Coaches & Caregivers

As a coach, caregiver or partner, knowing the signs of distress and understanding where to access help and support are key parts of your role. 

You have a part to play too

Coaches, caregivers and partners are a crucial part of the success of any player. Their ability to create opportunities for people to develop as individuals is just as significant as supporting them to develop as players. Coaches, caregivers and partners have a big part to play in providing support.

It is very common for young people not to seek help, even when they need it. Research tells us that our young men are the least likely to seek help, and our women are 1.5 times more likely to experience mental distress than any other group.

When challenged with injury or performance pressure, the risk of mental stress and depression for rugby players increases. There are lots of things we can be doing as the support people for our youth, in particular our rugby players.

There are three key steps involved in providing support:

  1. Identification: Knowing what to look for.
  2. Action: Knowing what to do about it.
  3. Support: Growing healthy young people.

Watch the video below to hear All Blacks assistant coach Wayne Smith talk about creating a safe team environment that helps look after the wellbeing and mental fitness of players. 



1. Identification: Knowing what to look for

It can be really challenging to know what to look for, when to worry and when to take action. As a parent, partner or coach your relationship with the person you’re worried about can differ hugely and it is not uncommon to feel unsure about your role in supporting them. Watch the B.R.A.V.E video, created by Le Va, to hear a group of young people talk about how you can best look out for signs they’re struggling.

If you are concerned, or have a gut feeling that something is not right, you could make the decision to speak with them, offer your help or work with them to find a place that provides support.

If you’re really concerned or you think they are at risk of harming themselves or somebody else, then you need to seek help now. Click below to see a list of emergency contacts.

Common signs of mental distress

Knowing some of the signs of distress or difficulty can make it a lot clearer as to when you should be worried and taking action. Remember that players who are injured, retiring or struggling with performance pressure are more at risk for mental distress. Some of the keys signs are:

  • Feeling sad or hopeless
  • Extreme mood swings
  • Changes in eating and sleeping habits (too much or too little)
  • Outbursts of anger, violence or aggression
  • Isolating themselves, not wanting to spend time with others
  • Speaking about suicide or self-harm
  • Increase in use of drugs or alcohol
  • Not taking care of their physical appearance or hygiene
  • Feeling “on edge” or stressed and anxious

2. Action: Knowing what to do about it

It is really important to understand that recognising a concerning change in someone else does not then make you responsible for that person. However, it does mean you have a responsibility to do something about it.

Your actions might consist of something as small as asking them how they are and reminding them of the places where they can seek help.

Make yourself available and approachable to talk. They might not take you up on the offer straight away but knowing that they have a safe space to offload their feelings when they need to is important. Below are six helpful tips for having a conversation with a player, partner or family member.


Give them time to speak without interruption and let them know you are really listening. Save your advice for later on.

Body language

Make sure that you show them you want to listen by being relaxed, maintaining eye contact and ignoring other distractions like phone calls.

Don’t judge

Even if how they feel doesn’t make sense to you, it will be very real for them. Remove judgement when you speak with them.


Really acknowledge how they are feeling and let them know it is ok to feel that way. Saying things like “it sounds like you feel….is that right?”, let’s them know you’re listening.

Ask questions

Try using open-ended questions to find out more such as “can you tell me more about that?” or “what makes you feel that way?”.

Remind them they're not alone

Sometimes we may not know the best way to help. Even if you don’t know the answer, let them know you are there for them and that, together, you can find someone who has the right skills to help.


3. Support: Growing healthy young people

As coaches, caregivers, partners and family members, there is so much we can do to support our young people to grow healthy, fit minds. Supporting our players in this way not only helps them short-term but in the long-term as they deal with challenges in rugby and in life.

Supporting our young people is not limited to times when a crisis hits, the biggest work comes well before then so they are able to cope with difficult situations such as injury, a personal loss or stressful times. Below are a few ways that we, as support people, can help our young people.

  • Encourage and facilitate reflection. Supporting young people to reflect on what is important to them is a great place to start. This can be done individually or as a team and can help players focus on what their character is made up of and what values are important to them and to the team. Make sure they link their reflections to actions by encouraging them to prioritise something that is important to them each week and allocate time to spend doing that thing. E.g. one of their values might be ‘giving back’ so their action might be to help out at a local soup kitchen each week.
  • Have discussions about what success means. Most players think that success is centered around being selected, playing well and receiving good feedback from the coach. Although these are forms of success, it is often when players are able to shift their focus from ‘outcomes’ to the ‘process’ that they play their best. Helping players reflect on what they do and how they do it is much more important than the outcome.

Looking After Yourself

Looking out for others and providing support can be a challenging job. It’s easy to put you and your needs second when your focus is on helping someone else you care about. Providing the best support possible means you also need to ensure you are looking after yourself too. Below are a few ways to do this:

Take time out for yourself

Give yourself a break and do something you enjoy doing. This might be as simple as going for a walk, playing a round of golf, cooking or watching a movie.

Fuel your body

Make sure you’re eating regular meals and avoid drinking too much alcohol. Processed, sugary foods and alcohol can effect your energy levels and make it tough to concentrate on the things you need to.

Talk to others

Speak to someone you trust about how you’re feeling; they might have some suggestions or ideas but even just getting your worries off your chest can be a massive help.

Prioritise the important things

When you’ve got a lot on your plate it can be easy to feel overwhelmed. Make sure the things that are most important for you and the people you care about come first. It’s ok to say no sometimes too.

Ask for help

Everyone needs help sometimes and it’s ok to lean on others when you need to. This could be a friend, a professional or a support group of people going through something similar. Whoever it is, know that its ok to ask for help.

Get good sleep

Do your best to get between 7 and 9 hours of sleep a night to allow your body and mind to recharge. Make sleep a priority and try and stick to a consistent bedtime.