Issues that are a “Rising in Sports” (Part 1 Depression & Gambling)

Posted: December 16, 2013 in Thinking Corner
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Niall Quinn, Jonny Wilkinson, Darren Sutherland, Neil Lennon, Andy O`Brien, Oisín McConville, Serena Williams, Andrew Flintoff, Gary Speed, Barry McGuigan are just some of the high profile sports stars that have suffered from such issues as Depression, Anxiety and Burn Out which has unfortunately lead to some of them taking their own life and meaning that the illness had gone under the radar and been left untreated.

It`s no secret that over the last few years we have seen an increase in to the following problems in sport It`s no secret that over the last few years we have seen an increase in to the following problems in sport
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Burnout
  • Gambling
  • Psychology issues when injured
  • Retirement

 A Coach will always worry about his players, a physiotherapist will always worry about getting players back to full health, but does anyone ever ask how the Coaches, Physiotherapist and all the Back Room Staff how they are doing.

Image“The key thing for anyone who is feeling depressed is to always remember there is light at the end of the tunnel” – Alan O’Mara – Cavan Footballer

Let’s face it, no matter what route we chose to take in life we all need someone just to listen to us from time to time. From researching a lot of sports athletes and people working with in sport who have suffered from such problems as depression and anxiety, the main resource that they all needed at challenging and dark times was somebody just to listen to them. Talking about these issues seems to help them more than anything else.

As sport can be a very egotistic venue to be involved in, it can become a very lonely and isolated place. When a Player, Athlete, Coaches are succeeding and winning it`s easy for people to get right behind them and celebrate with them. But when things are not going so well, people just don`t want to have anything to do with them and simply want to forget about them. To me this is totally wrong.

From my experience in working and coaching in sport I have seen this a lot over the years where after winning a Match everything is great and people support you but if you lose or things are not going right, these people are nowhere to be seen on Monday morning when players, management and backroom staff are back in doing a training session.

ImageIf you’re suffering, if you feel like your back is against the wall, just say it to someone, even the dog.” – Bernard Dunne – Irish Boxer and former World Champion


In Irish sporting culture it is great to see such players as Alan O`Mara (Cavan Footballer), Conor Cussack (Former Cork Hurler), Jason Macinteer (Former Ireland Soccer Player) and Brent Pope (RTE Sports Rugby Pundit) coming out and opening up about their problems with Depression and mental health as this can give a lot of hope to other sports players and athletes who have or still suffer with these demons. But I think it`s important that we just don`t feel this is associated with players and athletes only. You only have to look at people such as Gary Speed who was the manager of Wales Football Team at the time when he decided to take his own life. It is sad to think that Gary Speed felt he could n`t open up or talk to anybody about the issues he was going through at the time before his untimely death. I think the biggest problem comes when looking from the outside in, these people would seem that they do and should have everything a person needs to make them happy and content in life. However I think we do forget that these people are humans like us all who were also born with feelings and emotions. They can easily make a mistake like any of us can but because of the career they are associated with, they are left wide open to be finely crucified with criticism.

It is important to note that depression affects different people in different ways and not everyone has the same symptoms. People within sport are no different as with it comes a high degree of stress and the ups and downs associated when winning and losing is regularly part of daily life.

I wanted to high light symptoms associated with this illness but it is important to note that you don’t have to have all of the symptoms to be diagnosed with depression. However, having a few of these symptoms for more than a couple of weeks is a sign that you may be depressed.

Main symptoms –

Low/sad, irritable or indifferent mood

Loss of interest and enjoyment in daily life

Lack of energy

Physical symptoms – 

Fatigue and reduced activity

Disturbed sleep or excessive sleep

Changes in appetite and weight

Loss of sex drive

Unexplained aches and pains,

e.g. headache, backache

Changes to the menstrual cycle

Other symptoms –

Poor concentration or reduced attention

Difficulty in making decisions


Restlessness, agitation or anxiety

Low self-confidence and self-esteem

Alan Quinlan (Former Munster and Ireland rugby legend) indicated through his work with that taking action and control is his biggest advice.

"Former Munster and Irish rugby player, Alan Quinlan has been promoting Mental Health Issues around Ireland" - Picture by“Former Munster and Irish rugby player, Alan Quinlan has been promoting Mental Health Issues around Ireland” – Picture by

Some of Alan`s tips for dealing with depression include –

  • Take time for yourself every day by doing something that you enjoy. You may even challenge yourself to try something new.
  • Plan and make a list of the things you need to do. Writing them down and getting tasks off your mind will give you a sense of relief. Ticking items off your list will give you a sense of accomplishment.
  • Be aware of your mental health and look after it as you would your physical health.
  • Exercising each day which maybe even a short walk and eat/drink as healthy as possible.
  • Reach out and ask for help if you are struggling.


