Let’s Talk – With Alex Cuthbert

Alex Cuthbert – Co Founder of Sportin Wales Magazine and British and Irish Lion, 57-time capped Welsh rugby union player 

Alex is no stranger to being in the media spotlight, having first played for his country when he was just 19, he’s been under the heat for 14 years or so now. His career ran almost in tandem with the beginning and growth of social media, with his debut colliding with Facebook hitting 500 million users, and the world as we knew it, changing.  

Alex shines a light on his experience within this new world, and social media’s often negative presence within it. 

There’s a huge amount of pressure on an athlete’s head, what has been your experience of this in rugby? 

When I was younger, coming through in the professional game, I put a lot of pressure on myself to play well every game. I was my biggest critic. I did really well early on, in terms of making the Welsh squad, winning Grand Slams, etc. Then 3, 4 years into my career, it started not going so well, and I had no experience in this, so didn’t know how to deal with it. 

With social media, almost being a platform for anyone to say what they want to anyone, people took it upon themselves to call me out over how I was playing. And due to my age, and lack of experience, I found it hard to deal with. You always remember the bad comments – there could be 10 x the number of positive comments, but the negative ones would stick out – and then affect you.

Social media is massive now, it can be beneficial, but it can be hugely detrimental. Some players really can’t handle it. 

How do you cope with negativity surrounding what you do? 

With age and experience I have learned that whilst rugby is my career and a huge part of my life and who I am, I now have two amazing children and a wife-to-be, which occupy any spare time that I get. These welcomed distractions move a negative social media comment into an ‘I don’t have time to even think about that anymore’ situation, so I literally turn a blind eye. This makes me enjoy rugby a lot more, which I feel is down to me playing better in the last 5-6 years. There’s less pressure.

I’m also, in the majority, off social media. I only have a closed Instagram account, which only my friends have access to, and I don’t read the papers.

I go into every game thinking about my kids, and my family, so I am easily able to snap out of it. I’m well aware that there are probably millions of people who would love to have my job – being able to play for my country and in front of a crowd in the stadium – I am so grateful for this and am easily able to allow this to take over any negative thoughts.  I’m truly now taking in every part of it and enjoying every minute – that I perhaps didn’t do in my younger days and am making the most out of now. 

Does the distraction of the sport spill over into family life? 

Yes, it definitely does. After a bad game, and potentially bad press and social media comments, it’s horrible. My mum, aunties, friends will read it and share in the disappointment. No one wants to hear anything negative said about themselves, nor their loved ones. It’s not nice for them.

Having the few years out of Wales, again, along with maturing, really helped me gain my confidence back, and come back to play for my country proudly. 

Is there an accessible support system in place in the game? 

The RPA encourages the boys to talk. There still could be more support for the younger players, almost a set of guidelines, to walk them through being in the media spotlight and dealing with it, and not allowing it to affect you. 

My younger teammates will come to me to say ‘x’ has said ‘y’, and I try to reconfirm to them that staying away from reading this is essential for their wellbeing. Players will search their name after a game on Twitter and read the good, and bad content on there. It’s brutal. 

What changes would you call for? 

More education for the players on social media and how to, and not to, use it.