Rugby is encouraging communities across the country to connect this week with a cast of Investec Super Rugby Aotearoa’s star players joining Sir La'auli Michael Jones in showing how something as simple as a handshake can support wellbeing and mental fitness.
Players from the Highlanders, Crusaders, Hurricanes, Chiefs and Blues have shared some of their personalised handshakes to launch the third instalment of Investec Super Rugby’s WellbeingRound - an annual initiative run by New Zealand Rugby’s Wellbeing programme HeadFirst.
The Wellbeing Round was launched on Tuesday with a video voiced by All Black great and NZR Board member Jones. “Having strong ties to our whanau, friends and communities has always been a big component of wellbeing and supporting good mental fitness,” Jones said. “During COVID-19, those connections have been impacted and for a lot of us the impact of isolation and distancing has been tough.”
Jones, a 55 Test All Black and former Blues loose forward, has a wealth of experience when it comes to the power of connections through rugby.
“Rugby communities are a great place to foster connections and often somewhere people feel a sense of belonging and purpose being part of a team. It’s been fantastic to see New Zealanders reconnecting through rugby, on the field and the side-lines, during what is an incredibly challenging time for our country.”
Jones said connection could be as simple as a handshake, something he knows a bit about after he was famously filmed performing a personalised handshake with Va'aiga Tuigamala under the Eiffel Tower in Paris in 1991.
“It is a bit fun amongst players to share their personalised handshakes, but the message of personal connections that it portrays is really powerful and relevant at this time.”
The Mental Health Foundation’s CEO Shaun Robinson spoke about connection being one of the five ways to wellbeing, a core part of MHF’s wellbeing messaging.
Robinson said: “The five ways to wellbeing are simple and proven actions that help people boost their mental health and wellbeing, ‘me whakawhanaunga/connect’ being one. Building connections with people doesn’t always start with big gestures but can be something as simple as a chat over a coffee, a walk with friends or a handshake.”
TheWellbeingRound kicks off this Saturday when the Hurricanes play the Chiefs at Sky Stadium in Wellington, followed by the Crusaders going up against the Highlanders at Orangetheory Stadium in Christchurch on Sunday.
NZR Culture and Wellbeing Manager, Nathan Price, said the WellbeingRound was a great opportunity to remind people about the importance of taking the time to connect with their whanau and friends.
He said: “We’ve been running this wellbeing round for a few years now and this year’s message around connection feels more important than ever. The research tells us when you replace loneliness and isolation with feelings of connection and a sense of belonging, people are less likely to experience feelings of depression, anxiety and stress.
“Rugby is a place where communities come together and demonstrating that personal connection through the unique handshakes the players have is a fun way to highlight what is an important wellbeing message.”
HeadFirst, NZR’s mental health and wellbeing programme, launched in March 2017.
The programme aims to increase awareness of mental health and wellbeing within rugby and challenge the stigmas associated with talking about it, particularly amongst young men.
HeadFirst targets players, parents, coaches, referees, volunteers and supporters in the rugby community.
Since launch, the Headfirst website (HeadFirst.co.nz) has attracted close to 50,000 visitors, many of whom have engaged in a self-test intervention for anxiety or depression.
The programme delivers face-to-face workshops to professional and community players.
Supporting and growing the mental fitness of the rugby community is an ongoing focus for NZR and HeadFirst, and they are here to make a long-term difference.
In September 2018, Movember Foundation came on board as a funding partner, allowing the expansion of the programme into community and school environments.
HeadFirst this week are launching their refreshed website, an information hub where people can visit to learn more about mental fitness and past and present players share the ways they look after their wellbeing and that of others.
Note: Anyone seeking advice on mental health or wellbeing, or experiencing stress, anxiety, or depression, can free call or text 1737 to chat to a trained professional.