Rugby Blindside recently spoke with Ali Boyd, Director of Player Wellbeing at Beckenham RFC. She told us about the various initiatives at the club to help with their players’ mental health.
Having retired from being 1st XV manager for 8 seasons at Beckenham RFC last year, and having seen and experienced rugby players at their colourful best, I’ve also seen them at their worst and most vulnerable, sometimes post injury, or sometimes when life just happens. I became very aware of our duty of care as a club and place they should be able to seek support from. Rugby after all is about community and a sense of family, but in mental health sometimes your family isn’t where you want to turn.
From the top down, the game of rugby is looking for new initiatives and collaborations (like the one between the RFU and MIND) to help start the conversation around mental health and encourage people to speak up about any difficulties they’re experiencing.
As a club we recognise the importance of this, and want to be forward thinking and innovative in our approach. We are one of a few clubs in the SE who offer this as an additional layer to support our players, keeping them at the heart of what we do.
The ethos of setting up the initiative was to focus on supporting our players mental health and wellbeing first and foremost but also in a few different ways. As a large club with 5 senior sides, an academy and a youth section, we needed to find a model that would work and was sustainable.
To start with we put in place 5 mental health first aiders across the club, and if anyone is struggling and wants to talk to somebody in confidence we can be contacted on: Talktous@beckenhamrfc.com.
One of the wellbeing volunteers (who are all trained in MH first aid) will then be in touch, support and help signpost the player to appropriate sources of further help and support. All contact is treated in the strictest of confidence, unless we feel someone is a risk to themselves or others.
Also, once COVID guidelines allow us to meet safely, we will be organising some wellbeing and motivational talks focussing on issues around mental health and sport, with a rugby focus of course.
We also have a very exciting collaboration with the charity blOKes which we launched back in November, to whom we are a partner club. Their ambassadors (pro players and other professional athletes) will visit our club to encourage openness and transparency when it comes to talking about mental health.
“Blokes” have 3 partner rugby clubs, ourselves being one and we are very much looking forward to what we can achieve working together in the post Covid world, and when we can get back to the club in person.
You can find blOKes at www.blokes.life if you want to look up the great work their founder Tom Home is doing. Tom and I are meeting virtually to set up some remote “Share a Male Tale” sessions for our players.
As with anything, we don’t know what the uptake will be, but the more we do the more it will be recognised hopefully over time.
There are other aspects to what we’ll be doing as part of the initiative like making sure players have all the recent communications from the RFU and MIND around mental health and wellbeing, organising some sessions on CPR – cardio pulmonary resuscitation (so that all the players know how to react in an emergency situation and use the defib), and we would like to offer cardiac screening through Cardiac Risk in the Young (CRY) – work in progress as COVID has scuppered any face to face projects, and of course open access to the confidential email address whenever it’s needed. The email is checked daily.
In a time of uncertainty, providing support and a confidential space is hugely important, when for some contact with others has been minimal, and as a team sport the support from your team mates and seeing each other 3 times a week has been non-existent, the initiative has come into its own.
In time, hopefully soon, we will see a return our great game at grassroots level, and as a club we will continue to make our club experience one of the best for our players, making it a great experience on the pitch and looking after them off of it.
This article appeared in the Spring 2021 issue of Rugby Blindside magazine – Read the full issue here