Laureus rugby stars open up on importance of mental health

On World Mental Health Day, Laureus Ambassadors and international rugby stars Stuart Hogg and Nolli Waterman have opened up on their own mental health battles. Stuart and Nolli also discussed the role sport can play in supporting young people with mental health challenges.
Stuart, who will today face Bath with Exeter Chiefs in the Premiership semi-final, spoke about the demons he has faced throughout his career, and the important role he believes himself and his fellow professional sportspeople play in speaking up and raising awareness of mental health challenges.
“Everybody will go through some sort of struggle through time, through no fault of their own,” said Stuart. “Gone are the days of saying ‘man up’, we’re not living in the dinosaur era anymore. We want everybody to remain in this world. I think now people have more understanding around what it means to have mental health challenges and what we can do to help.”
“I’ve found it refreshing to hear several people talking about their struggles throughout their careers or their lives that nobody gets to see. Everyone just assumes everything’s alright. It’s almost given me the confidence to speak about the tough times or the tougher times that I’ve had and that’s a big thing for me now. I’m probably playing my best rugby now because I’m happy.”
Nolli, who recently announced her retirement from rugby, opened up on the mental health challenges she faced throughout her successful career. The World Cup winner’s career was impacted by a series of physical injuries, which she received support and treatment for. She regrets not seeking help for the mental side of her game sooner. 
“I think for me it was always about getting back on the field and when I’m back on the field I should be okay, I think when you’re in a position that athletes find themselves in, you get to experience amazing things and you kind of feel like you don’t deserve to feel sad or feel bad because you’re constantly trying to tell yourself life is good and actually you know what? I’m not injured anymore and I’m back on the field.
“I think reflection one of the hardest things for me was the physical side of things I had a massive amount of support with because I allowed people to support me. I didn’t have the support mentally because I never ever really let people know what was happening, I got really good a smiling on the outside and feeling terrible on the inside and I think it’s that confusing message that I was so good at telling other people, I ended up telling myself. I wish I hadn’t waited until the hardest times to talk through things and have support.
“One of the amazing things about the Laureus programmes that are linked to health and wellbeing and mental health support is that it’s there on a more regular basis, it’s recognised as something that doesn’t need to be really bad or are a really hard moment, the programmes for the young people are so inspiring. And I think the other thing is to recognise that no one deserves to feel sad and you shouldn’t compare to someone else’s life because actually it’s your life, it’s how you’re feeling and sometimes things can get on top of you and that’s ok, that’s what help is there for.”
Laureus Sport for Good uses the power of sport to support young people facing mental health challenges. The programmes Laureus supports in this space reduce social isolation and help young people build confidence and resilience in the face of difficulties, issues both Stuart and Nolli are passionate about.  
Stuart, who struggled with his mental health after fracturing his eye socket on the 2017 British and Irish Lions Tour to New Zealand, was influenced by comments on social media which increased the pressure he put on himself.
“I came back from New Zealand, had my shoulder re-constructed, was out for four months and all I was getting was ‘is Stuart Hogg going to be back to his best, is he going to be anywhere near where he used to be?’
“I was determined to get back and really show them. Which meant I tried far too hard, I tried to be too lean, I made more mistakes than I’d made before and then I picked up another injury which meant another three months on the side-line. It was almost like, start again, build yourself back up, get back playing, get injured, repeat process.”
The Scotland captain was also impacted by two mistakes in the first two matches of this year’s Six Nations, which led to further social media abuse. He now doesn’t have access to his personal social media accounts as a result.
“I was getting absolute pelters, everywhere I was looking, newspapers, online, social media. The best thing that happened was that I went back down to Exeter, and I played against Gloucester in the bye-week, and I scored an absolute belter and I was like ‘where has that been for the last three years?’ It took me two years to run over the try line with the ball, I’d scored three kick-throughs in that time. I was like, that’s what I’m about, that’s me. I scored another belter against Italy the week after because I knew the monkey was off my back to doing what I love doing.
“I spoke to Steve Black [his mentor and friend] a lot, I spoke to Gregor [Townsend] a lot. I was getting people on social media telling me I dropped the ball because I was captain, If I wasn’t captain, I still would have dropped the ball! It’s as simple as that. Gregor told me I was still going to be captain, and just to relax and do my job because everything else was spot on. For me, scoring that try was a bit of what I know I can do. I have complete confidence in my ability and what I can do on a rugby field.”
“During lockdown I’ve done a lot of thinking that I could potentially have four or five years left of playing rugby which is quite a scary thought because it feels like only yesterday that I started. But I just said I’m not going to listen to what people have to say, I’m going to get on with it, enjoy my rugby, have some fun, and any pelters that come my way, I’m not going to read it because I don’t have access to my social media for a start which is great.”
Laureus Sport for Good is a global charity that supports children and young people by using the power of sport to end violence, discrimination, and disadvantage. It operates under the fundamental belief that the achievement of this ambition is best delivered by ending the social issues that affect the younger generation and changing their lives for the better.     
Over the last 20 years, Laureus Sport for Good has raised more than €150m for the Sport for Development sector, reaching and helping change the lives of almost 6 million children and young people since 2000. Laureus Sport for Good currently supports more than 200 programmes in over 40 countries that use the power of sport to transform lives.
For information on ‘Mindset’, World Rugby’s player welfare programme, visit their website.
Nolli Waterman and Stuart Hogg discuss World Mental Health Day

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