What is it about?

Player welfare is a recent development in supporting elite athletes during their professional careers and beyond. In a study of elite Rugby Football League (RFL) players, 4 out of 10 respondents reported symptoms of common mental health disorders. We have shown for the first time that, while controlling for other important variables, having positive attitudes to, and better knowledge of RFL mental health support is associated with better mental health. We also found that higher psychological stress and athletic identity is associated with worse mental health, and older age is associated with better mental health.

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Why is it important?

It can be difficult to protect elite athletes from 'undue risk' due to the demands of the challenging and competitive environment within which they perform. This study has shown that players who know more about the available mental health support and have more positive attitudes towards that support, report fewer mental health symptoms. This suggests that by increasing positive attitudes towards mental health supports and mental health literacy, we might be able to increase help-seeking behaviour, reduce stigma and in that way increase well-being and mental health in elite athletes.


I hope this article make people take note of the struggles that some elite rugby football players face. From our respondents, we found that close to 4 out of 10 elite players experienced symptoms of common mental health disorders. This may, of course, reflect a response bias and not be fully representative of all elite players, but it also points to the importance and value of looking after the mental health needs of elite athletes. Clubs and sporting organisations can support their (elite) athletes by openly talking about mental health issues, signpost to available mental health supports, encourage help-seeking and reduce mental health stigma. I think this study shows that mental health issues can affect anyone and more importantly, player welfare efforts and initiatives make a difference and are worth investing in.

Dr Susanna Kola-Palmer
Department of Psychology, University of Huddersfield

Read the Original

This page is a summary of: “Someone to Talk to”: Influence of Player Welfare Provision on Mental Health in Professional Rugby League Players, Journal of Clinical Sport Psychology, March 2019, Human Kinetics,
DOI: 10.1123/jcsp.2018-0041.
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