Leeds Rhinos legend Jamie Peacock MBE on mental health, adapting to life off the pitch and being more than just a rugby player

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For nearly ten years, Jamie Peacock MBE was a Leeds Rhinos stalwart and his time at Headingley Stadium yielded six Super League triumphs.

Nothing appeared to faze the formidable prop during his playing days but his second and final retirement in 2016 posed new challenges to someone who had lived and breathed rugby league since he ascended the ranks of Bradford Bulls as a young prospect.

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"One of the areas I struggled with was not being in a team environment," he explained. "You don't have that big challenge at the end of the week.

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Jamie Peacock MBE won six Super League titles with Leeds Rhinos. Credit: Steve RidingJamie Peacock MBE won six Super League titles with Leeds Rhinos. Credit: Steve Riding
Jamie Peacock MBE won six Super League titles with Leeds Rhinos. Credit: Steve Riding

"In rugby league, everything's worked around getting to the game, which is generally Friday or Saturday, and feeling as fresh as possible,

"But in the in the real world on Friday and Saturday, you're hanging on by your fingertips, you're really tired.

"I think also, in professional sport, you have high highs and low lows. In everyday life, it's a little bit more of a ripple effect rather than tsunamis. That can be challenging to deal with."

His focus is now directed towards ensuring others have more highs than lows.

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The 44-year-old runs a number of enterprises and his ventures include a mentoring programme called Building Champions and an interactive development programme called Be A Champion.

He also delivers a keynote motivational talk named Champion Teams, which outlines twelve principles which can create a winning team and culture.

His work emphasises the need for a focus on wellbeing and mental health is a key area of interest.

"Developments over the last six years has shown us that wellbeing is not just something nice to do, it's essential," he said. "It's essential if you want to create an environment where people can be at their best, you need to focus on the wellbeing."

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Societal attitudes towards mental health have started to shift and awareness is arguably at the highest point it has ever been.

Peacock spent over 15 years at the elite level in English rugby league and has shared dressing rooms with some of the sport's most revered figures. Sporting stars, however, are not immune from mental health struggles, the Rhinos icon has insisted.

"Over the last six to eight years, there's been more of a shift into understanding that sports people are human beings," he explained. "We all suffer mental anguish, we can all suffer from mental health problems, probably as much as any other section of society.

"Dealing with leaving, not being able to do something that you love doing anymore, it is a real big stepping stone, and a really tough obstacle for lots of professional sportspeople to overcome.

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"Not all professional sports are like football where you retire and you can be financially settled for life. But people who are financially set up for life still suffer mental health problems."

Peacock believes the way he has always viewed himself aided the transition into his post-playing life. Most may know him as a rugby icon but he has admitted to seeing himself as more than just a rugby player from a young age.

"I never saw myself as purely a rugby player," he said. "If I looked in the mirror, I saw somebody who played rugby, not just a rugby player, so that allowed me to deal [with retiring].

"When I finished playing, I just saw myself as someone who retired from playing, it wasn't my identity."

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The way in which mental health is monitored in sport has been placed firmly under the microscope in recent years and emphasising to young players that they are more than their sport is something Peacock thinks is the responsibility of clubs and organisations.

"You see these younger kids in football or rugby marked out at five and six years old and their identity is based around them as a sports person," he said. "I think more needs to be done by the clubs when they're signed to show them they're not just a professional sportsperson.

"I think clubs and sporting organisations have a responsibility to help train people and move them away from looking purely at their identity as a sport they play.

"There's more to them. They've got great strengths and qualities, they can be a brother or sister or daughter or son to people."

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