Tackling State of Mind: Interview with Former Rugby League Player Kris Radlinski MBE

by Matt Peet
Kris Radlinski

Kris Radlinski MBE is a retired English rugby league player of the 1990’s and 2000’s. Hailing from his hometown club, Wigan Warriors, his professional career saw him playing full-back where he represented Britain at International level. 

Earlier last month he was named as one of the ‘Five best full-backs’ by rugby-league.com and has himself been named in five consecutive Super League Dream Teams. Although Radlinksi and his team experienced many victories, it was the reoccurrence of sports injury that subsequently affected his playing causing him to prematurely enter retirement in 2006. 

This weekend see’s State of Mind’s annual first utility Super League. Round 21 will champion their theme of dealing with change, and how it can affect Mental Fitness. I was lucky enough to catch up with Kris to see how life is post-retirement, find out about the perception of Mental Wellbeing in the world of Rugby and hear his thoughts on former Great Britain rugby league and Wigan Warrior player Terry Newton, who sadly lost his life to suicide in 2010.

Kris Radlinski Matt: Did you choose to retire at the time you did or was it more that your body had had enough?

Kris: My body and mind had had enough. I was playing with injuries and then returning and picking up different injuries. This was because my body was underprepared to play the game so these ‘compensation’ injuries kept occurring. Knowing that I kept letting teammates down and then having a body that wasn’t prepared to play the toughest game eventually took its toll.

Matt: I imagine it to be very tough to leave behind a part of your life that had been so big, for so long. Do you think this had an affect on your mental health or health in general?

Kris: It made me sad and I wasn’t prepared for it, but I knew it was coming. You can think about life after the game as much as you want but nothing really prepares you for it.  From one day having somewhere to be and then lying in bed thinking what to do is very hard. It sounds great but your self worth is pretty low.

Matt: Throughout a brilliant sporting career, I imagine you have experienced lots of highs. I know I did, as a fan. I would like to know which you would consider to be the highest point and also which you consider to be your lowest?

Kris: I learned to enjoy the games. Picking out a highlight is impossible. Sitting in a changing room tired and hurting yet knowing you have just given your all with your team mates and friends is the best feeling in the world and one that I miss terribly. I used to enjoy the three or four hours after a game when you could relax because when you woke up in the morning, the cycle started again.

The lowest point was learning about Terry Newton’s death. I loved the bloke and it makes me incredibly sad that he couldn’t share his problems with me. I still visit his grave, just to have a chat to him.

Matt: My all time favourite player is…Terry Newton and when I heard the tragic news of his death I was devastated. How did you hear of the news and could you relate to his situation?

Kris: I got a call from Brian Carney asking me if it was true, I hadn’t heard about it at that point. I made a few calls and then our worse fears were confirmed. It broke my heart.

Matt: It seems as though the sporting community is becoming more and more aware of the affects of mental health in men and women who play, at all levels – do you think this is the case and how have things changed over the years?

Kris: The best thing to come out of Terry’s situation is knowing that mental health is now taken seriously. It is ok to be down and tell people about it and ask for help. This change has only occurred recently and the people involved in driving the awareness are brilliant at what they do.

Matt: Ryan Bailey recently came out and spoke about his battle with depression. I thought that was a great thing for him to do as I feel it will be good for his mental health, to talk about it, and also good for young males to read about. Could you offer any advice to young men and women about ways to stay mentally fit and healthy?

Kris: Surround yourself with positive people. Also, it’s ok to be different. Be confident in who you are and where you want to go.

Matt: I often wonder, if people could travel back in time knowing what they know now (about their own mental health), what they would tell themselves. What would you tell a young Kris Radlinski?

Kris: I look back at my career and the opportunities that the game has afforded me and I consider myself very lucky. I am not sure I would change much. I’d say just enjoy the fantastic journey and the wonderful characters that our game possesses.

Kris Radlinski with cc 2002

Matt: On a lighter note; it has been noticed by myself and other fans that Waney has a bit of a ‘short fuse’. What is it like working with the straight talking former player?

Kris: Waney’s best quality is that you can say anything to him and the day after he is back to normal. It is my job to challenge him and I do, weekly. We argue but we respect each other’s opinion. The worse possible thing that I can be for Shaun is a ‘yes’ man. I will ask the questions that other people won’t. It is something that I really admire about him.

Matt: Finally, how would you like to be remembered and what for? Would it be your achievements on the pitch? Or would it be those off the pitch?

Kris: I would like to think that people think that I was a competitor and somebody who worked hard. I would also like people to say that they would go for a beer with me – that’s the ultimate test of what people think about you.

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