Recently I read a book by Ronald Reng called A Life Too Short. I did not realise that it would be such an inspiring read and so relatable to me, but reading
this book taught me that depression can touch anyone, no matter how much money you have or what career you pursue. It is an illness that is indiscriminate, not reflective of your character, and separated from anything we believe is necessary for a happy life.
On November 10th 2009, Robert Enke took his own life by stepping onto the tracks in front of a train at the age of just 32.
Robert Enke was an international footballer, a German Goalkeeper to be precise, who played for top clubs around the world. Many of you may be wondering why such a wealthy, talented and influential player battled to find happiness and this book highlights the question “Why does an international footballer with the world at his feet decide to take his own life?”
This book is so powerful for many reasons and it should be on your ‘must read’ list for many football fans because it provides such an insight into a footballers life and delivers a higher levelled understanding of mental health. Footballers are equivalent to ‘superman’ in the sporting world but I cannot stress enough that this does not make them exempt from the pressure that surrounds them in such a demanding and exposed career. It is a sad reality that Robert Enke’s story opened the eyes of the public and is now used to demonstrate that behind closed doors, footballers have demons too. His death prompted positive changes for mental health in football.
For many players, a move to a new club and/or country is exciting and an opportunity to start a fresh, however it is a daunting prospect and Robert found it difficult to deal with. For Robert, talking about his anxieties didn’t seem like an option as the book reads, “In the world of football, most people shook their heads anyway”. It is important to remember that for the majority of people who are not familiar with depression, it becomes easy for them to blame themselves and seek answers they simply do not have. There are medical explanations for sufferers’ behaviours but with the stigma attached to mental health it is very difficult for individuals to comprehend that.
The book delves into Robert’s support network and how he learned to deal with his thoughts. In his diary he wrote, “I have the feeling that I’ve never really learned how to live”. Robert’s psychiatrist taught him how to cope with making mistakes in the game and coming to terms with them. A vital aspect of what he learnt was that “a career wasn’t a life”. The different stages associated with a footballing career are rolled into one and kids aspiring to pursue a career in this industry are not prepared for the long road ahead. Personally, I believe young academy players should be prepped and educated on how to deal with these different stages such as injury setbacks and early retirement. Too often, players become attached to the game and are not prepared when injury forces them out of the game or retiring between the ages of 30-40 years old. These situations are very common and players are left feeling devalued as if they have lost their sense of identity.