Professional Māori and Pasifika Rugby League Players' Perspectives of Mental Well-being
Ehlen, Laura Christine
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Māori and Pasifika athletes constitute a high percentage of rugby league players in Aotearoa (New Zealand) and overseas (Keung, 2018). There is growing concern over youth development and professional athletes’ struggles to maintain their mental well-being. This in turn sheds light on the effects of pressure placed on athletes to manage and maintain it (Horton, 2014; Keung, 2018; Lakisa et al. 2019; Marsters; 2017; McKenzie, 2019; Panapa & Phillips, 2014; Stanley, 2020). Māori and Pasifika are often identified by their cultural values, principles and practices. However, little is known about the impact of culture on mental well-being, from the perspectives of Māori and Pasifika athletes’ currently playing in the National Rugby League (NRL). This study presents current players’ perspectives on managing and navigating mental well-being. With the growing numbers of Māori and Pasifika players in the NRL, the purpose of this research was to gain insights and understanding by sharing athletes’ stories, including experiences of how players within a top tier NRL squad, define, perceive, and manage mental well-being. Current discourse about mental well-being in general, is situated mainly within Euro-centric structures and outlooks. Consequently, little is known about the role and impact of culture, values and principles on Māori and Pasifika players’ management of their mental well-being in the professional sport world (Alder, 2015; Erueti & Palmer, 2014; Marsters, 2017). This study employed qualitative narrative inquiry, underpinned by two primary cultural principles which guided the pathway taken from Kaupapa Māori and Pasifika cultural principles: Respect and reciprocity (Health Research Council of New Zealand [HRC], 2014; Mental health Commission [MHC], 2001). Semi-structured focus groups and 1:1 interviews were conducted with 18 current professional Māori and Pasifika rugby league (RL) players based in Aotearoa. An inductive thematic process was used to analyse the data, guided by Braun and Clarke’s (2006) framework. Findings outlined the ways in which players manage mental well-being and what mental well-being ‘looks like’ from their point of view. At its heart, mental well-being was found to be determined by athletes’ personal expression of cultural identity, values and practices, and whether it was permitted, aligned to or in-tune with their playing environment’s expectations, rules and mandates. Therefore, mental well-being management was largely influenced by players cultural identity (Durie, 2006, Erueti & Palmer, 2014). Conclusions are drawn to assert organisations need to become culturally attuned to their athletes. Protocols, procedures and practices inclusive of cultural values and principles must be developed. Athletes have to feel safe. Cultural values need to be nurtured and openly expressed, allowing mental well-being to flourish.