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Dr. Saul Miller

Playing it Smart

The recent deaths of three relatively young NHL veterans in the past four months brings to mind the need to encourage people who have emotional problems to come forward and seek help. It’s been said that 8-10 percent of the general public suffer from mood disorders at some time in their lives. The numbers may be less for elite athletes because of all the screens they have to pass through to succeed at the highest levels. The more vulnerable personalities are often screened out while the more robust personalities survive.  However, pro athletes have to deal with an ongoing pressure to perform and some do have emotional issues that could benefit from therapy.

All the teams I have worked with in the NFL, NHL, major league baseball all have excellent medical resources available to treat players. The NHLPA also has counseling and substance abuse programs available. However players must come forward and ask for help. We know men are less inclined then women to seek help for emotional issues, and pro athletes are even less inclined then most men to express a need for therapy. It’s part of the “macho” mindset that exists in elite sport. And for fringe players, those who are not stars, and those on the last year of a contract there is even more reluctance to come forward. However, therapy works in most cases. One player I worked with sought psychiatric help for a mood disorder got treatment and went on to be a league all star.

So the message is, be smart not macho, if you have a problem step forward, seek help, and then get back to performing well and enjoying the game.

Dr. Saul Miller is the author of Performing Under PressureHockey Toughand Why Teams Win.  

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