Cato Louw

So rugby players cry. Now what?

MyPlayers' Hilana Claassens says most South African rugby players think vulnerability means weakness.

In her role as national player development manager/industrial psychologist, Claassens is responsible for the off-the-field development of South Africa’s rugby players.

ALSO READ: Rugby players DO cry!

Shortly after joining MyPlayers in 2018, Claassens was part of a needs analysis, which resulted in a National Player Development Programme with five pillars, including mental health.

'Traditional masculinity – what players believe defines being a man – still plays a big part in South African society,' she tells

'Think about it. A five-year-old boy runs, falls very hard and is told: “Don’t cry. You are a big boy. Only girls cry."' 

Claassens says it’s due to this mindset that most players equate vulnerability with weakness.

'That’s what a lot of boys are taught from a young age. But being a man is being human and being human means you can be tough and loving, strong and caring; that you can lead and be vulnerable.'

MyPlayers is trying to break the stigma around mental health, which Claassens admits will take time.

'This means helping players to unlearn what has been taught to them for years and years. Like Lelia Schott said, "Perhaps if tearful little boys were comforted instead of shamed, there wouldn’t be so many angry men struggling to empathise with emotions.'

Is a player struggling mentally? Signs to look out for:

  • Feelings of anxiety, apathy, general discontent, guilt, hopelessness or sadness. 

  • Experiencing agitation, excessive crying, irritability or restlessness more often than not. 

  • Social isolation. They may not feel connected or want to connect with others. 

  • Less interest in activities they usually enjoyed. 

  • Low energy levels. They may feel very tired or think more slowly. Daily routines and tasks may seem too hard to manage.

  • Trouble concentrating and finding it tough to focus. 

  • Feeling overwhelmed to make a decision, whether it's big or small.

  • Changes in the way they sleep. They may either sleep a lot more or a lot less than usual. 

  • Changes in appetite. They may overeat or not feel hungry and eat a lot less than usual, which often leads to weight gain or weight loss.

  • They may also experience aches and pains like headaches, an upset stomach, cramps, or digestive problems.

MyPlayers' mental well-being hotline: 086-0995-149

ALSO READ: Varsity Cup tackles mental health stigma