How Rugby Is Tackling Mental Health: The Lift The Weight Campaign

When it comes to exertion and intensity in sport, it’s fair to say that most of us are aware of the intense physical toll that professional sport can take!  With on-hand physiotherapists, ice baths, compression for rugby players and much more, measures are often put in place to tackle the intense physical experience that professional rugby players experience and help the body recover. Something that hasn’t historically been talked about as much, however, is the mental toll that playing at such an elite level of sport can take. Thankfully, that’s changed in recent years, partly thanks to the ‘Lift The Weight’ campaign designed to tackle mental health issues in sport. 

What is the Lift The Weight campaign? 

The brainchild of the Rugby Players’ Association, Lift The Weight was born in 2017 after a Professional Players’ Federation (PPF) survey of retired players revealed that 62% of respondents said they had experienced some sort of mental health issue. This statistic, coupled with the fact that approximately 20% of players nationwide were seeking regular wellbeing support on a monthly basis, sparked a conversation internally within the Association about how mental health could be better tackled in the sport.

Raising awareness of support was the primary goal of the campaign, with a key focus on reducing the stigma associated with both talking about and seeking help for mental health. An additional impetus for the founders was the fact that, as the result of a range of social and cultural pressures, the UK’s male population is almost four times more likely to die by suicide. Rugby therefore proved the perfect space for a wellbeing initiative like Lift The Weight; focussed on providing that much-needed mental health support to players experiencing the highs and lows of a professional rugby career along with everything else. 

Despite the popularity of women’s rugby, the sport has historically been associated with a particular perception of masculinity - with players seen as ‘tough’ and ‘resilient’. This gender bias in cultural perceptions of rugby simply hasn’t left male players much room to communicate or receive support for their mental health challenges, leading to the isolating experience of facing mental health issues alone. 

The idea was to provide players with a support system for any wellbeing or mental health challenges they were facing, whether they needed specific one-off support or a systematic regular approach to a longer-term challenge. The initiative, launched via a series of online videos, proved just how needed the solution was: in the initial days of its launch, the video was watched 700,000 times, reaching over 33 million people. The official charity of the Rugby Players’ Association, Restart, recorded a 67% increase in referrals to the inbuilt RPA Confidential Counselling Service, as players were encouraged to reach out and proactively seek help for the challenges they were facing. With 1 in 4 of us experiencing some sort of mental health challenge during our lifetime, it’s perhaps no surprise that the Lift The Weight campaign has been so successful. 

What Does The Lift The Weight Campaign Do? 

The campaign encourages rugby players to speak out about their experience of mental health challenges, in addition to providing support for players through a number of means. Certain mental health challenges can be rugby-specific, such as the pressure to perform at such an elite level, the threat of serious injury, along with the financial risks injury or underperforming might carry, and the media scrutiny that players at an upper level are subject to. 

The support that the Lift The Weight Campaign encourages is diverse, and touches on multiple different aspects of mental health that players may be experiencing. These support systems might include team talk cards, resilience training and MHFA training, as well as preventative education on social issues like addiction, mental health team talks, sexual consent, cultural diversity, social media and many others. The Restart charity focusses on restarting players’ lives after or during medical treatment or injury, as well as fully funding the RPA counselling service. 

How can players support a healthy mind-body relationship with CRX? 

The services provided by Lift The Weight offer players a safe space and support on any mental health issues they might be facing. However, some of the campaign’s work, like player counselling, can be part of an ongoing practice to support a healthy mind - and fit with the player’s existing routine and training regime. A huge concern for many players is the risk of injury as a physical, mental and financial threat - so keeping up with a training regimen is one key way that players can lower their risk of injury and enjoy some increased exercise-related benefits. 

Factoring in things like a nutrition-rich diet, regular exercise and compression for rugby are just some of the ways in which rugby players can ensure their physical body is in peak condition and at the least risk of injuring themselves, which can help to provide that much-needed peace of mind for players in intense matches. Compression from CRX can be used as part of your routine of maintaining physical health for those all-important mental benefits, and can help players to feel confident that they’re at their peak performance and comfortable in continuing their professional journey.

To learn more about the Lift The Weight Campaign and how you can get involved, either to help provide or to seek support, visit the RPA’s Lift The Weight page for more information.