Diet. Nutrition. Sleep. Every successful sportsperson will take a proactive approach to each of these things in order to maximise performance on the field. In the last few years, something else has been added to that list, something that's perhaps harder to quantify but just as essential. Emotional and mental well-being.
It would be impossible to ignore the larger conversation taking place across society around mental well-being. To its credit, sport has done as much as any walk of life to drive the conversation around mental well-being into the mainstream.
Rugby has been especially active in this conversation in Ireland. Tackle Your Feelings, a three-year mental well-being campaign spearheaded by Rugby Players Ireland in partnership with Zurich, has been very effective in promoting a positive conversation around mental well-being. Underlying the success of Tackle Your Feelings is the real power that comes from active rugby players showing their vulnerability by sharing their own personal stories. Rugby Players Ireland and Zurich are very excited about the next stage of the campaign, which launches imminently.
Tackle Your Feelings was formally launched in 2016, though its spirit has been guiding Rugby Players Ireland policy for years.
Rugby Players Ireland also knew that the high public profile of its players could be leveraged to educate society as a whole. So when sponsors Zurich approached them about collaborating on a Corporate Social Responsibility project around health and wellness in 2015, Tackle Your Feelings was effectively born.
The campaign took flight in 2016, with 5 elite rugby players - Jack McGrath, Hannah Tyrell, Cathal Sheridan, Jake Heenan and Shane Jennings - sharing their personal stories around mental well-being. Jack McGrath's story of his relationship with his brother who took his own life in 2010 especially resonated with the Irish sporting public, and his advice about expressing emotion is still worth sharing.
It was like a gas valve releasing when I started to speak about how I felt. It can be the smallest thing that you say to somebody that can make you feel better. The longer you keep it bottled up, the worse it’s going to get.
The conversation around mental well being was only just beginning for Rugby Players Ireland. Four public discussions took place in each of the four provinces around the topic of mental well-being. Pat Lam shared his wisdom about the power of relationships.
Ulster players Darren Cave, Andrew Trimble, Stuart McCloskey and Craig Gilroy discussed the everyday issues they deal with over coffee and donuts.
Sensing the momentum behind the Tackle Your Feelings campaign, Rugby Players Ireland decided it would be worthwhile to provide a resource that offered tools and techniques for assisting people - all people, not only elite rugby players - who are looking to care for their mental well-being in the same way they'd look for exercise or nutrition tips.
They decided on building an app that could store content that offered strategies for improving well-being. The Tackle Your Feelings app, which launches this Saturday at Wanderers Rugby Club with a brilliant event, features the contribution of more than 25 Irish rugby players, who via written and video content, offer insights on everything from match preparation to how they de-stress and how they have bounced back from tough times.
The effects of the Tackle Your Feelings campaign have been felt not just in Ireland but across the sporting world. English and New Zealand rugby players have been involved in similar campaigns since Tackle Your Feelings launched in 2016. The Tackle Your Feelings app is the next phase of the campaign and it's a vital resource for anyone looking to improve their mental well-being.
Download the Tackle Your Feelings app on iTunes or the Play store.