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Mental wellbeing of past Australian Football League players

This study is the first to present findings from a survey of past AFL players on their mental well-being.


Project Details

The Australian Football League (AFL) is a National sporting body where players engage in a career as a professional athlete. Much is known about the physical attributes of professional AFL players during their career (Pyne, Gardner et al. 2006), but limited information is available on their health and mental well-being in retirement (King, Rosenberg et al. 2012). 

Australian rules football players are required to develop mental toughness during their playing career to cope better than their opponents in remaining determined, focused, confident and in control under pressure (Jones 2002). Some of this mental toughness extends to the ability to handle pressure, stress and adversity with the many external demands that the sport places upon them (Goldberg 1998). There is surprisingly little known about the mental well-being of AFL players. This is despite acknowledgement that during their playing career, Australian footballers have multiple sources of stress that extend beyond those associated with competition and include, difficulty balancing football, study commitments, relationships and job insecurity (Noblet and Gifford 2002). 

Once their playing career ends, players are faced with a period of transition into other vocational pursuits, a recognised period of increased stress and anxiety (Fortunato and Marchant 1999). Beyond this period, there is very little known about the mental health and well-being of past AFL players. Recently, research has emerged investigating recurrent concussion and risk of depression in retired professional football players in America (Guskiewicz, Marshall et al. 2007). Similar concerns about the impact of head injuries on retired AFL player’s mental health is starting to emerge, although there is no identifiable source of information on the general mental well-being among past AFL players.



Mental Well-Being of Past Australian Football League Players PDF 1.69MB Download



Fortunato V., and Marchant D. (1999) Forced retirement from elite football in Australia. Journal of Personal and Interpersonal Loss: International Perspectives on Stress and Coping; 4(3):269-280.

King T., Rosenberg M., Braham R., Ferguson R., and Dawson B. (2012). “Life after the game - Injury profile of past elite Australian Football players.” Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport: DOI:10.1016/j.jsams.2012.09.003 

Jones G. (2002). “What is this thing called mental toughness? An investigation of elite sport performers.” Journal of Applied Sport Psychology 14(3): 205-218.

Goldberg A. S. (1998). Sports slump busting: 10 steps to mental toughness and peak performance. Champagne, IL., Human Kinetics.

Noblet A.J. and Gifford S.M. (2002). “The sourses of stress experienced by professional Australian footballers.” Journal of Applied Sport Psychology 14(1): 1-13.

Guskiewicz K.M., Marshall S.W., Bailes J., McCrea M., Harding Jnr HP., Matthews A., et al. (2007). “Recurrent concussion and risk of depression in retired professional football players.” Medicine and Science in Sport and Exercise 39(6): 903-909.

Pyne D.B., Gardner A.S., Sheehan K., et al. (2006)Positional differences in fitness and anthropometric characteristics in Australian football. Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport; 9:143-150.

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