As part of the work I am doing to campaign for better mental health in the work place, I am always on the look-out for companies and organisations that are truly making a difference.
The first organisation I would like to highlight is The Rugby Players Association (The RPA).
I was fortunate to be able to speak with Caroline Guthrie, the Senior Development Manager so I could gain an insight into the great work The RPA are doing to support its members.
The RPA is a representative body for professional rugby players in England and its members benefit from support in a number of areas including independent representation; legal advice; personal and professional development; playing insurance; education; confidential counselling; transition support and much more.
“It is our mission to support, promote and protect the interests of our members, from the moment they sign their first professional contracts, throughout their playing careers, and beyond, as they embark on the next phase of their lives.” – The RPA
Being a professional sports person sounds like fun, after all, they are getting paid to do something they love, to play a game, right?
But just imagine the pressures; what do you do when a player makes a mistake that costs your team the match? You probably berate him or her; have a good swear at the TV, maybe even take to Twitter to vent your frustration and anger.
Just imagine having to work at the highest level; the pressure to perform at your peak both mentally and physically each time you walk on that pitch. How would you feel if thousands of people were watching you work and then each one had an opinion on your performance, because of course they could do it easily?
The thing to remember is that while these people may look and perform like super humans, they are actually people, just like you and me; they feel emotions the same way we do and react to pressure the same as us, and that is why an organisation like The RPA is so important.
Support is vital, and The RPA helps its members to identify any issues in the following areas:
Physical and Mental Health
“We provide independent support from outside the clubs.” Caroline tells me, “there is no agenda to win; the agenda is them, the player.”
The RPA have eight Development Managers who look after two clubs each across the Premiership, London Irish, England 7s and England Women; it is the role of the Development Managers to liaise with the players and get to know them and where they are in their careers and life.
This is really important when addressing a player’s career after rugby. It sounds so silly when you hear commentators talking about a player’s age, especially when they hit their mid 30’s! The physicality and intensity of the modern game means that there is an inevitable limit to how long a player can continue performing at the level required, but just imagine if you were thrown on the scrap heap at 35 with no idea of what you are going to do with your life?
The problem with rugby is that it is played by tough, strong individuals and until recently it has been a very male dominated sport, and not an environment to show vulnerability. Is it acceptable for you to cry and struggle with anxiety if you are a 7 foot second row? Of course it is, and that is what the RPA are there to help with.
“We hold Team Talk sessions which are specific to the clubs, and are player led. There is no agenda it is a space for players to just talk about whatever they need to.” Caroline told me. “The key thing is to make sure that the Development Managers follow up on anything that is highlighted.”
While the sessions are led by the Development Managers, it is important to realise that they are not counsellors. Caroline says “We work closely with counselling services and there is a 24hr number that the members can use.”
“The main focus is telling the players that it’s ok not to be ok, and it is about making sure they don’t hit rock bottom first.”
Lift the Weight is a campaign started by The RPA with a particular focus on mental health, in particular it encourages people to speak out and ask for help if they need it. “There has been a very positive response to this from the players” says Caroline.
There is an on-line hub that members can use where they can access the 24hr counselling line; plus there is information on support that non members can use.
The key areas Lift the Weight looks at are TRANSITION, COPING WITH INJURY, RELATIONSHIPS, ADDICTIVE BEHAVIOURS, DEPRESSION and ANXIETY & STRESS.
“Don’t suffer in silence. Lift the Weight” – The RPA
You can learn more about The RPA and the amazing work they are doing by visiting their website.It just leaves me to say thank you, thank you, thank you to Caroline for the work her and her team are doing to help, and for taking the time to talk to me.
Thank you, thank you, thank you