“Do You Give a Ruck?”: UEA Rugby’s Mission to Combat Mental Health

By Ned Henderson

The UEA Trojans (front right) after beating Watton RFC 66-6 at Colney Lane on Saturday. Image: Ned Henderson

Tough, hefty thugs sporting mullets. Players of what is commonly referred to as “a hooligan’s game”. Big hitters with even bigger personalities. Frequent patrons at your local pub.

These are just a handful of descriptions one may use to describe your stereotypical rugby player. Yet the non-profit organisation, Give a Ruck, offers a look behind the iron curtain of stigmas that surround both rugby players and, more importantly, mental health as a whole. 

The organisation, which was founded by Tessa Beecroft in 2019, looks to encourage all those involved in rugby, from players to coaches, to talk comfortably and honestly about mental health. 

Inspired by rugby players who have spoken out about their own struggles, Give a Ruck looks to unite clubs across the country by raising awareness and organising events that offer those within the sport a chance to discuss mental health ‘through a shared love of rugby’.

The initiative is already in full swing, showcased through the presence of ex and current professional rugby players, such as Gloucester’s Matt Garvey, within the organisation as ambassadors. Give a Ruck are also in partnership with leading rugby equipment brands such as Optimum and Samurai, demonstrating further their growing presence in the rugby world. 

A club must appoint an ambassador, a mental health first aider and take a Give a Ruck workshop to show they support the mental health of their players and staff. Once completed the club receives support from Give a Ruck to help spread their message and develop conversations on mental health throughout the club and beyond. 

UEA Rugby is one of those clubs, with student ambassadors representing the initiative for both the men’s and women’s teams. 

Freya Cannon, Give a Ruck ambassador for UEA Women’s Rugby, says the initiative’s concept of talking more openly about mental health has become “entrenched in the club”.

“It is fairly new”, Freya says, when asked about Give a Ruck’s mission, “but definitely here to stay”. 

Give a Ruck have supported UEA Rugby well via the organisation of workshops and talks from Tessa. Yet Freya emphasises the responsibility that still remains for the club’s ambassadors to ensure that “everyone keeps making sure that mental health is a priority”.

The combining of conversations on mental health and rugby holds huge significance to those not only within clubs, but also to those outside and beyond the sport.

It is certainly true that some rugby players may look to uphold a tough and strong appearance but, as highlighted by Michael O’Keefe, another ambassador from UEA, this does not reflect the reality of those who face struggles both on and off the pitch. 

“It’s about making rugby a more open and understanding sport for everyone included as well as showcasing how it can improve mental health through both fitness and the camaraderie that comes with the sport”.

Michael believes that by encouraging these types of conversations between rugby players, who are stereotypically viewed as “very rough men and women”, the movement will inspire those outside of the sport to talk more openly about their own mental health.  

Give a Ruck may still be a fledgling in the world of non-profits, but the impact it has already had on UEA rugby, and indeed at clubs around the UK, is hard to ignore.  

In our current climate, where mental health is at the forefront of many conversations, Give a Ruck is another beacon of hope that those who suffer can be supported and their illnesses can be tackled with force and effect.

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