Embracing rugby league to make a difference

Queensland Rugby League's Wellbeing and Education Managers face unique challenges every day they go to work, but this team is dedicated to improving the quality of life for young men and women; using rugby league as a vehicle to deliver their message.

Robert Hall is a Wellbeing and Education Manager in North Queensland, and his drive to help kids through rugby league comes from a deeply personal place.

"I grew up in a housing commission," Hall said, "playing footy was some of the best parts of my life that I had, it was the best part of the week going to training.

"I used it as a reason to stay out of trouble because I enjoyed footy that way and I thought that's probably something that everybody could use."

After a career in the army which had seen him posted in Townsville and Wagga Wagga, the opportunity to make a difference to the lives of young people through a sport that he loved was too good to pass up.

"The opportunity to work for Queensland Rugby League and then be able to go out and take that passion that I've got for the education programs that surround rugby league; and then use rugby league as the vehicle to get into those communities and affect some of these youths was probably the big part of why I wanted to work here."

The main thing we want to do is be really proactive on the front of wellbeing and looking after ourselves.

Efforts to quash the stigma around mental health issues have come a long way, and today, pre-empting issues in rural and regional communities is a huge part of Hall’s job.

"While we need to be there when there's critical incidents, the main thing we want to do is be really proactive on the front of wellbeing and looking after ourselves," Hall said.

"The education part is probably the most important about being proactive, we're not reacting to issues that pop up around the place, we're out being able to provide the communities with that information."

This effort to improve the wellbeing and education of the state's future stars starts at the grassroots, and the issues of every age group vary.

"(As well as) taking the wellbeing messages and education on the key areas around stuff to do with mental wellbeing; we do some education (around) domestic violence and taking that back to the grassroots clubs to make sure that the game of rugby league is the vehicle to take some messages to the community," Hall said.

"We can tailor the messages we deliver to suit any age group and we deliver on broad ranging issues, we can deliver around social media, cyber bullying, those type of things."

Voice against Violence activities in Burdekin. Photo: Submitted
Voice against Violence activities in Burdekin. Photo: Submitted

This engagement goes all the way up to players who have professional goals in mind, and the QRL is uniquely positioned to deliver their programs according to Hall.

"A wellbeing officer in the QRL facilitates delivery of education programs through some of our Elite Pathways programs, our representative programs and stuff like that," he said.

"We're available to the Intrust Super Cup clubs through to the Under 18s and 20s is mainly where we have a bit of our dealings because they also have some of their own wellbeing staff, but we can provide a link between them and the QRL.

"We went out with the Voice against Violence tour - it talks about stronger relationships and domestic violence, it's the full spectrum really, dealing with seniors right down to Under 7s."

>> More information about the QRL Wellbeing and Education programs

The power of rugby league in Queensland displays its full force when it is used to help players and fans tackle issues formerly surrounded by stigma.

"With rugby league playing a part of it, we have the opportunity to get out to some of those key area," Hall said.

"We have the opportunity to get out to some of those key areas, we have a lot of young males that play and they were one of the target demographics for what we know about mental health and those guys not talking and being an at-risk group.

"We have a lot of those that we engage with rugby league so it's a pretty important message that we support because we can get to so many of them and access so many of those young guys."

A negative attitude around mental health and education isn't the only thing that needs to worked on to improve outcomes of at-risk groups according to Hall.

Working with Charters Towers State High School. Photo: Submitted
Working with Charters Towers State High School. Photo: Submitted

Tyranny of distance is another major factor that makes North Queensland a difficult area to cover fully.

"In the broad spectrum [the problems faced by North Queensland youths] aren't too different to what youths in South East Queensland or Central Queensland might be getting, but the big thing with the wellbeing side of it is that there's a lot of travel for the guys that we have up here," Hall said.

"A lot of our young guys would either be travelling away or there would be guys that would be coming into town ... away from their home and their support networks that they normally have to support them through those types of things."

The QRL battles this by creating a trickle-down effect, educating Queensland clubs, who can then educate their players.

" [We also] provide support to clubs,” Hall explained.

“A lot of people in clubs have really good intentions about how to do things, and we're able to streamline and give them the help and support to provide those messages and support to the young people at their clubs.”

>> This is the second feature from the QRL Correspondent Regional / Division Leads outlining the role of the Wellbeing and Education Operations Managers. Keep an eye on QRL.com.au to read more about the other Division (Region) Wellbeing Managers. The first article was on South East's Trish Walding.