Former Western Bulldogs and West Coast Eagles player Josh Hill was living out his childhood dream playing in the AFL, but internally he was facing an ongoing struggle with the pressures associated with being an elite athlete.
“When you come into the AFL system, you’re instantly put on some sort of pedestal. There’s non-stop pressure being put on you, family and expectations from friends,” Hill told Tackle Your Feelings.
For Hill, who hails from Broome Western Australia, the challenges associated with playing football and moving from a small, predominantly Indigenous community to the city was often something he struggled to come to terms with.
There were cultural differences and expectations from his family which Hill felt he could never live up to.
There was also a certain stigma within his own community about seeking help and support for his mental health.
“For me, individually, I was too embarrassed to talk to someone about my problems even though they may have had the answers for me,” he said.
“The biggest problem for me, and maybe for a lot of Aboriginal players, was that I was too stubborn within myself to talk to a psychologist when I thought they’d have no idea about culture.”
Eventually, Hill sought support from a psychologist and now says he wishes he made the decision sooner.
When Hill was delisted at the end of 2017 after 173 games with the Bulldogs and the Eagles, he faced significant challenges with his transition out of the game as he lost important structure in his life.
“You lose so much in one moment that you don’t know who is there for you,” Hill said.
“I sought validation in the wrong areas, turning to dating apps and drinking.”
Now, Hill feels more settled in his life and acknowledges the challenges he’s faced in the past.
Community football has become an important part ofHill’s life, with the 32-year-old involved at St Albans Football Club in Melbourne’s north-west
After losing his love of football following his retirement, Hill believes the support local clubs offer is critical in helping to start conversations and offer guidance and support to players who may be struggling.
“For people who are struggling, they’ll look forward to going to training because they’ll know they’ve got someone who can offer support,” he said.
“That’s the biggest message as a coach… if you can show them you’ve got the right support off-field, they’ll give you the best results on-field.”
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