AFL CLUBS are undergoing a "great evolution" in player welfare, particularly in regard to mental health, but some players just can't cope with the increasing scrutiny, Collingwood coach Nathan Buckley says.
Speaking in response to NBA commissioner Adam Silver's belief that many basketballers felt isolated, anxious and unhappy as a direct result of brutal critiques on social media, Buckley said he could see some parallels with AFL players.
"It is a very real issue and it doesn't have a lot to do with the club environment … which are as supportive places as you could find," Buckley told SEN radio on Tuesday.
DOCKER STILL HAS HIS DEMONS Jesse Hogan rested to battle 'clinical anxiety'
"The provision for support (in clubs) is huge, whether it's professional or personal, whether it's mental or emotional or physical. Clubs get it now, and we're getting it more and more, and I think there's going to be a great evolution over the next couple of decades to look after the people in your environment.
"It seems that this generation of young men coming through are isolated in some sense. Social media is a real issue, and the ability for someone from the outside to judge and to speculate on and to criticise an individual that they see through the TV screen … that's not normal.
"A VFL player way back when, he'd get his feedback at work or if he headed down to the pub, but it was generally face to face. There's a lot of things that (people) wouldn't say face to face that (they) would say over an online situation. That natural barrier and filter is gone.
"I feel that our players feel terribly judged and that the expectations on them are completely imbalanced …
"We judge them professionally – we have to judge what they do on-field and the way they prepare – but we spend a lot of time not judging so that they feel safe and valued and give us the best of themselves.
"I can understand why some players are just unhappy … (they) just can't handle the scrutiny. They might have all the talent in the world, but they're not actually made for playing elite sport in today's era because there's too much scrutiny. That won't ever go away now."
The AFL has identified mental health as the biggest issue in football and is in the process of hiring a mental health officer.
In recent times, Richmond superstar Dustin Martin, St Kilda gun Jack Steven and Demon-turned-Docker Jesse Hogan have been among those who have revealed their mental health battles.
According to Buckley, the wellbeing of players could be further improved by streamlining what he branded as the "ridiculous" scheduling between Christmas and the start of the premiership season.
FULL INJURY LIST Who's racing the clock for round one?
Buckley revealed the AFL had made a commitment to do just that during the annual coaches' gathering with League chief Gillon McLachlan and football manager Steve Hocking.
The Pies coach said the log-jam of commitments for players in the period from January to March – including various camps, the AFLX concept, third-party club commitments and two mandated four-day breaks – was compromising the preparations of players.
"Where it has got to in the last five to 10 years really is ridiculous," Buckley said.
"The clubs have been told by the AFL that we will have more control over that time, that there will be less drag on the players to go left, right and centre, and that we will have the capacity to have a smoother run into the season.
"It's caused the programs of players to change. You actually do less with the players rather than trying to do more. When you have them you do less, (and) it puts them in a more compromised position when they want to step up into playing."
Buckley said that at the coaches' meeting the example of Gold Coast's prized draftee Izak Rankine was raised, given he attended the four-day 2019 AFL/AFLPA Indigenous All Stars Summit in Adelaide in late February before suffering a serious hamstring injury.
"There's enough evidence to suggest (that the busy schedule) is actually contrary to the wellbeing and welfare of the player, not just his mental health but also to get the players up to speed to play the game," Buckley said.