SCOTLAND captain Stuart Hogg has congratulated fellow rugby players, past and present, for their bravery in speaking out about their struggles with mental health, and has explained how their lead has helped him cope with the ups and downs of life in the spotlight as one of the global game’s most gifted players.
“Everybody will go through some sort of struggle through time, through no fault of their own,” said Hogg, who will face Bath with Exeter Chiefs in the English Premiership semi-final later today, before taking on Finn Russell‘s Racing 92 in next weekend’s European Champions Cup Final.
“Gone are the days of saying ‘man up’, we’re not living in the dinosaur era anymore. We want everybody to remain in this world. I think now people have more understanding around what it means to have mental health challenges and what we can do to help.”
“I’ve found it refreshing to hear several people talking about their struggles throughout their careers or their lives that nobody gets to see. Everyone just assumes everything’s alright. It’s almost given me the confidence to speak about the tough times or the tougher times that I’ve had and that’s a big thing for me now. I’m probably playing my best rugby now because I’m happy.”
Hogg was speaking an an ambassador for the Laureus Sport for Good charity, which strives to use the power of sport to support young people facing mental health challenges. The programmes Laureus supports in this space reduce social isolation and help young people build confidence and resilience in the face of difficulties.
While Hogg would be the first admit that he has a charmed existence from the outside looking in, he is keen to stress that the level scrutiny top athletes are under means that they face a different kind of pressure. Mental health is a non-discriminatory issue, as Hogg highlighted when discussing the difficult period he encountered after a freak collision with a team-mate caused a fractured eye-socket which ruled him our of the 2017 Lions tour before he had a proper chance to stake a claim for a place in the Test team.
“I came back from New Zealand, had my shoulder re-constructed, was out for four months and all I was getting was ‘is Stuart Hogg going to be back to his best, is he going to be anywhere near where he used to be?
“I was determined to get back and really show them. Which meant I tried far too hard, I tried to be too lean, I made more mistakes than I’d made before and then I picked up another injury which meant another three months on the side-line. It was almost like, start again, build yourself back up, get back playing, get injured, repeat process.”
More recently, Hogg faced a tough first Six Nations as captain of the Scotland side, having first to cope with the acrimonious departure of star stand-off Finn Russell from the squad on the first night of the pre-tournament camp (and all the drama that produced), then having to deal with a very public – and uncharacteristic –mistake when he dropped the ball over the line against Ireland at a pivotal moment in the first match of the championship.
“I was getting absolute pelters, everywhere I was looking, newspapers, online, social media,” he recalls. “The best thing that happened was that I went back down to Exeter, and I played against Gloucester in the bye-week, and I scored an absolute belter and I was like ‘where has that been for the last three years?’
“It took me two years to run over the try line with the ball, I’d scored three kick-throughs in that time. I was like, that’s what I’m about, that’s me. I scored another belter against Italy the week after because I knew the monkey was off my back to doing what I love doing.
“I spoke to Steve Black [his mentor and friend] a lot, I spoke to Gregor [Townsend] a lot. I was getting people on social media telling me I dropped the ball because I was captain, If I wasn’t captain, I still would have dropped the ball! It’s as simple as that].
“Gregor told me I was still going to be captain, and just to relax and do my job because everything else was spot on. For me, scoring that try was a bit of what I know I can do. I have complete confidence in my ability and what I can do on a rugby field.
“During lockdown I’ve done a lot of thinking that I could potentially have four or five years left of playing rugby which is quite a scary thought because it feels like only yesterday that I started. But I just said: ‘I’m not going to listen to what people have to say’. I’m going to get on with it, enjoy my rugby, have some fun, and any pelters that come my way, I’m not going to read it because I don’t have access to my social media for a start which is great.”
- Laureus Sport for Good is a global charity that supports children and young people by using the power of sport to end violence, discrimination, and disadvantage. It operates under the fundamental belief that the achievement of this ambition is best delivered by ending the social issues that affect the younger generation and changing their lives for the better.
Over the last 20 years, Laureus Sport for Good has raised more than €150m for the Sport for Development sector, reaching and helping change the lives of almost 6 million children and young people since 2000. Laureus Sport for Good currently supports more than 200 programmes in over 40 countries that use the power of sport to transform lives.