Just this year the GPA admitted that gambling amongst GAA players was a ‘continuing worry’ as Tyrone’s Cathal McCarron had became the latest inter-county star to struggle with the problem.

Tyrone Player Cathal McCarron has become the latest High Profile GAA Player that is battling a Gambling Problem - Picture by

The GPA also stated that Gambling issues are responsible for a third of the calls made to the Gaelic Players Association helpline since it was introduced in 2010.

Other high profile cases of inter county players struggling with this issues include ex-Armagh forwad Oisin McConville and Offaly’s Niall McNamee.

“Ex-Armagh forward Oisin McConville  discussing his addition gambling problem at a  Seminar held in Sligo in 2011″

However gambling seems to be wide spread in a lot of sports and especially in Football as Northern Irish and former Manchester United player Keith Gillespie explains how he gambled away more than £7 million over his football career. Gillespie is in this company with many footballers such as former players Paul Merson (Arsenal), Dietmar Hamann (Liverpool), Mark Wilson (Manchester United), Michael Chopra (Ipswich Town) and current players such as Andros Townsend (Tottenham Hotspur) and David Bentley (Currently no club but formerly of Tottenham Hotspur) who have or are still suffering mentally and financially with addiction with gambling.

“Keith Gillespie talking on the RTÉ Morning Edition  about “How not to be a professional Soccer Player” and explains how he gambled away more than £7 million over his soccer career”

Keith Gillespie was declared bankrupt in 2010 but its important to note that its not just athletes or players that find themselves neck deep in gambling addiction, gambling is so accessible now a days that it can be reached from virtually anywhere, anytime meaning all rolls within a sporting contact is open to the possibility of these issues. Not so long ago Gordon Taylor who is the head of the PFA (Players Football Association) has recently admitted to accruing a personal debt of over £100,000 with a bookie.

Former Arsenal Player and Sky Pundit Paul Merson says "Gambling is the worse disease of all" - Picture by www1.skysports.comFormer Arsenal player Paul Merson described

” Gambling as the worse disease of all because if you are a alcoholic or drug addict you have to go to the trouble of putting something in your body which people can pick up signs from if you are under the influence of these items but when it comes to gambling you don`t need any substance what so ever to get that rush feeling as all it takes is a simple bet which can be done from anywhere such as the convenience of your phone. Plus their is no tell tale signs that gambling gives away to other people. A player, Athlete, Coach could have a serious gambling problem but a person from the outside looking in could never tell because it is so easy to hide”

Thanks to John O`Neill of for the guest blog.

John can be contacted at regarding any matters about this blog if you need any advice or help regarding issues of Depression, Anxiety, Burnout, Injury, Gambling our Retirement in sport please get in touch and I will do my very best to get back to you as quickly as possible with productive information. I just really hope you enjoy the aspects and reasons behind such a site.

You can also send us an email if you wish to discuss anything.

Don’t suffer in silence

Coach James

  1. Mark says:

    Hi admin this article is a great read for anyone involved in sporting circles! I have been through a tough 10-12 months and have come to the conclusion from reading your articles that i was depressed. I recently was informed i had arthritis in both my hips and that i have to stop playing sport for at least a year.I am currently waiting to see a specialist in order to see what action can be taken.I feel i have a lot to offer still at 21 years of age. It was this ongoing injury which caused me serious discomfort and as a result almost all the symptoms you outlined above. If you could mention in your support discussions about treating ongoing injuries and the release it can give a sport person to able to have comfort when performing. It helps reduce the anxiety a person may experience. Thanks again.

    • John O`Neill says:

      Hi Mark,

      It is great that you found the article so helpful towards recognizing these symptoms that are associated with depression. The main thing is that people learn more about these symptoms so its is very encouraging to see such a young person like yourself having the courage to come forward and talk about such a hard personal situation that believe me so many other young sports people and people in many roles in sport can relate to so fair-play to you. I think it`s an excellent idea to do a write up regarding “Treating On Go Injuries” and the psychology battles that come with being injured. In our next blog ” Injury” will be discussed and want effect this can have on a players/athletes mental well being but we will certainly do a more in-dept analysis and write up on this issues following your comment, plus we will also be doing a podcast in the near future regarding this issues. I would be very interested to hear more feedback from you regarding such an issues so if you want please contact me at or the guys at Ireland Strength Conditioning. Also please get in touch if you need any help our advice regarding if you need more help during this challenging time. You have certainly did the most important by first recognizing the symptoms and more importantly having the courage to speak out and add a very important light to these issues. Would love to hear from you again. Thanks Mark, John (Lend An Ear Sport – /

  2. Your blog was very informational. Thank you for this post…….

    Physio in Cavan

  3. video slots says:

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