“Finding your purpose after retiring can be difficult,” says Jamie Peacock. The transition out of playing at the highest level is often challenging, something Peacock is not afraid to admit he experienced when his rugby league career ended in 2015. But whereas many players find direction in coaching or punditry, he has taken a different course.
Peacock, a winner of multiple Super League titles with Leeds and Bradford, as well as a former captain of Great Britain, is regarded as one of the toughest, most uncompromising players of his generation. It may come as a surprise, therefore, to learn the 43-year-old is now pioneering change as a mentor in mental health and positive wellbeing.
Working alongside blue-chip companies and sharing stories of his own success, Peacock felt he had found his niche. But as for so many, Covid-19 changed his life. “I’d done some wellbeing programmes with kids in schools, encouraging them to adopt some positive changes, but when the pandemic started I sensed there was a chance to do more,” he says.
Peacock had devised the Be A Champion wellbeing programme in 2018, piloting it in schools across the north of England and aiming to change the mindset of young people. And with many adults struggling to adjust to life in the pandemic, he felt the time to share his experiences with the wider community had arrived. He officially launched the concept on Monday, on the day known as Blue Monday, the most difficult day of the year.
“January and February are already challenging months for many people, but with lockdown those fears and worries are amplified,” Peacock says. “I wanted to create a programme that cut through all of the jargon, and the myriad of information that’s out there, and target positive wellbeing changes for all ages, and all people. If you make this an exclusive thing, nobody will want to do it. It’s accessible for all.”
The 30-day wellness programme draws on Peacock’s challenges from playing sport at the highest level, and translates them to everyday life. “I had some talent for rugby league, but I wasn’t the most talented player,” he says, perhaps underselling himself. “The choices I made enabled me to be a success, and that can be the case for anyone.
“You had to learn to deal with all kinds of negativity as a sportsman. Those lessons in sport served me well for retirement. But they’re universal lessons. If you focus on small actions in the programme, like exercising regularly, switching your phone off an hour before bedtime or shutting out negative influences, you can start to make change whether you’re a sportsman or not.”
The third national lockdown has, in Peacock’s eyes, amplified the need to raise awareness of mental health issues and to roll out the programme. “We need to keep driving this focus on wellbeing – not just now in lockdown, but for the months afterwards, because it’s going to have been a tough time for people. I can’t emphasise enough how the motivation for doing this is to make sure everyone can see there’s the chance to change.”
Peacock points to his own mental resilience as a major factor for his success in rugby league, a trait two of his former teammates have shown in abundance in their own life post-playing. Stevie Ward retired this month at 27 due to long-lasting effects of concussion, while Rob Burrow’s well-publicised battle with motor neurone disease has inspired so many people.
“Rugby league is a sport where you have to be tough and resilient to survive,” he says. “Rob is an absolute inspiration in these testing times when you think of traits like that. We think we have it bad, but he’s shown dignity, optimism and fight against the biggest battle of all. There will be legacy from what Rob is doing, and the awareness he’s raising of MND.”
A portion of every sale from the Be A Champion programme will go to the MND Association, as well as Greenhouse, a charity which enables children in deprived communities access to opportunities to further their development. Peacock is certainly no stranger to winning, having won the Super League title more than any other player in history – but what would make this programme a success?
“Success would be getting just one person to change their mindset and wellbeing for the better during the toughest time many of us will face,” Peacock says. “If people can focus on small changes in areas like sleep and positive mindset you can strengthen your resilience and mental wellbeing. Now, more than ever, we need to look after ourselves in that way.”