WIGAN Warriors’ skipper Sean O’Loughlin has spoken movingly about the mental pressures of being a top rugby player.
This weekend’s Round 25 of the First Utility Super League is being dedicated to the charity State of Mind in an attempt to raise awareness of psychological problems in the sport.
More than 1,000 players, coaches and support staff from Super League and the Championships have attended sessions organised by State of Mind, which was established in 2011 in response to the tragic death of former Wigan and England hooker Terry Newton.
RFL welfare director Emma Rosewarne said: “No other sport in the UK has ever themed a round of fixtures for mental wellbeing.
“We are pleased to continue supporting the State of Mind programme and dedicating these matches highlights the important work that State of Mind does.
“It’s so important to raise awareness of the issues and encourage all communities to access the services available to them.”
Wigan take on Widnes tonight and ahead of that fixture, O’Loughlin has been talking about the issue of mental health.
He feels that being in good shape mentally is vitally important to any rugby league player and as well as helping with an individual’s life and general health, being mentally sharp can also improve on-field performance.
“It’s very important, both from a health and performance point of view,” he said.
“Having a clear mind, not being stressed about things and having a clear focus is massively important for your game.
“It’s like being prepared fitness-wise and physically, the mental side of things is up there and as important as that.”
Staying mentally healthy can often come down to being able to speak to the right people when the pressure builds up, according to the Wigan star. Being able to balance rugby with other things in life, such as time away or hobbies, is also vital to players in his view.
“The most important thing is the people around you being able to talk about things,” he added.
“But also another huge one is the players and staff at the club. You spend a lot of time with the players you work with, your colleagues, and your coaches.
“We now have people in a support role at the club too.
“It’s important that when you need to get something off your chest, that there’s a network to go through, like the welfare manager at the club.
“Having a chat with them is really important, too.
“Rugby league’s a tough job, but it’s not just the time you spend at the club.
“You go away from that, and you’re thinking about your game, you’re thinking about whether you’ve played well, about your form and how to get better, all the time you’re away from the club.
“So having time with your family, just going out and doing something, hobbies, other forms of work, being able to do that is good.
“Constantly thinking about rugby becomes a bit of burden sometimes, so it’s good to go away and freshen up and come back the day after.
“Sometimes then the troubles you’ve had the day before don’t seem as bad when you’ve had a night’s sleep and you’ve had some time to think about things.”
O’Loughlin feels that any young player suffering with a psychological issue should take the important first step of telling someone about it.
Once they have done that, issues often begin to look a lot less clouded.
“I think the most important thing is to speak to people about it,” he said.
“Whether that’s someone at home, with your family, or another player or colleague, maybe a more senior player.
“Having someone who will lend you an ear is massive. You feel a lot better once you’ve spoken about it, and a problem doesn’t seem as bad.”
Danny Sculthorpe, a former player with Wigan, Wakefield, Huddersfield and Castleford who contemplated committing suicide after suffering a career-threatening injury in 2010, is part of a team that has travelled 10,000 miles so far to deliver its message.
Adrian Morley a State of Mind ambassador, said: “Unfortunately it took the tragic passing of Terry Newton for everyone to take on board that there could a problem for players and ex-players,” Morley said.
“There are a lot of issues which go on in rugby league which not many people know about, especially post-playing.
“I think it’s showing the way for other sports”
More information can be found on the website www.stateofmindrugby.com or on Twitter @SOMRugbyLeague.