Media Killed the Rugby League

The headlines have been everywhere all week. Jamie Lyon, retired at the ripe old age of 22. A man with so much potential, such a great future that some say he could have gone on to be one of the best centres the game has ever produced. Yet he has apparently given it all away to return to his childhood home town of Wee Waa, seeking a return to the country lifestyle he grew up with.

On face value, that makes a little bit of sense. Moving from Wee Waa, population 2,000, to a city that, population wise, is 2,000 times bigger in Sydney would no doubt be a huge culture shock. Different people, different way of life, and it can be difficult to adapt. It is only natural that, after 7 years in the big smoke, a country boy can grow to be a bit weary of the hustle bustle lifestyle. This is just one argument put forth by the newspapers, no doubt there will be more in the coming weeks.

What this situation does, though, is force us to assess the way young kids, particularly those that have moved from the country, are treated in today?s football club. You only have to look at all the media attention that the likes of Benji Marshall, Sonny Bill Williams and Karmichael Hunt had received before they had even touched a ball. Add to that mix the likes of Terry Campese, Ryan Powell and Todd Carney, who are yet to debut, players that their clubs have constantly said will be at the forefront in the future, and we begin to see a pattern emerging.

It is obvious that football clubs are putting far too much pressure on their young stars-in-waiting. Terry Hill agrees. At his retirement press conference, Hill was quoted as saying that there would be a lot more walkouts from over-pressured young players in the coming years. According to the Sydney Morning Herald, ?Hill said the media would soon "find out" what was happening within clubs to make players quit.? He was also quoted as saying "It's happening now. I don't want to get into it . . . you will find that all out later."

So, what is the answer? Do we rap the youngsters in the proverbial cotton wool until we think they?re old enough to cope with the attention? That might work, but it certainly is not the best solution. What might help is if the media?s constant speculation on how good young players are going to be in the future stopped. It does not help when almost every day, a 17 or 18 year old reads a story about themselves saying how good they are going to be, or how much the club is going to rely on them in the future. How much pressure is then placed on them if they fail to live up to the lofty expectations the media, club and public has placed on them? For some, they may never recover.

This may account for what many like to dub the ?second year syndrome? where a player is absolutely fantastic in their first year in the competition, they are hyped up all through the off season as vital for the chances of their team, and they fail to produce performances as dazzling as those they produced in their rookie year. Some prime examples of this are Andrew McFadden and Owen Craigie. Both were highly acclaimed in their rookie years, both had fairly average second seasons, and now find themselves rarely playing first grade. Perhaps that is a little unfair on both those players as injury has certainly played a part, however the expectations placed on them certainly contributed heavily as well.

While it may seem from the average fan?s perspective that there is a problem with the way young players are being treated in today?s game, it is quite possible that is not the case and things like Jamie Lyon?s walkout are simply isolated incidents. Indeed, nobody will really know if we have a problem unless Terry Hill?s predictions come true and there is indeed a lot more walkouts of young players over the coming years. We should all hope, for the sake of the players, the clubs and league in general, that this is not the case. It?s an old clich?, and also an obvious statement, but young players are our future. If we don?t look after the young, we won?t have a future.

Sources: Hill predicts more walkouts by young players By Steve Mascord Sydney Morning Herald, Wednesday March 17 2004

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