Liza is one of four players collaborating with FIFPRO’s mental health awareness project, Are you ready to talk? The 27-year old Ajax player talks about how her family, friends and teammates supported her when she was recovering from a lengthy injury.
FIFPRO research shows that 20 to 35 percent of professional footballers experience mental health problems during their career, which implies that in every dressing room, there are probably players coping with these problems.
Liza supports FIFPRO’s awareness campaign, which focusses on looking after your own as well as your teammates’ mental health and encourages talking about it. Personally, she never experienced mental health problems, but she talks about her doubts and experiences to help others players.
Liza’s career took an unexpected twist in early 2020. During a league match she accidently stumbled while defending. “I knew immediately something was wrong. I heard a loud pop and said, OK, there goes my knee.” She tore her anterior cruciate ligament.
“All sorts of things were going through my head. I knew I would miss the Olympics - which had actually been planned for last summer – and that I’d be sidelined for the season at Ajax.”
“At that moment, it feels like your career is over, even though you know it’s not. But instinctively you say to yourself: OK, everything is over. I’m 27 now, that’s it. That’s how it felt.”
The next day, Liza was more rational. Her mind was set for a long recovery period which, according to Ajax’ physiotherapist, would last up to twelve months.
“I realised I was not alone, that people genuinely want to help and understand you”
Although the process went smoothly, she did experience some difficult moments. “I had a hard time acknowledging that I needed help, that I was unable to move around, couldn’t drive a car or do simple things at home. You feel powerless and don’t want to be a bother. I’ve always been very independent.”
Liza overcame her embarrassment and talked about her thoughts with people close to her. “That helped me a lot, as they told me they had no problem with me asking for support.”
“I realised I was not alone, that people genuinely want to help and understand you.”
“I think that if I had not talked about it, it would have become even more frustrating. It can take a lot of energy from you, because you want to do things that you cannot do. It can end up in a constant inner struggle. But by asking for help, it felt as if a weight was lifted from my shoulders.”
Ten months after getting injured, Liza made her comeback. However, during her second game back, she felt some pain in her knee again. She was taken off and the next day the knee was swollen, pushing her back into recovery.
“That was the hardest moment of my rehabilitation so far. Emotionally, it was the final straw. I’d been fine mentally until then. I felt physically strong, and I’d actually become stronger. I did everything I needed to do to recover. At that point, the last thing you expect is another setback.”
“So all the frustration came out: emotion, tears, anger. I lost my self-control. That doesn’t happen often.”
This time, Liza had no problems in showing her emotions to her boyfriend, her family or the medical staff, because she now knew that they would support her. “There was no threshold. They saw it and they understood. I knew that if I asked for help, I would get it.”