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'I deleted Twitter....It can really impact your mental health' - Jacob Stockdale highlights the ills of social media

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Dejected: Jacob Stockdale after the Rugby World Cup game between Ireland and Japan. Photo: Stu Forster/Getty Images

Dejected: Jacob Stockdale after the Rugby World Cup game between Ireland and Japan. Photo: Stu Forster/Getty Images

Dejected: Jacob Stockdale after the Rugby World Cup game between Ireland and Japan. Photo: Stu Forster/Getty Images

An unfortunate consequence of the world in which we currently live is that some people think that hurling online abuse at others is perfectly normal behaviour.

No one is immune to it, especially sportspeople - many of whom have been on the end of vicious comments from mindless idiots.

It's one thing ignoring the nastiness which stems from an anonymous Twitter account whose profile photo is an egg but what happens when the same faceless troll repeatedly targets an individual?

Up until recently, Jacob Stockdale read everything that was written about him, particularly on social media.

Breaking onto the scene, he was warned against doing so. As much as he tried to heed the advice he was given, the temptation to search his name on Twitter was invariably too much.

That was all well and good when everything he touched turned to gold, as he blazed a trail in his debut season as an international. However, in the last 12 months, things haven't quite gone as swimmingly.

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In that time, the Ulster and Ireland winger, who is still only 24 years old, has received a barrage of online abuse, which took its toll mentally.

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Maxol brand ambassador Jacob Stockdale was speaking at the launch of the Phone A Friend fundraising campaign for Aware – text ‘Phone A Friend’ to 50300 to donate €4. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Maxol brand ambassador Jacob Stockdale was speaking at the launch of the Phone A Friend fundraising campaign for Aware – text ‘Phone A Friend’ to 50300 to donate €4. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

SPORTSFILE

Maxol brand ambassador Jacob Stockdale was speaking at the launch of the Phone A Friend fundraising campaign for Aware – text ‘Phone A Friend’ to 50300 to donate €4. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

"I used to read everything," says Stockdale. "Anything anybody said about me, you can be guaranteed that I would have read it, which is grand whenever you are playing well because it fills you with confidence.

"You would always get the odd bit of criticism but it wouldn't really matter to you because everyone else was telling you how great you are.

"It was only after the World Cup, I realised I had to stop doing that. Funnily enough, it was actually the first game after the World Cup. We were playing Munster in Thomond and I didn't have a great game.

"I got into the changing room and the first thing I did, before I had even texted my parents or my girlfriend, I went onto Twitter to see what people were saying about me.

"It was phenomenally unhealthy. I just decided, 'Nah, I am done with this.' I realised I was basing my own performances off people who didn't know about rugby as much as I did.

"I could come out of a game and feel like I had a decent game, but I would see ten people on Twitter saying, 'Jacob Stockdale was c**p today.'

"Suddenly I would be like, 'Actually, yeah they're right, I didn't play well'. I was letting them dictate how I felt. Realistically, unless you have played professional rugby, you have no idea what it's like out there.

"I deleted Twitter off my phone. People could be tweeting me flat out now, but I haven't had Twitter in about eight months.

"Whenever you are a youngster, the older lads tell you not to go looking for stuff about yourself - and they are absolutely right.

"The fact that people feel the need to tweet negative things about you, definitely impacts you as a player because you start wondering why this person has a serious dislike for you. If you let that get to you, it can really impact your mental health.

"In sport, in terms of your mental health, it is a tough place to be. It's not just the reaction of fans and arm-chair pundits, it's dealing with injuries, disappointment of selection, dealing with not getting a contract.

"It is quite a turbulent job and for a lot of guys, it is very tough."

Dealing with those kind of struggles is part of the reason why Stockdale got involved with the mental-health charity Aware.

The lockdown has allowed him to reset his mindset, but that has been made more difficult by the fact that on his last appearance for Ireland, Stockdale made an error which led to England scoring a try.

"I don't forget about things like that in the game," he admits. "Realistically, it's impossible to not think about it for the rest of the game. I use it as motivation to focus even more, because I need to.

"I just wanted to dive straight back into that Italy game, to right a few wrongs. I'll create a scenario in my head where I have to prove people wrong. It helps motivate me."

The tries that have dried up will return but, nevertheless, Stockdale believes he is a better player now than he was in 2018 as he targets next year's Lions tour.

Having scaled such heights two years ago, he accepts that he will judged by high standards.

However, that should not make him an easy target for online abuse.

"There is definitely less pressure on you when you first break onto the scene," Stockdale adds. "Nobody expects anything from you, so anything good that you do, people are like 'Wow, he's great.'

"Whereas, now, people expect a certain standard from me - and whenever I don't deliver that, people start going 'Oh jeez, Jacob is not playing well'.

"In the last year, I've gone away from what I was good at, which is getting on the ball, beating defenders and scoring as many tries as possible.

"I've realised I can probably be a lot better in terms of my focus before a game, and what I want to get out of it.

"I've noticed that whenever I try to focus too much on the opposition, or a certain thing within a game, that's when I don't play well.

"But whenever I just focus on myself, and that probably sounds quite self-obsessed, but that's when I start to play really well."

Some players go through their entire career without learning such valuable lessons. Now that Stockdale has figured out his, you wouldn't back against him silencing his critics.

Irish Independent