In a recent study published by the Rugby Players Association, or RPA as they are more commonly known, it was found that 62% of retired professional rugby players have or are currently suffering from a form of mental illness.
52% of these players have stated that after two years of retirement they do not feel in control of their lives and that may be in part to the 46% of the study that were unhappy with the preparation that they were given to cope with life after sport.
The RPA are taking this case study extremely seriously, as they should, and it will run alongside their ‘lift the weight’ campaign, a campaign that has been fronted by some of the biggest names within the sport and who have spoken openly and honestly about their own struggles whilst actually still being a professional rugby player.
Duncan Bell, Jono Ross, James Haskell, Danielle Waterman and the most famous of them all, Jonny Wilkinson, have added high profile backing for players to come out and speak openly about their struggles and torment.
What the RPA are doing is fantastic work for players that, at time of retirement, lose their salary and are forced to flip their lives upside down with regards to their purpose of simply getting out of bed in the morning. They need to find a new source of income whilst also stepping out of a bubble that they have strived their whole lives to be in.
The players need that support in its entirety but at grassroots level what is being done about the hole that has been left in people’s lives from having to quit a game that is just as big a part in their lives as it is anybody else’s, no matter what level you play at.
There are players that have had to cut their playing days cruelly short by injury or work commitments. There are players who have illnesses or family issues which mean they can’t turn up on a Saturday to play.
Rugby to them can be an escape. A form of or even an escape from the reality outside of the struggles at home, the endless work week. A chance to let off steam and relate to the smell of deep heat in the changing rooms, the banter before and after the match, the Saturday night beers and six of you crammed into a car on the way back from the worst pitch you’ve ever played on but won anyway.
Stories from the back of the bus are the stuff of legend from my own playing days at University but then the friends you meet along the way, drink with, chat to, share your troubles, help hobble to the side of the pitch with are suddenly not there anymore. Gone. Not physically gone but emotionally gone. Your release from the real life you lead for the other 6 days a week has now vanished.
How do you cope?
We don’t know and that is the point of the At the Bottom of a Ruck study.
It’s a chance for us to hear these stories and relate to them. It’s a chance to sympathise and empathise with people’s feelings and situations that have gone before them. These situations are what make them the person that they are today.
Another burning question is how can local clubs be helped to guide their players and convince them that opening up is a good idea and may help their internal battles?
We ask questions of the people that we are interviewing as to whether there is even a poster or a phone number to call pinned up in their clubhouse?
Suggestions have already been floated about appointing a mentor at each club who not only welcomes you in but helps keep you in when all of your thoughts are telling you to get out.
This study will unearth a whole spectrum of emotions but we are hoping that it will also unearth some solutions. Some suggestions that we can forward to organisations like the RFU and RPA in the hope that your mate, the guy you have played next to for the last ten years, is alright at the end of the season when he won’t be seeing his mates three times a week on the battlefield of rugby.
Picture Credit: A Health Blog