Offload hailed as sporting success by major academic study

A leading academic study has concluded that Rugby League Cares’ health programme Offload is “a model of best practice” for engaging with men on issues around mental wellbeing.

Researchers at Edge Hill University also found that Offload, which is now delivered by Leeds Rhinos Foundation, is achieving dramatic success in both changing and saving the lives of the participants and providing those involved with a safe space to discuss mental health.

The research conducted by Professor Andy Smith, Dr David Haycock and Rachel Wilcock can be found HERE and is currently free to access online. They concluded that Offload is an example of best practice for sport-based community mental health programmes for men, and much can be learned from how it has been designed and run.

Sport and Physical Activity Professor at Edge Hill University, Andy Smith said: “There has been a rapid growth in community sport and mental health programmes for men, but the key design characteristics of these programmes and the roles played by delivery staff in their conception and development, have not yet been systematically or widely studied. Our research on the Offload programme begins to rectify this.

“Having the sessions led by former professional sports people working alongside mental health and community sport experts made it a safe space and allowed participants to express themselves fully. This, in turn, provided great outcomes for the men involved.”

At the heart of Offload was a desire by RL Cares to base the programme on men’s needs and preferences, supported by academic research and evidence from Edge Hill. This research informed the creation of effective weekly sessions that engaged and built trust with the participants and shaped the monitoring and evaluation of Offload.

Speaking about the programme, Leeds Rhinos Foundation’s Community Clubs Development Officer and Project Lead Sam Horner said: “We’ve only recently started delivering Offload at Leeds Rhinos Foundation, but it’s already had a massive impact on the guys who’ve come along to our sessions.

“It’s great to get this scientific proof of how rewarding the Offload programme is, but I’ve seen that in how far these guys have come on over the course of the fixtures we’ve run. They’re such a tight group now and having a comfortable space to come together and offload their problems is making a real difference to their mental fitness, which is so important in these uncertain times.

“We’re excited to start rolling Offload out around the city by working closely with community partners and our Ambassador clubs to engage with hundreds more men who can benefit from this programme.”

In focus groups held as part of the wider evaluation, participants were extremely positive with the amount of support and trust provided by the presenters and the relatability of their experience to those of men. The men also felt that Offload gave their lives structure, provided ownership over their mental health and prevented isolation by helping them to engage with others whether in-person or via social media.

One participant of the programme said: “I can honestly say Offload saved my life. That night that I went to Offload for the very first time, I was planning to do it [attempt to take my own life] again, so I can’t sing its praises enough to be honest. I wouldn’t be here without it.”

Rugby League Cares champions the mental health and the wider welfare of player, coaches, officials, everyone involved in rugby league. As partners, Edge Hill has worked with them to provide support and evaluation at every stage of the programme.

Emma Goldsmith, the Head of Community at Rugby League Cares said: “The power sport has to transform the lives of participants is well documented but the success we have seen in making transformational change to the quality of life of the men who have engaged in Offload is remarkable.

“Offload is enabling us to connect with an audience that health service providers have traditionally found difficult to reach: the feedback we receive from participants is consistently positive and uplifting, and it’s a privilege for everyone at RL Cares to know we’re making such a difference.

To find out more on how to get involved in our Offload programme, please contact