GET YOUR HEAD IN THE GAME

Nehe Mil­ner-Skud­der knows all to well the highs and lows of be­ing a pro­fes­sional sports­man. He opens up to Au­drey Malone about why he’s help­ing front a men­tal health cam­paign.

Sunday News - - NEWS -

We have this al­pha-male ma­cho per­sona which we put up in rugby. It can end up be­ing a bit of a hin­drance when you can’t deal with how you are feel­ing.’

ALL Nehe Mil­ner-Skud­der wanted to be when he grew up was Chris­tian Cullen.

As a young child he had a Hurricanes teddy bear which he wrote his idol’s name on, and slept with ev­ery night.

‘‘I wasn’t al­lowed to take him to school, but I tried,’’ Mil­nerSkud­der says with a chuckle.

Now the 27-year-old is a Hurricanes player and an All Black, just like Cullen.

Which is why it hits him hard when he gets in­jured – all he has ever dreamed about is hang­ing in the bal­ance.

Mil­ner-Skud­der is one of the am­bas­sadors for the NZR pro­gramme Head­first. As part of it, the New Zealand Su­per Rugby fran­chises are hav­ing Bub­ble Round – a week when there is a fo­cus on men­tal fit­ness and men­tal health.

The teams will be pro­mot­ing burst­ing the stigma bub­bles sur­round­ing men­tal health in var­i­ous ways, in­clud­ing with videos from dif­fer­ent play­ers talk­ing about it, and what they do when they are on strug­gle street.

‘‘There are a lot of ups and downs in rugby. There is a lot of pres­sure on us to per­form at a high level, and when you get in­jured it can be tough,’’ Mil­nerSkud­der said.

Mil­ner-Skud­der wants peo­ple to un­der­stand that although the ebbs and flows are part of the job, it is im­por­tant to talk about it.

‘‘We have this al­pha-male ma­cho per­sona which we put up in rugby. It can end up be­ing a bit of a hin­drance when you can’t deal with how you are feel­ing.

‘‘We are taught to push through lit­tle nig­gles, but when it comes to your feel­ings, if you don’t de­velop a sense of vul­ner­a­bil­ity and be­ing aware of your feel­ings it can hurt you.’’

‘‘We needed some­one au­then­tic, Nehe is that,’’ NZR ed­u­ca­tion and well-be­ing man­ager Nathan Price ex­plained as to why Mil­nerSkud­der was cho­sen.

It had to be some­one who lived the val­ues and would res­onate with youth. It’s an added bonus that he might have cut-through with Maori and Pa­cific Is­landers too.

Price is ex­cited about the scheme.

‘‘Like it or not, rugby play­ers are role mod­els. We have a re­spon­si­bil­ity to do so­cial good. We have a lot of in­flu­ence, and to be able to con­trib­ute to this con­ver­sa­tion is some­thing I am re­ally proud of.’’

It’s Price’s goal to de­velop a strong men­tal health cul­ture in rugby.

‘‘That’s not just for the 800 play­ers we have on con­tract, that’s the 100,000 plus peo­ple that play rugby through­out New Zealand. And then hope­fully it has a trickle-down ef­fect into their fam­i­lies and their com­mu­ni­ties.’’

Be­ing ed­u­cated about men­tal health and fit­ness was one of the most im­por­tant things you can do to get through it.

Rugby play­ers have three trig­gers which can chal­lenge their men­tal health: in­jury, re­tire­ment, and when they aren’t meet­ing their own, or oth­ers, per­for­mance ob­jec­tives.

Know­ing what is go­ing on is why we have bought men­tal health into our grass­roots train­ing pro­grammes, Price ex­plained.

And also why they are start­ing to in­volve part­ners and fam­i­lies – to give a bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of the en­vi­ron­ment.

‘‘We are never go­ing to be per­fect, but we have to do some­thing.

‘‘At one point there will be a high pro­file per­son in this sphere that com­mits sui­cide, I don’t want to sit back and have done noth­ing. I want us to have made the world bet­ter.’’

Nehe Mil­nerSkud­der has had to put up with his fair share of in­juries – he had his arm in a cast yet again when he turned up at last year’s mu­sic awards with fel­low All Black Joe Moody.

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