Supporting the wellbeing of a new generation of sports stars.

With the Rugby World Cup kicking off in Japan, I was in discussion with a friend about the young South African sensation, Aphiwe Dyanti. The 25 year old tested positive for ‘multiple banned substances’ and is now facing the prospect of a four-year ban, which effectively rules him out of two World Cups (2019 and 2023). He will lose club and national contracts, as well as lucrative sponsorship deals. This is a devastating situation for Dyanti, who at the end of 2018 was named ‘World Rugby Breakthrough Player of the Year.

Aphiwe Dyanti’s story highlights the growing need for parents, coaches, agents, medical professionals and many others to pay closer attention to the emotional wellbeing of any aspiring athlete throughout their journey into professional sport.

Finding future sports stars and creating a pathway to success is worth billions. For some it’s priceless. In so many ways, it is the worst possible scenario: the motivation couldn’t be greater for young, ambiotious athletes – with big rewards for so few and the celebrity image and lifestyle portrayed by current (not all, I hasten to add!) professional athletes across social media, the web and television. Families too are easily influenced, either by the status success brings to their family, the financial perks and, in some cases, being lifted out of poverty or simply wanting their child to succeed. With rewards like this on offer and with a captive market of young people happy for any attention or recognition of their talent it doens’t make it hard to find a place for them on the conveyor belt of promissing professionals.

But at what cost? The pressure of fulfilling a personal dream is one thing. What about the pressure of a parent’s dream for their child, their family, the community? Often they are plucked from the environment in which they are flourishing and taken to a completely alien one – different language, culture, socio-economic demographics. Different values. Different expectations. Different life priorities. What about the emotional pressure of being worthy of the opportunity? The obligation to a coach, school, team, agent or sponsors.

For many young people these are difficult years. It’s where exploration happens – physically and emotionally. It’s when adult identities are still being formed. Preferred solutions are expedient ones. A quick fix rather than a longer-term investment in the player.

The fact is that we are dealing with young people without the emotional intelligence to cope with these pressures. Whether guilty or not, Aphiwe Dyanti is an example of what young people can achieve. At the same time, his current situation should be a warning. I can only hope that Aphiwe has the wisdom and can rely on some good people around him, to get him through this difficult phase along his path.

At Polaris we are currently working with young people on a pathway to Commonwealth Games and beyond. Our priority is their wellbeing and we create an individualised plan around each of them. We work with their parents, coaches, schools and others to ensure every aspect of their lives is kept in balance. We equip them with practical and emotional skills that will stand them in good stead both now and in the future, whether within sport or their chosen careers. We help them find their path.

Contact us at enquiry@polaris.je to find out more.