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 Kick Off...Mental Health for Rugby League

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Each of us has basic needs for life and each of us is motivated by our needs. From birth through to old age, we all need certain elements to complete us as human beings. Abraham Maslow, an American psychologist, defined our needs in his ‘hierarchy of needs’.  He saw those needs as arranged somewhat like a ladder with the most basic & fundamental at the bottom and the need to fulfill one’s self, to become all that one is capable of becoming at the top or apex of the pyramid.  


He divided his concept of hierarchical needs into two (2) specific types. The first being ‘D’ needs or Deficiency Needs. These comprise the bottom four (4) levels – Biological, Safety & Security, Love & Belonging and Esteem. The individual ‘feels’ nothing if they are met, though feels anxious if they are not met. Those above he described as ‘B’ needs or Being Values. When these needs are met or fulfilled, they remain and motivate us for further growth. 


This provides us with yet another way of looking at the development of an individual. Rather than age based, it is need related. As such it can pertain to any age group and has applications in many varied settings and situations. At any given time in our lives our needs may vary. The concept Maslow put forward is that you cannot progress upward within the hierarchical structure until the needs are progressively met from the bottom basic tier. In other words, only when our lower needs of emotional & physical well-being are met are we then concerned about higher level needs. A good example of this would be - A person living in a war torn nation where starvation & death are daily occurrences cares little for matters that relate to their self esteem or material possessions or career goals. Yet, this individual may seek & be granted refugee status in  Australia. Suddenly they’ve adequate sustenance for life, their safety & security needs are met and they begin to consider vocational options & making their life a little more comfortable by means of material possessions. 


If for whatever reason our lower needs are suddenly endangered or gone, we no longer care about the maintenance of those higher order needs. For example:- a successful NRL player is diagnosed with a life threatening illness. No longer does he see his sports car as important as before. He no longer cares about his prestige or standing in the community or the recognition and adulation the fans gave him. His very life has become his focus and the need for physical ‘wellness’ is now his number one priority. 



It is easy to see how individuals fail to develop & grow as intended according to this model. If we are constantly struggling to meet those lower needs then we will progress no further. A person may also be satisfied where they are, having met basic needs and feels no compulsion to advance any further. That is their choice, though they will never have the opportunity to fulfill their potential.



Maslow's Hiearchy of Needs 




Biological Needs  - refers to those very basic physiological needs such as food, water, air, shelter, warmth, sex, sleep etc. 


Safety & Security – relates to protection from the elements, law & order, security, limits, stability, family, employment etc. 


Love & Belonging family, affection, relationships, work groups, friendships etc. 


Esteem Needs – involves the following:- self esteem, esteem of others, achievement, independence, status, mastery, prestige, confidence, managerial responsibility etc.. 


Self Actualisation  - realizing personal potential, self fulfillment, seeking personal growth & peak experiences, problem solving, sense of morality & justice, creativity, lack of prejudice, altruism etc.  





Maslow’s model translates very effectively to the Rugby League arena and can be adapted to represent the needs of the player in relation to their sport. 


If we look at level one (1) of the model and prescribe physical conditioning to this stage one can see how this need has to be met before a player can consider moving to the next. To illustrate further we will use the ‘pyramid’ & apply league needs.



Maslow Hierarchy of Needs




You can see how the needs relate to development & goals. There is no point aspiring to NRL participation if you haven’t met the basic physical needs to enable this to occur. Similarly, having reached this pinnacle, when injury or illness strikes, you are suddenly confronted with having to meet the lower needs once again. 


This model can be adapted to any level of league or other sport and can also be applied to business and other related areas. As it is based on need & motivation its applications are many & varied. 


What happens when we superimpose one pyramid over another? For example, if we overlay the football model on the personal need model. The answer is ‘potential conflict’. Whilst basic needs are generally identical, the higher we travel, the more separated the needs become.  




Personal Needs                                                                                 Rugby League Needs 


 Maslow's Hiearchy of Needs 2



One of the problems for the Rugby League player is the world or ‘sub culture’ in which they live. While actively participating in the game, the individual’s environment is that of the social culture of the code. Occasional forays or ventures into society on a larger & more global scale are simply minor & temporary sojourns, much the same as the person who takes holidays abroad. 


This has the effect of ‘distorting’ the perception of reality & real life. One may argue that the involvement in relationships, children & work commitments for some are ‘normal’ life experiences and an intrinsic part of everyone’s life, therefore combining the two (2) ‘worlds’ and providing the desired sense of reality. This may be true for those who participate at amateur or semi-professional levels though the higher one progresses in the game, the further apart the areas become. This phenomenon occurs in other sports, particularly when played at the elite level. Do not think that those participating in Cricket, Rugby Union, Swimming, Athletics, Cycling, Motor Racing etc. are immune from possible ‘distorted reality’, nor those in Politics, Media, and Performing Arts. The difference is generally the degree to which it occurs and the manner in which it is demonstrated. 



Why this occurs is largely due to factors such as: 


·         Higher recognition & acknowledgement  

·         Worth as determined by income & contract value 

·         Special & preferential treatment by others outside of the game 

·         Greater exposure through the various media types 

·         Physical appearance, musculature & strength 

·         Achievements within the game 



The outcomes of the divergent areas of need and the resulting conflict & problems can be: 




How to accommodate & successfully meet both sets of needs: 


  • Do not ignore the personal component (needs) of your life 
  • Balance ‘time’ between the two areas of your life (including socially) 
  • Attempt to maintain a ‘healthy perspective’ of yourself, your life & your career as a player 
  • Communicate with your partner & similarly with your club CEO, Manager, Coach etc. regarding your future, your needs & your goals  
  • Attempt to enlarge your social sphere (outside of Rugby League circles) 
  • Enjoy your family; spend quality time with them, free of the constraints & obligations of the game 
  • Employ discipline with respect to your adherence to social conventions & societal standards 
  • Engage in ‘off field’ volunteer work – be it a charity or community service organization (make sure this is not for publicity or recognition) 
  • Spend time with the simple, basic things in life 
  • Participate in another sport for recreational purposes 
  • Start planning for the future; thinking ahead and preparing for a life outside of active participation as a player 
  • Avoid excesses – alcohol, drugs, gambling 




“You always pass failure on the way to success” 


Mickey Rooney





©2008 Waldel Pty Ltd

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