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Ex-Scotland centre De Luca urges help for rugby players struggling with mental health

‘As rugby players, we never really address how we actually work and how our mind works.’

“THERE WAS AN article the other day in the papers about professional footballers and the number of them that are suffering from mental illness. The same is in rugby but it’s just not really talked about.
People go away and disappear and it’s not reported. Friends that played with me in the Scotland team are really struggling just now, and there’s nothing being said or done to help or assist those people.”

Former Scotland international Nick De Luca has spoken out about how more needs to be done to help rugby players struggling with their mental health.

Rugby Union - EMC Test - Scotland v New Zealand - Murrayfield Nick De Luca. Source: EMPICS Sport

In a candid interview with BBC Sport Scotland, the 33-year-old discussed how emotional health should be approached in the same regard as physical aspects of the game such as fitness, gym work, nutrition and tactical analysis.

“From my experience and from speaking to people, emotional wellbeing is not really looked after at all,” he said.

“It’s well recognised that rugby is in the top two inches. The margins are fine, and we develop our nutrition, all our supplements, all our food planned.

“We do our weights, our speed, our fitness. We’re measured to the inch, and we’re always talking about these percentages, these little gains on the pitch. We’re doing our analysis – hours and hours and hours – looking at the opposition, looking at ourselves.

“Yet we never really address how we actually work and how our mind works. That was probably my huge weakness, and I know having done a bit of work with a few other players and a few specialists that it’s a lot of people’s weakness. It should be addressed and needs to be.

“If coaches, directors of rugby or chief executives could understand or visibly see the difference that engaging in mental wellbeing would have on the players’ performance or wellbeing, they would do it. They would see the value in it. They’re happy to spend £3-4,000 on a GPS unit to see how much the boys are running.”

He added: “As rugby players we are so lucky, we get to do what we love for a good amount of money, but we’re in such negative environments.

“Everybody is so hard on themselves. They need a little support and someone who is actually a professional to come in and help them, as opposed to relying on their peers.”

De Luca, who lined out for Edinburgh, Border Reivers, Biarritz and Wasps opened up about his own career, which hosted ‘some of the best highs’, yet ‘comfortably worst lows’.

He spoke about how he deleted his Twitter account because he ‘couldn’t cope with the abuse’ and how he played a Test match ‘without sleeping a wink – zero hours’ sleep’ the night before with pressure.

“I’m lucky that I’ve never had a mental illness, but I have had poor mental health and there are plenty of us (in professional rugby),” he added.

“I’ve struggled to go to work and enjoy my job for Scotland or Edinburgh, and that was due to not having the knowledge or support around me.

“Little things like throwaway comments, or even the way journalists write about you or rate you can really have a detrimental effect.

“I didn’t enjoy Edinburgh for a long time because of relationships with coaches, and the same with Scotland.

Rugby Union - Heineken Cup - Pool 6 - Edinburgh v Munster - Murrayfield De Luca in action for Edinburgh. Source: Jeff Holmes

“At the time, without someone helping you or explaining why you’re feeling the way you’re feeling, it’s not positive for you or the coach.

He also revealed:

“There are people who play for Scotland now who have wanted to give up. It’s just such a tough environment that you don’t want to put yourself back out there again, you don’t want to keep going.

“I won’t name names but I have a friend who wanted to quit, and we managed to get round him — his family, his friends — to get him back in, and since then he’s had an incredible purple patch.

“I’m so glad that he didn’t walk away, because it’d have been the biggest regret of his life.”

You can read the full interview here.

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Emma Duffy

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