Western Bulldogs’ Tom Campbell in ruck contest against Sydney Swans

By Tahlia Zaloumis.

Performances from athletes depend on their physical and mental agility. Injury or illnesses can cause a disruption in an athlete’s performance and/or season. 2011 AFL rookie draft, Tom Campbell opened up about various challenges during his playing career and how he used his mental strength to overcome his setbacks.

Interrupted pre-seasons and mid-season injuries have been a regular occurrence for Western Bulldogs’ ruckman, Tom Campbell. Since the star rookie’s debut in 2012, he has had more than three major injuries after being listed as a senior player in 2015.

Injuries haven’t been the only thing that have disrupted the ruckman’s performance and upcoming seasons. Early in his career, Campbell admitted he struggled in keeping up with the relentless grind as an AFL footballer.

This included only landing a game in the league the following year after he was drafted, spending the year prior developing his game and building strength to become more capable of competing with bigger bodies at AFL level.

“I had to really assess where I was as a player and if I wanted to play at the highest level.”

Facing week-to-week team changes and an overbearing training schedule, Campbell felt stuck and continued with his career, ignoring the bad days he faced.

“Selection time is always difficult; someone would go in and someone would go out. It was hard not being picked in a week and bouncing back from that was important.”

When he entered the league, Campbell claimed he was a ‘bullet-proof 22-year-old’— initially ignoring the help provided to him by the club. However, these struggles, later pushed the player to seek help for both his professional and personal development.

Part of this included tapping into the resources provided by the AFL Players’ Association. Recognising the importance of the player well-being, The AFL Players’ Association have implemented the establishment of a player development manager at each club to assist players with off-field well-being, as well as providing assistance with a difficult move to another club.

Each club also provides access to an independent psychologist who will help players with various aspects of their mental wellbeing — whether that be relationships or other aspects of their life away from football. This support from the psychologist is not limited to problems or issues players may be facing. Part of the psychological support they receive can involve recognising and strengthening skills that they are good at.

“Early in my career it’s something I didn’t think I really needed—thinking I didn’t need to engage with that stuff. In the last three years, I’ve engaged with the psychologist almost weekly.”

Campbell reveals his psychologist directed him to a lot of strategies that have shaped him in both his personal and professional life. One skill that helped the star overcome his struggles was building his resilience.

“The coach may have not picked you in the team that week, but it doesn’t mean they don’t like you. In reality, they’re putting together the best team possible for that weekend.”

Developing a high resilience was helpful to Campbell in responding to adversity in a positive way. Building this skill helped him early in his career with the challenges of weekly team changes and now with more recent injury setbacks.

Now, the ruckman uses other strategies to help him prior to a big game. This includes using breathing techniques to aid with sleeping, and ensuring that he takes a day off to concentrate on relationships outside of football.

A new initiative has also been implemented by the Western Bulldogs in creating a dedicated well-being space for their players during their training schedules. This means players have a few hours each week and a 30-minute block during training to either meditate, do yoga or simply read a book.

“Now I think we are seeing a trend with the AFL that player well-being is important and having players who are physically and mentally well, can give a competitive advantage.”

To watch a YouTube video of Tom’s resilience presentation, click here.