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Lawrence Rayner takes on new role at Cambridge Rugby Club

Lawrence Rayner has become the mental wellbeing ambassador at Cambridge. Picture: Chris Fell
Lawrence Rayner has become the mental wellbeing ambassador at Cambridge. Picture: Chris Fell

The struggle of transitioning from professional rugby to the semi-pro game has inspired Lawrence Rayner to use the experience to try to help others.

The 28-year-old fly-half has become Cambridge Rugby Club’s mental wellbeing ambassador having undertaken a mental health first aid course. It is part of an increased effort by the club to support players both on and off the pitch.

Rayner is now in his third season at Cambridge, but it was back in 2017 when faced with the prospect of leaving Nottingham that he experienced those anxieties – but the reality was only brought home in recent times.

“My background and interest in mental health – and I’ve only really thought about it very recently as I’ve gained more interest in it – stems from finishing playing professionally at Nottingham,” said Rayner.

“My story doesn’t compare to a lot of others, who are fully professional for many years, but transitioning from professional rugby to semi-professional rugby, and trying to deal with that, and also knowing what I wanted to do next, I went through a bit of a period that I was struggling.

“With more knowledge now, you can reflect and think it was a tricky time to try to cope with.”

Through the club, they did an introduction to mental wellbeing and mental health.

Rayner was then approached by director of rugby Richie Williams about going through the full, certified first aid course, and it was something he was only too keen to do.

“I was absolutely thrilled to help out where I could and even learn more from my side to help others in the future,” he said.

The mental health first aid course supplies the skills and knowledge in order to help, as a first point of contact, anyone or any scenario that is playing out with regards to mental health.

“I’m hoping to try to encourage a bit more conversation, and almost keeping an eye out for anyone that might be going under the radar and actually struggling and they don’t want to reach out for any help,” said Rayner.

“It’s just opening that conversation piece and being there for anyone that might want to reach out.”

The rugby club acts as a natural support network itself, even if the players do not realise it.

Training two nights a week offers an outlet to de-stress, but the game can bring about its own demands, as Rayner explains.

“The group of lads we’ve got at Cambridge are fantastic, we bond well and are all great mates,” he said.

“The other thing as well, is that rugby brings its own stresses. Through a season you can see the impact it can have on players, coaches and everything in between really.

“It’s great fun and the fundamentals of playing rugby are to enjoy it, but if you’re not getting picked or results aren’t going your way, it can bring another element of struggles or issues that can add to a busy life or work schedule as well.

“Relating it back to what I hope to try to do, if we can open a conversation about how people are managing that situation, then it can only better firstly the players, secondly the rugby that’s going to be played, and thirdly the club in general. If we can support boys and staff, and everyone else, then I think the club will hold on to a lot of key people really.”

That support is probably as vital now as it has ever been.

Routines have been thrown up in the air by the pandemic and all leagues in the community game in rugby union have been cancelled this season. And it is the social side that is so important.

“When I look at my weekly routine, and being a person that likes routine, I lose track of days now that I’m not training on a Tuesday and Thursday and playing on a Saturday,” said Rayner.

“I struggle to find things to fill the week without rugby. If you add that to not seeing people and not catching up with regular faces, it can be a big aspect of your life that is suddenly cut out. We’re trying to minimise that and keep everyone engaged.

“The other side of things as well, for some boys financially it’s a bit of a restriction – it is a bit of a financial gain from the games, and boys aren’t seeing that. Depending on how much that impacts financially, money can be a huge factor for a lot of mental health problems.

“It’s all taking it into consideration, not just the rugby side of things but how that can impact people socially and professionally as well.”

Breaking the stigma of males talking about mental health remains one of society’s priorities, with many campaigns in recent years encouraging people to do that.

“It’s letting them know that if they need me, then I’m there,” said Rayner.

“Everyone goes through their troubles and tough times, and even if it’s not necessarily me, if we can encourage conversations from player to player, someone that they may feel more comfortable with, it’s a greater thing than it just passing by. If everyone is aware of it, and everyone can help each other out, then that is the ultimate goal moving forward.”

He added: “It’s that centrepiece knowing these skills and knowledge now, if people aren’t wanting to talk about it there are key aspects that I can hopefully pick up early doors and try to encourage.”

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