Scottish Rugby launches player welfare programme: 'Rugby for Life'

Scottish Rugby has today (Thursday 8 March) launched its comprehensive player support programme 'Rugby for Life'.

Following 18 months of research and development the wide-ranging portfolio of support options is designed to work with players at whatever age, or stage, of their career.

Already this year Rugby for Life workshops have taken place with Scotland team, Glasgow Warriors, Scotland 7s and Edinburgh Rugby players, as well as practical sessions with the BT Sport Academy.

The programme has been developed by Scottish Rugby’s Human Resources department and is delivered by a combination of internal staff and external experts.

Scottish Rugby has become acutely aware of the need to develop a programme of support for all players and staff as awareness of mental health issues, especially in young men, has increased in society over recent years.

Advice and expertise from a cross section of mental health charities, professional organisations and academic experts have been consulted to better understand the impact of mental health issues and learn from examples of best practice.

Integrating key learnings from other sports and bespoke support for rugby players Rugby for Life was developed following a mandate from the Scottish Rugby Board to improve the breadth of player welfare, specifically off the pitch.

The programme aims to take a proactive approach to player support through education, awareness and hands-on experience to enable players to develop their mental health resilience and help in achieving a healthy sport/life balance as they transition into, or out of, professional rugby.

This includes identifying those with long-term injuries, advice on managing finances, an insight into post-playing career options, work experience and support with further education.

Specific research has also been commissioned into players in Scotland to help develop a better understanding of mental health issues and areas that future support can be targeted towards.

A specific programme of support is currently being delivered at the BT Sport Scottish Rugby Academy to enable young players to develop as people, as well as athletes, with focus on continuing education, training and personal development.

Another area of wider development is help in spotting ‘triggers’ which could result in mental health issues in an individual. This led to staff being trained in Mental Health First Aid to enable those working closely with players to be proactive at critical times.

Scottish Rugby Chief Executive, Mark Dodson, said: “As one of the largest employers of professional players in world rugby we have a significant responsibility to ensure we have a robust and effective programme in place to support player welfare.

“It is a subject we take very seriously and Rugby for Life has both harnessed work we were already doing and enabled us to be proactive and bring in new learnings and initiatives to support players in our care.

“We are proud of the world-class medical support we provide and our objective is to match that with care for the individual’s mental health and personal circumstances.

“We are often dealing with young people, many of whom are living away from their homes and support networks. Being a professional athlete is not an easy lifestyle choice and presents players with a whole variety of challenges.

"Our role is to help equip them to deal with situations or give them options that enables they can make informed choices to manage their careers.

Scottish Rugby’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr James Robson, said: “Rugby for Life is an excellent initiative as it enables us to support the needs of players holistically and can work alongside the medical support we currently provide.

“Often it is players who are long-term injured or unable to perform at their best, for whatever reason, who need to be supported the most. This programme gives us the tools to ensure players are supported in body and mind as they progress through their careers and the challenges that will inevitably create along the way.”

Scottish Rugby’s Director of Rugby, Scott Johnson said: “As with any walk of life we are talking about people in the first instance, therefore we should be ensuring they are supported to enable them to work and live in the best possible environment and state of mind.

“We are in a fortunate position to work closely with our players day in, day out and this has helped us develop a programme that matches the needs and issues we are seeing.

“Rugby for Life will help coaches, players and their families, and support the work done in other player welfare areas.”

Work is already underway to support players at grassroots level in Scotland who may have suffered long-term injuries through Scottish Rugby’s Welfare Officer and the financial backing of the Murrayfield Injured Players Foundation.

Scottish Rugby sponsors BT and RBS have also contributed time and expertise to providing financial planning advice and work experience opportunities for  BT Sport Academy and professional players.

The work of Scottish Rugby’s International Relocation Adviser, Ben Atiga, also ensures players coming to Scotland from overseas are properly supported and their families integrated into a new way of life in a different country.

A Pacific Islanders network has been established to enable those players and their families to retain their own cultural links.