Last weekend, on the eve of the first Rugby Championship Test match, Wallabies captain Michael Hooper made the call to take time off from the spotlight of International rugby, to take care of his Mental Health.
Rugby Australia acted quickly and the 121 Test capped skipper was flown out of Argentina with another teammate who had succumbed to a head injury. No replacement flanker was sent over to fill the player’s position – almost an impossible task, when recognizing Hooper’s widely acknowledged incredible work rate, and his influence in the critical breakdown area.
Note: Australia would go on to win the Test at the Estadio Malvinas, 26-41.
Wallabies head coach Dave Rennie revealed the backroom team had seen no signs of mindset concerns from Hooper but would hail his honesty. “Nothing that was evident to us, how he trained and contributed around the team and leadership was excellent and clearly he’s been struggling and masking that well,” he told reporters.
“It came to a head last night and he was brave enough to call Sharon (Flahive, Wallabies team doctor) and have a chat with her and then involved (team manager) Chris Webb and myself to get an understanding of where he is at…obviously he’s felt he can suppress things over the past handful of weeks so we certainly weren’t aware of things.”
Being unaware is a common sentiment, with others coming out in support of the player’s decision. Whether a well-respected sportsman or not, the hidden nature of mental health issues has applied undue pressure to many high-performing athletes; with Wallabies captain Michael Hooper only one of many who have shown personal strength to admit when (they) have a problem.
Rennie concluded, “It’s not uncommon in life isn’t it? It’s a cross-section of society. Often men will say bugger all and suffer in silence,” the coach said. “It took a lot of courage to address the group so a huge amount of respect from everyone and respect that we want to get him home and give him as much support as possible.”
Wallabies captain Michael Hooper takes time off for Mental Health
Personal demons, the black dog, or the Inner Critic, it all stacks up. Speak to any player; past or present, and the reality of expectation versus the reality of sport as a place of work can be very damaging. Michael Hooper should be afforded the same appreciation. Thus, within days of the opening game of his side’s Rugby Championship match-up against Argentina, it was no professional barrier to requesting a personal haven from the arena.
Granted, and Hooper is home now and Rugby Australia will likely not ask of his services until the backrower is happy to do so. He said at the time, he wasn’t in the right mindset. “While this decision did not come easily I know it is the right one for me and the team at this point in time,” Hooper said in a media statement.
“My whole career I’ve looked to put the team first and I don’t feel I am able to fulfill my responsibilities at the moment in my current mindset.”
Sport is not dissimilar to any workplace, though the weight of public expectation might add a weight few can ever imagine. Since taking over the captaincy at the tender age of 22, pressure was a constant parallel to success and in times of struggle. After the 1-2 series loss to England, Hooper will have faced a review that could well have contributed to his stress levels.
Reading from Rugby Australia’s media releases, the message is that an individuals state of mental health is prioritized, just as their physical fitness is. CEO Andy Marinos said: “Michael is an incredible leader, it takes a brave man to identify where he’s at and come forward whilst having the best interests of the team at heart.”
“His wellbeing is and remains the highest priority right now where Rugby Australia and the Australian Rugby community will do everything to support him and his family.”
Hooper joins a growing list of athletes managing Mental Health issues
Wallabies captain Michale Hooper joins a growing list of International sports people who have prioritized personal mental health and wellbeing; the issues relating to it, and dealing with the struggles that professional sport adds.
New Zealand Cricket has had players request ‘time out’. Amelia Kerr is the latest women’s player to recognize that time away from the game, was best for her personal health. Sophie Devine too had to step back. Others like Jimmy Nesham and former player Jessse Ryder have also spoken of their personal journeys to overcome mental health issues.
Fellow rugby player’s who have spoken out too includes, England rugby forward Joe Marler. His public stance and openess has been well received. England Rugby has also put in place protocols and support structures that can assist current and former men’s and women’s players.
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Whether a first-pick player like Hooper or Marler, any person who takes the pressures of sport to heart and mind, must be afforded every available resource and support. Public health services are on-call, with further professional services an option for everyone from a club player to a senior player. Across the globe, the majority of rugby unions now all employ support structures that align to the fundamental aim that, sport is to be enjoyed. And each participant should feel they can speak out whenever needed – while on tour, or before a season begins.
If you, or someone you know, requires further support on your mental health or wellbeing, contact your national medical health services organization. Contact the sports agency, any toll-free contact numbers available through clubs, provincial and regional sports agencies, that can follow up on any inquiry.
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