The Power Of Talk – An Interview With Lloyd Ashley

We sat down with Lloyd Ashley, professional rugby player for the Ospreys with over 150 games under his belt along with a Barbarians cap thrown in.

He joined the Ospreys at just 15 and left at 31, which in itself is a scary prospect, having almost another lifetime ahead of him to carve out a second career. A self named ‘squad player’ we dig a little deeper…

Lloyd in his early Rugby career

Why do you think you were kept so long as a ‘squad player’ when ‘in your words’ you were constantly injured and unplayable?

Consistency, I was/am very driven, I was always happy to play when the opportunity came along.

I’ve also always, throughout my career, done a lot behind the scenes, such as establishing internal leadership groups, so was always paving a way for after-career placement.

The next step…

I took on a mental health and wellbeing role within the Welsh Rugby Players Association

Outside of rugby I’ve done a lot of things, which makes me realise how much of a luxury rugby was and how much I valued playing.

I became a qualified plumber and realised when I fell through a ceiling that I was too big. I also realised that a lot of the problems that we faced in rugby surrounding mental health were in fact the same that men were experiencing outside of the sport.

When I did my lecturing qualification a little bit later in my career, I realised there was so much cross over and that’s what led me down this route, especially around the mental health side of things. Realising that we just don’t speak to each other properly. We don’t give people enough time. And it’s so important to make situations feel ‘safe’ for people to talk to us.

So, was there anything specific that happened to you or someone around you that made this come to the forefront of what you wanted to move into?

There were lots of contributors. Seeing a family member go through mental illness and seeing the struggle it puts around everyone around them. Asking ‘how are you doing?’ and getting an answer ‘yeah fine’ when you know it’s not fine. But you don’t really know what to do… or say… and you’re sort of lost.

So educating myself on that was really important to me – learning how to make people feel safe to talk to me about how they are REALLY feeling.

Its off the pitch as well. Men in general, struggling finding work or money issues or family issues – it all plays on your mental health and it happens to everyone. No one excluded.

Where do you direct people for further support?

That depends on how serious the conversation is. If someone is having suicidal thoughts, then first I focus on putting a “safety” blanket around them.  Then I’ll encourage family participation before escalating to a more qualified professional.

For more common mental health problems such as anxiety, sometimes just talking through their problems can help ease and eventually solve them.

In terms of your clubs support – were there, has there always been people to reach out to?

There’s so much more understanding now you feel allowed to speak up whilst not feeling like you’re being detrimental to the team.

There’s a much better support network now in rugby. There are people there wanting to check in with you day to day – not formalised. Having a formal route of once a month isn’t enough.

The Ospreys have a sports psychologist and the WRPA – personal development manager for example. It’s never a big enough net, you never catch everything, the system will grow.

One of Lloyd’s many, mental health seminars


Whats next?

For me, we don’t call them ‘mental health sessions’ we call it catching up – and I want that to be the norm. It doesn’t need to be formalised. When that is set up then I’ve done my role.

Hopefully me being made redundant from that role means we’ve got it in a good place. I don’t want to be needed. When there’s enough support in place – then ill be happy.

Also, I’d like to remind people that we don’t need to get to crisis before doing something about it. Pointing people, men in particular, to places to go and speak safely is essential. We’re losing too many men to suicide – we need to fix this.

I have these conversations all the time with men – I ask in my seminars – ‘’Who want to be there for their mates?’’ and everyone shoots their hand up. But I then ask – ‘’who would go to their mates to talk about a problem?’’ and I only see one or two hands! So why is this? Because they are scared of the reaction and not sure what to say – we need to educate our men around emotional awareness and dialogue – its essential to save lives.

All people need is time – and a good chat. The title ‘mental health’ almost needs a rebrand to sound less scary to people, to normalise it.

My friends will message asking ‘when are we taking the dogs out’, ‘when are we going for a coffee’ – these are rephrased version of a mental health check-in – that sound way softer and more approachable but produce the same effect.

Every single one of us has mental health issues in different strains, from one day to the next – good days, ok days, bad days. Our mental health is in a permanent state of fluctuation.

If you want to have these type of conversations in your friendship group, then initiate it. Vulnerability comes with growth and you could really help a mate out. Check in on your mates.

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