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#MENtalHealth: Kris Radlinski on rugby, Wigan Warriors and the importance of mental wellbeing


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At the Red Bull Amaphiko bootcamp last weekend, young entrepreneurs gathered in London to hear business advice, network and find out more about the importance of self-care when setting up a social enterprise. One stand-out talk was by Kristian Radlinski MBE, a former player and executive director of Wigan Warriors.

There were two aspects of his talk which were particularly impactful: the evident love and pride he has for his team, and the growing focus on mental health and wellbeing at Wigan Warriors.

Kris Radlinski. Image credit: Red Bull Amaphiko

Radlinksi’s love for rugby started early. His Amaphiko talk featured a photograph of him as a child, proudly sporting a new Wigan Warriors top and hat. Now, as the club’s director, Radlinski works on the design of that very kit.

“I still have to pinch myself to be honest,” he tells The National Student. “I still have as much passion for the club now as I did as a kid growing up in Wigan.

“It’s given me the best twenty years of my life."

Throughout his talk, he spoke about the importance of certain values and attitudes which are central to success in rugby.

“I think Rugby League and Union teach you so many qualities and values which guide you through life,” says Radlinski. “You have to be an honest guy to play rugby, you have to be committed, you have to be hard working.” These qualities, he adds, “will guide you through the rest of your life.”

Kris Radlinski. Image credit: Red Bull Amaphiko

While recognising the many major benefits of the sport, Radlinski also highlights the importance of mental health support in rugby. He describes the wellbeing of his players as “high on the agenda at Wigan Rugby League club”.

“Over the past few years, there’ve been a few incidents,” says Radlinski. “One [which] particularly strikes home for me is one of my teammates, Terry Newton… he actually committed suicide because he couldn’t cope with life after the game.”

The tragic death of Terry Newton in 2010 brought the issue of male mental health in rugby into focus. Changes have since been made to strengthen the support system for players, to ensure their wellbeing is the best it can be both during and after their rugby careers.

Some UK mental health helplines:

Mind: 0300 123 3393 / text 86463

Samaritans: 116 123

CALM: 0800 58 58 58

Papyrus: 0800 068 41 41

“We have a full-time welfare officer who sits down with every player and… prepares them for the challenges which inevitably will come as soon as [their] career finishes,” says Radlinski.

As well as receiving support from the club's welfare officer, the players are also encouraged to study further education and business skills while at Wigan Warriors to prepare for careers after rugby. “We currently have 87% engaged in either education or businesses,” says Radlinski. “It’s a great start.”

Additionally, players at the club start their days of training by filling in a questionnaire on their mental wellbeing. If a player scores five out of ten or less in the questionnaire, the team’s Head of Performance will speak to them to find out why their wellbeing score is low and notify a small, key group of people to make sure they receive the support they need.

Kris Radlinski. Image credit: Red Bull Amaphiko

Since increasing the attention on mental health in the club, Radlinski has noticed positive changes in how players interact with each other: “Players are [paying] attention to the wellbeing of their teammates which I think is really, really great.”

Radlinski emphasises the importance of opening up about mental health issues and concerns with loved ones.

“I think it’s very, very difficult to admit to people sometimes that you’ve got problems,” he says, acknowledging that discussing mental health issues, for some people, can come with a fear of being perceived as weak. “It’s actually seen as a strength to come out and open up to people.

“Don’t bottle it up; don’t be afraid to share it with people, because there are a lot of people who want to help.”

Kris Radlinski, interviewed by Laura Brown. Image credit: Red Bull Amaphiko

In the context of men’s rugby, a sport which requires undeniable strength and resilience, the discussion of mental wellbeing is particularly powerful, showing that even the strongest of people can sometimes struggle.

“It’s stereotypical, but Rugby League, or rugby sport, is played by big, powerful men,” he says. “When you see that they’re coming out and showing their human side, I think people can relate to that a bit more.”

Sport in general has a great potential to remove the stigma on mental health: “I think the responsibility that sport has to try and be a leader in mental health awareness is huge.

“We’ve made great strides,” says Radlinski, adding, “I think we’re just on the start of this journey.”

To find out more about Red Bull Amaphiko, visit their website here.

This article is part of The National Student’s MENtal Health content series which is led by Laura Brown. You can see more from the series here.

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