The RL Cares project that's changing the way men's mental health is tackled

At the start of Mental Health Awareness week, Dr Phil Cooper from State of Mind outlines the important role that Rugby League Cares's Offload project is playing at the three clubs involved...


A PILOT project run by Rugby League Cares at three Super League clubs is challenging how the sporting world tackles issues around men’s mental fitness and wellbeing.

Working with State of Mind and other agencies, RL Cares is delivering the Big Lottery-funded Offload project at Salford Red Devils, Warrington Wolves and Widnes Vikings.

Open to all men aged 16 and over, Offload involves participants engaging with current and former professional players and officials to learn techniques that Rugby league clubs use to manage the mental and physical fitness of players

Over the course of the 10-week ‘season of fixtures’, men build their own mental fitness with humour in a relaxed atmosphere and develop coping strategies to challenge difficult situations and learn how to recognise when people close to them may need their support. 

The programme has been designed by the experts at State of Mind, the charity that already carries out sterling work to promote positive mental fitness across Rugby League.

State of Mind co-founder Dr Phil Cooper believes Offload has the capacity to change how healthcare professionals tackle the issue of mental fitness in men, who are often reluctant to engage with other health services.

“If you ask most men if they’d like to sign up for a 10-week course on mental health which involves lots of presentations from people in the know the answer would be ‘Thanks but no thanks’,” said Dr Cooper.

“However, when you approach men with an interest in sport and tell them that the course is delivered by people they know from the sport they love at the club they feel passionate about then you get a different response.

“There’s nothing like Offload out there anywhere, and I think it’s going to be a huge success.”

Dr Cooper has put together much of the Offload content and recruited the current and former players, coaches and officials who will share the benefits of their experiences with participants.

State of Mind will also mentor the people involved in the delivery and fine tune the programme as it evolves over the next 12 months.

Throughout the 10 fixtures, which begin with an induction process that all players go through when they join a new club, participants will learn many of the techniques used by sports professional to develop good mental fitness, including how to cope under pressure and developing a positive mindset.

“We use a lot of sporting analogies and much of what is discussed has its basis in what takes place within a Rugby League club, which makes it perfect for fans to relate to,” added Dr Cooper.

“The pilot involves just three clubs but Offload has the potential to provide a template for every Rugby League club and indeed clubs in other major sports.”

Emma Goldsmith, the Health Programme Manager at RL Cares, said: “The stigma of poor mental fitness is being lifted and Offload will aim to get across the message that no-one need ever suffer alone.

“We would love as many men as possible to engage with the project and begin enjoying improved mental and physical fitness.”

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