field every single game and yell at him what to do. I have witnessed parents scream at their child for missing a goal. I have even see coaches who have yelled, screamed and swore at the kids. (Many coaches are of course wonderful and never go to these extremes.) The question is, with all of this, what message are we sending out?
Melanie has told me she could easily just stay in her room and never come out again. But instead she has chosen to honor Lachlan by bringing awareness to youth mental health and suicide, to make a real difference to the lives of others.
In Melanie's words…
"If you can't be kind with your words, please keep your mouth shut. Stand up for that child who is being bullied. Sometimes, just standing beside them is enough.
Make changes where they need to be made. These changes are too late for my little fella, and I wish I had stood up a bit more and not just stood back and accepted that some people just don't get it. Sometimes you need to report things over and over to get people to listen or help.
Please don’t stand back like I did on many occasions.
We all need to stand up to bullies.
Sometimes I stood back because I was so angry I didn't know what would come out of my mouth.
Other times it was because I was so sad and disappointed in some people who at one time I had called a friend.
If you feel that you can't go to your coaches or clubs with these complaints, you should go to the league and if they don't listen, go above them to the AFL.
For Lachlan, it's too late, but you could also seek some justice on his behalf. I'm sure there are a few of you out there that could write a letter to the league now.
It can still make a difference for someone else's child.”
And that difference is desperately needed.
Puka Up, run by AFL Footballer Wayne Schwass, has reported 2866 people lost their lives to suicide in 2016.
Something has got to change.
What are you going to do about it?
I myself am a mum of three boys and one girl and have had many years being involved with junior football. There is the good, bad and unfortunately, the ugly in the game. I have witnessed all three, including one game when my son played in Lachlan's team. I saw first-hand what was happening and came away extremely upset after hearing the abuse that Lachlan received.
Please speak up if you see any form of bullying. I wish I spoke out when I heard the abuse being yelled out to Lachlan rather than going home upset for him. Now it's too late, but I hope that by writing this article it creates awareness and saves lives.
Please speak out and report any abuse at football, any children's sport, or anywhere. It is unfortunate enough when kids are harassed by children, but worse when it's adults doing the abusing.
Since this tragedy last year, Melanie has focused her energies on creating awareness to youth mental health and suicide, including creating awareness around bullying in all sports at all levels, starting with the grass roots.
Thank you Melanie for spending time with me to talk about Lachlan and his experiences. None of us can imagine what you are going through, but working with you I hope to help build awareness in the community and to stop this happening to other families.
Read about how to wipe the slate clean here. An inspirational speech read out at Lachlan’s funeral.
Remember, nothing is ever a problem until you have spoken to someone. Once you have spoken out, then you can decide if it is a problem. Read more here.
Beyond Blue 1300 22 4636
Lifeline 13 11 14
Have you witnessed bullying from parents towards children at any sport? Please leave a comment below.
So after reading this, do we need to change our attitude at junior football or sports?
Thank you for reading and caring. Please share with others. You never know who you will be helping, which is why Melanie and I have worked so hard together to bring you this article.
Carolyn Rowland is a qualified NLP Master Therapist, Advanced Practitioner of Matrix Therapies, Time Line Therapist, Practitioner of Hypnotherapy, has a Diploma for Business and Life Coaching and A Professional Image Stylist. Carolyn is happily married to her husband Simon, and raised four beautiful children, who are now young adults and a teenager.
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