Mental Health and Rugby Football League: is enough being done to support players?

Kiara Lewis, Alison Rodriguez, Susanna Kola-Palmer, Nicole Sherretts

Research output: Contribution to journalMeeting Abstractpeer-review


Common mental disorder (CMD) have a high prevalence in retired rugby players (Gouttebarge, Kerkhoffs and Lambert, 2015, European College of Sports Science, The physical, psychosocial and organisational stressors Rugby Football League (RFL) players experience may all contribute to inducing symptoms of CMD. The aim of this study was to assess RFL players’ perceived level of welfare support and to explore the experiences of Player Welfare Managers (PWMs) attached to RFL’s Super League. This two-year, mixed-methods project, commissioned by the RFL Player Welfare Director, was undertaken with institutional ethics approval. The quantitative phase utilised an anonymised internet-based survey to assess players’ perceptions of welfare support and aspects of mental health. Independent t-test results from the first survey (n = 75) indicate a significantly higher risk of depression with higher stress levels (t(73) = 5.88, P < 0.001) and with higher athletic identity (t(73) = 2.00, P < 0.4). Players at low risk of depression reported more positive attitudes towards welfare policy (t(74) = 2.26, P < 0.2). Better mental health was found when the club had a PWM, if they knew who the PWM was and if they knew how to access counselling services (second-year survey results to follow, n = 196). The qualitative phase utilised semi-structured interviews and were analysed using Template Analysis (Brooks, McCluskey, Turley & King, 2015, Qualitative Research in Psychology, 12(2), 202–22). In the first year, 11 PWMs were interviewed, 12 in the second year, PWOs perceived the services they provided to be a potentially valuable asset for players. The uptake depended on the level of support from the club. The attitude of the coaching staff determined whether players were given time to access the PWMs and whether or not this was seen as a valuable use of their time: “the PWM is only as important as the club want it to be . . . you need the backing of the coach in certain situations and you need time to build that relationship” (PWM 5). The results of the study suggest that the PWM’s role is integral to supporting RFL players’ mental health. The study recommends that the RFL centrally fund a full-time PWM at all clubs and that support services continue to be made available to all players. Additionally the Head Coach needs to support the PWMs in encouraging players to access educational and careers advice.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)50
Number of pages1
JournalJournal of Sports Sciences
Issue numberSuppl 1
Publication statusPublished - 2016
EventBases 2016 Annual Conference - East Midlands Conference Centre, Nottingham, United Kingdom
Duration: 29 Nov 201630 Nov 2016


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