Be more open about stress

In the last few years, mental health has managed come out of the shadows as a properly recognised issue across all walks of life. Rugby has seen a number of high profile participants discuss their battles, for example John Kirwan, Nigel Owens, James Haskell and most recently Tom James.

Tom James, who has recently decided to take a break from rugby

In a recent initiative in New Zealand, NZR education manager Doctor Nathan Price said: “There is a perception that rugby players are tough and asking for help is a sign of weakness. Asking for help is actually incredibly courageous and very tough.”

It’s important that we understand that we can suffer poor mental well-being without having a mental illness. Former Scotland international Nick De Luca, interviewed for BBC Sport in January said: “We all have good and bad mental health at different times in our lives – it is not fixed. On one axis is the medical language and diagnosed illness, and on the other is emotional wellbeing and social language. That means those with no diagnosis can still suffer poor mental wellbeing”.

It’s easy to see why those who are in the media glare suffer. Any small mistake and you are likely to be criticised by fans and the media. Imagine waking up to a match report which is read by hundreds of thousands of fans to see you’ve received a three out of 10, or find that you are on the list of top five “losers”.

That’s not so apparent for you as the coach of the local under 12s team. Players aren’t performing, some of the parents are angry with your approach, perhaps even your own child isn’t playing particularly well and they are sad. Then the opposition are crowing, taking short cuts, importing players, refereeing in a biased manner.

Small beer? In isolation, probably. But it can all add up. That’s because we care. It matters that we do a good job because it’s a reflection on us. Most of us don’t seek glory. However, we do have an intrinsic desire to be successful.

While we can always be better at managing our expectations, there is a clear message coming from the experts: seek help. While more and more professional teams (and businesses) are bringing in proper support systems, that’s not going happen at grassroots.

You must find people to open up to. People who want you to grow as a person. Don’t wait until things are worse, start now. The UK mental health charity, Mind, provides advice and support, with a confidential service.

The AskDan service often receives requests about difficult situations where the coaching group have fallen out. These aren’t playground spats. They have obviously led to sleepless nights. We are always ready to offer support to our community and in strictest confidentiality.

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