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.
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.