It has been noticeable nationwide that the Clemson Tigers football team has been underperforming compared to their expectations. However, factors beyond the Tigers’ control could be having a direct impact on their game play.
On all levels, whether it be high school or professional, athletic programs can tend to underperform despite their talented players due to a lack of sufficient resources or staff. This is not true for Clemson, as their football facilities were yet again ranked No. 1 in the country for 2021. Head Coach Dabo Swinney has also been ranked numerous times as one of the top coaches in the country.
So if the resources and coaching are there, is it the players that are the issue?
The answer is still no. While quarterback DJ Uiagalelei has been under fire for not meeting standards set by the public, the football team as a whole has been winning. All aspects of the team have their strengths and weaknesses, and Swinney has commented on his “young team”-- as many of the players are in their freshman and sophomore seasons-- for going through “growing pains” in order to improve.
There is no doubt that the team is putting in the work, and they are improving with every game.
This leaves a plausible answer to why the Tigers are not the same as they used to be: poor fan morale, mental health and as Swinney puts it, growing pains.
Despite the Tigers having two of three sold out games thus far in their 2021 season, fans on social media have been dragging and chastising the team. Comments on the team’s Instagram include “No one can catch,” “Can we actually wake up on the offensive side of the ball?” and anticipation of prospective players for next year.
Posts of former Tiger Trevor Lawrence’s current career in the NFL intended to spark joy in fans only enraged them, writing comments that read “more action than Clemson has provided all [season],” and “all they can post since they can’t beat a good team.” More negative comments appear than positive ones, therefore there is no question that players most likely see at least some of the slander they are being given.
Few fans that do support the team call out fans’ failed morale as they defend their stance by saying that a fanbase is just as good as its team. This downgrading from the public can also have an impact on mental health, which is a strong factor in any athlete’s performance.
According to donavonmentalperformance.com, 35% of all student athletes experience some form of mental health condition, such as depression, anxiety and eating disorders. Only 10% of athletes will seek help. Professional athletes have gained traction in the media for advocating for mental health, which is opening the doors for more acceptance in the public eye.
However, being a nationally ranked program with exceptionally high expectations leaves a lot of pressure on a player. Fans have noted the pressure set on the team, with one saying, “I think it’s a confidence struggle for DJ,” in reference to the quarterback’s poor game play.
Yet lack of confidence is just one factor. Players cannot be excited to go play if they know they have a setback of injured players. Players can also find it hard to get rallied up when their own fanbase throws slander on public platforms. The high expectations can have a toll on any athlete, and it is starting to shine through with the football team.
And these pressures are something the team has to get used to. Swinney’s self-described “young team” of mostly freshmen and sophomores are not used to performing on a stage so big. While their “growing pains” are also getting used to playing on a national field with bigger opponents than they are used to and athleticism gains, a growing pain is also getting used to the fame they gained when joining the team.
A new theory that has risen in the collegiate football world is that of the NIL influence. While it is too early to tell any direct correlation, Swinney made it apparent that “Our locker room, I don’t know of any issues with that. They are focused and show up every day.”
The theory suggests that players nationwide may be skipping out on practice times due to business opportunities, or they are distracted with other opportunities.
It is clear that many factors come into play when discussing the Tigers’ poor performance on the field. Yet the players and staffing cannot be all that is to blame. Unfortunately, there are issues beyond the team’s control, and the remainder of the season will indicate if the Tigers can conquer these setbacks.