Major study into the mental health of pro rugby league players

Rugby scrum

Tue, 20 Sep 2016 11:11:00 BST

It is estimated that almost a quarter of current players are vulnerable to problems

Dr Kiara Lewis PROFESSIONAL rugby league players are some of the toughest guys in UK sport – but they can be prey to mental illness, including depression, and to anxieties about the future after they hang up their boots.  It is estimated that almost a quarter of them are vulnerable to these problems.

The game’s governing body has acknowledged the issue and since 2015 the Rugby Football League (RFL) has ensured that top echelon clubs all have part-time Player Welfare Managers (PWMs) on their staff.

Now researchers at the University of Huddersfield have completed an in-depth appraisal of the role of PWMs at the 12 Super League clubs.  The innovation has been a success, they say, and in a new report compiled for the RFL they recommend that the posts should go full time.

The report also urges that all welfare managers should be trained to the same standard and must ensure that players have full information and access to mental health support services, plus advice on educational opportunities and career choices after they cease playing.

But is vital that all head coaches at Super League clubs should give their full backing to PWMs, stress the researchers.

Their Super League Player Welfare Study has been conducted over the past two years by the psychology lecturers Dr Kiara Lewis (pictured right) – who is Head of the Division of Health and Wellbeing and a specialist in the psychology of exercise – plus Dr Susie Kola-Palmer.  Dr Alison Rodriguez participated in the initial phase of the project and PhD student Nicole Sherretts has also joined the team, to work on analysis of the questionnaires that were central to the research.  These drew responses from hundreds of Super League Players.

First Utility Super league logo Data was also gathered from interviews conducted with the Player Welfare Managers at most of the clubs.  It emerged that that there is increasing demand for their services, and one of the PWMs told researchers how there had been a “cultural change” towards mental health issues among RL players.

As a result, the part-time PWMs – usually former players – often had difficulty meeting demand.  This leads to a key recommendation in the University of Huddersfield report:

In order for them to provide the support that players need, the PWMs are working beyond their salaried hours.  To further enhance the capacity of the role, this evaluation suggests that the role should be full time, paid for centrally by the RFL to maintain independence, with a minimum standard of training and skills.  The role needs to be supported throughout the club but in particular by the head coach.

Dr Lewis, one of the report’s authors, praised the RFL’s proactive role in responding to mental health and post-playing career issues and said that other sports could emulate its approach.

“As well as strength and conditioning by coaches and physiotherapists, supporting mental health is vital, and rugby league recognises this,” she said, adding that there were also benefits to clubs and their supporters, because issues and problems outside of rugby can have a damaging effect on playing performance.




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