Article Text

Professional male rugby union players’ perceived psychological recovery and physical regeneration during the off-season
  1. Stephen D Mellalieu1,
  2. Paul Sellars1,
  3. Rachel Arnold2,
  4. Sean Williams2,
  5. Mickael Campo3,4,
  6. Deirdre Lyons5
  1. 1Cardiff School of Sport and Health Sciences, Cardiff Metropolitan University - Cyncoed Campus, Cardiff, UK
  2. 2Department for Health, University of Bath, Bath, UK
  3. 3Facultés de sciences du sports de Dijon, Université Bourgogne Franche-Comté, Besancon, France
  4. 4Département d’accompagnement à la performance, Fédération Française de Rugby, Paris, France
  5. 5Rugby Players Ireland, Dublin, Ireland
  1. Correspondence to Dr Stephen D Mellalieu; smellalieu{at}


We explored male professional rugby union players’ experiences and perceptions of their mental and physical health and well-being across the northern hemisphere off-season. 34 professional male rugby union players participated in individual semistructured interviews (mean (SD) age=27.5 (4.3) years). Interviews were recorded, transcribed verbatim and analysed using reflexive thematic analysis. The off-season was characterised by three phases players undergo to preserve their mental and physical health and well-being to recover from the previous season and regenerate in preparation for the upcoming season. These included decompression from previous season, cognitive detachment from the rugby environment and preparation for preseason. Successful progression through all three phases was influenced by several variables (work and life demands, contextual factors, experience level). Recovery and regeneration strategies focused on physical distancing/getting away from the rugby environment to cognitively detach. Injured players appear an at-risk subgroup for threats to mental well-being (isolation, anxiety, reduced sense of achievement) as a result of reduced or minimal time away from the workplace due to treatment obligations. Younger professionals are a subgroup at risk of overtraining/injury due to inadequate rest, especially as this group are least likely to seek support/guidance. This study is the first investigation into male professional rugby union players’ experiences and perceptions of their mental and physical health and well-being across the off-season period. It highlights the distinct phases players undertake to mentally recover and regenerate and the need to consider education and support for potential at risk subgroups.

  • Recovery
  • Well-being
  • Rugby

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Data availability statement

Data are available on reasonable request.

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  • Contributors SDM and PS have contributed to all elements of planning, conduct and reporting of the work described in the article. RA, SW, MC and DL have contributed to the conduct and reporting of the work. SDM is the guarantor.

  • Funding This study has been funded by World Rugby (ID:G-1806-00175).

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient and public involvement Patients and/or the public were not involved in the design, or conduct, or reporting, or dissemination plans of this research.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Supplemental material This content has been supplied by the author(s). It has not been vetted by BMJ Publishing Group Limited (BMJ) and may not have been peer-reviewed. Any opinions or recommendations discussed are solely those of the author(s) and are not endorsed by BMJ. BMJ disclaims all liability and responsibility arising from any reliance placed on the content. Where the content includes any translated material, BMJ does not warrant the accuracy and reliability of the translations (including but not limited to local regulations, clinical guidelines, terminology, drug names and drug dosages), and is not responsible for any error and/or omissions arising from translation and adaptation or otherwise.