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 'Tackling Mental Health for Rugby League'
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Junior Rugby League


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Junior Rugby League

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The area of Junior Rugby League & the young people participating at this level has been somewhat neglected in relation to their psychological, emotional, social & developmental needs. This does not mean that individually this is necessarily the case, though there is a lack of ‘organised’ & structured programs & processes, running in conjunction with their sporting development, whereby this aspect of their young lives is addressed. Certainly parents, some coaches, clubs & other officials see this as very important and endeavour to ensure these kids are cared for & nurtured in their areas of need.  


Every stage of development should be considered important, though the period of adolescence has the potential to create more problems in later life if poorly traveled. This is the period of life where hormones ‘kick in’; where relationships begin to become more personal & intimate. It is a time where a real & observable growth toward independence is evidenced. Certainly, as a society, there is the recognition of burgeoning adulthood as reflected in the laws governing motor vehicle licences, legal liability & culpability, alcohol use, sexual relationships, voting etc…. 


From a league standpoint, club spotters, scouts & player managers scour the various divisions & clubs for future talent. There is nothing wrong with this but it needs to be monitored. These kids are going through the difficult stage of puberty & adolescence and are suddenly experiencing the stress & pressures associated with being under the scrutiny of major clubs. 


This is the time when the reality of professional & semi-professional Rugby League first comes in contact with players who will ultimately comprise the ranks of the various state & national leagues. It is a time when scholarships, contracts, sponsors, financial & educational assistance schemes and offers & promises of careers with the game are raised. Suddenly there are decisions to be made, there are pressures that never existed before when the children were simply playing a game they loved and enjoying the experience with their mates. 


Remember, these adolescents are still trying to negotiate developmental stages. They still require the freedom to explore the options socially, emotionally & psychologically and their ever developing sense of sexuality is similarly being dealt with. 


The benefits of participation in sport and particularly team sports can be profound.



·           Mateship/friendship 

·          Cooperation &Team work 

·          Commitment 

·          Industry & effort 

·          Communication 

·          Confidence & Self Assuredness 



                       Jr league 1    Jr league 2    jr League 3    jr league 4    jr league 5

 (Photos courtesy of JD Sports Photography)




Unfortunately, with all positives, there can also be the negative outcomes.







  • Arrogance & disrespect for others (confidence can often be taken too far. It can develop into a type of    arrogance and the more limited the area of social involvement, the more likely this is to occur)  


·    Societal demarcation (where the social demographic of Rugby League becomes a kind of ‘sub culture’ to which the player belongs & with which they devote the majority of time – this ‘sub culture’ is the primary & most significant area making provision for their social, emotional & psychological needs) 


  • Limited social skills & abilities (this relates to the previous point and follows as a consequence of the ‘non expansion’ of the individuals   social sphere)  


  • Unfulfilled educational needs (belief that the game will ‘provide’ and devotion to the sport to the detriment of other areas of an individual’s life can have the effect of damaging or limiting the possibility of maximizing an individual’s educational potential The end result of this can be occupational & vocational deficiency)  


  • Distorted perceptions of intimacy (a combination of factors can lead to this situation, though it primarily involves the developmental stage of adolescence & young adulthood and the potential to  


  • Relationship difficulties (social demarcation & distorted perceptions of intimacy will ultimately result in relationship difficulties)  


  • Poor or underdeveloped and/or maladaptive coping skills (whilst comfortable & familiar with the game & those involved in the game, it does not necessarily translate that effectively when placed in differing settings & situations. The requirement to have coping skills applicable for other aspects of life is essential. To suddenly go from comfort & confidence in one area to discomfort & inadequacy in another creates stress & anxiety.  


  • Use & abuse of Alcohol & Drugs (whether it be because of the environment or peer pressure, availability & access or the anxieties associated with life’s pressures, the use and abuse of Alcohol &/or Drugs is a constant threat)  



Many players counseled for depression and other related problems have indicated the difficulties they experience in day to day life, and more particularly in relationships. The confidence and control they have over themselves on the sporting field and the associated understanding & familiarity does not translate that successfully ‘off the field’ or out of the Rugby League social fraternity. 


They often feel uneasy & insecure with areas pertaining to interaction & social functioning and their intimate relationships can feel awkward & strained. This can lead to depression, drug & alcohol abuse & relationship friction. 


The problem appears to be the significance of football in the development of self perception, identity, worth & purpose. It entails, not only the game itself, but also the associated peripheral aspects to involvement with the sport; this being the social elements. As a result, distorted perceptions of self & the world around can develop creating issues later in life. 


Difficulty in understanding & expressing how they feel and struggling with their emotions is common. 




The 'ugly' side of Junior League





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Should you have concerns regarding any issue relating to your 'mental or physical well-being', or more particularly that of your children, 'Kick off' strongly recommend you seek professional assistance. This may entail contacting your GP or similar clinician (Psychologist, Psychiatrist, Counsellor etc.). You may also contact the appropriate agency or service that might assist you. Irrespective of your choice, ensure you see someone who might help. 


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Michael J. Salamon, Ph.D., FICPP
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ADC Psychological Services, PLLC
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