18 May 2020
‘Rugby players don’t cry!’ is a common response to seeing a player display any kind of emotion other than pure joy after a victory or laser-like focus ahead of a game.
In her role as national player development manager/industrial psychologist at MyPlayers, Hilana Claassens is responsible for the off-the-field development of South Africa’s rugby players.
She says the ‘cowboys don’t cry’ mentality is still a reality and leads to players not asking for help when they need it.
'When I started at MyPlayers in 2018, we did a needs analysis,’ Claassens tells RugbyRocks.com. ‘I first had meetings with international player organisations to establish what players’ needs are internationally. I then met with provincial union management teams to determine what they felt player needs are nationally.
‘These meetings were followed by one-on-one sessions with senior players at the sevens – men and women – Bulls, Cheetahs, Kings, Lions, Sharks and Western Province to find out what players’ needs are locally.’
Based on that feedback, MyPlayers developed a National Player Development Plan with five focus areas: personal mastery, career and education, vulnerabilities, life skills and mental health.
Claassens says rugby players do realise the importance of mental health, although they don’t speak up about it.
‘They know that just like you have to train your body to stay physically fit, you have to train your mind to stay psychologically fit.
‘Most players, however, still find it uncomfortable to speak about mental health. It’s easy for them to talk about politics, sport and business, but the moment it comes to vulnerable topics, most of them shy away from the conversation.
‘For this reason, we [player development managers] do our best to create a safe environment for players where they can engage with whatever topic they want. When they are with us, there is no pressure to perform and they don’t need to be in control or act tough.’
Organisations like MyPlayers are helping to break down mental health stigmas, but are we – as spectators and critics – allowing rugby players to ‘cry’? Or are we forcing them to shove their emotions aside, because we are uncomfortable?
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