Rhinos Player Welfare Officer gives advice to help keep mentally fit

During these unprecedented times there will many challenges for people across the country to face, one of those will staying healthy both physically and mentally.

Player Welfare Manager for Leeds Rhinos, Nigel O’Flaherty Johnston, who also runs Swan CMC which is a coaching, mentoring and counselling service to support wellbeing in the sporting industry, has offered some advice for players and supporters.

Johnson said: “None of us have seen anything like this pandemic and the impact it’s having with everyone’s lives. It’s really important to listen to the experts and follow the guidelines that they and the government are instructing us to do.


“During this time, we are going to see a lot of thoughts, feelings and behaviours that we are probably not accustomed to., like anxiety, stress, anger, tears and just generally getting sick of the people around us, or not around us. We don’t usually spend this much time isolated with ourselves and family. “It’s important that over the next few weeks we keep our mental fitness ticking over. How do we do this?

“My recommendation is to develop a routine, this is the first challenge because you have to create a completely different routine you are used to. When your new routine gets a little boring change it slightly. Don’t be afraid of trying new things.”

Here are some top tips from Nigel to maintain good mental health during the COVID-19 crisis.

  1. Firstly, get a notebook, this will be really important tool, use it daily, make a diary. Your grandchildren are going to want to know what this is like. It will be a school project for them.
  2. Start to think and write in your notebook your new routine.
  3. Exercise.  This is difficult when you have limited areas to work in so you will have to be creative and there are plenty of free online workouts such as the Rhinos 14 Day Challenge.
  4. Don’t text family and friends, phone them and have a conversation, or even video call.
  5. Find three pages together in your notebook, number them one, two and three. On sheet one, list the things that you are struggling with, list two put the things you can control from list one. On list three, list the things you can’t control from list one. Have a look of the lists for a few minutes, then cross out or tear up list three, YOU CAN’T CONTROL IT. We are going to work on list two, WE CAN CONTROL IT.
  6. I bang on about this a lot but when you’re doing your diary you have to start and write the three things your grateful for. You continuously have do this for at least 21 days to see a difference, so 11.15.18 days isn’t good enough. Also start to write at least two things per day that you’ve done well for yourself or others.
  7. People during my lifetime ask how I am so laid back, it’s Mindfulness, a discipline I practice daily for 15 minutes. Give this a go please some but maybe not all will find this really useful, but like anything it’s practice so don’t give it up at the first hurdle. We have 1440 minutes in the day, do a Mindfulness Mediation for 15 minute we still have 1425 of the day to go. Go onto You Tube, type in 15-minute guided meditation, you will have plenty of selection. Breathing is a main focus, below is instruction for the breathing technique I use. Also below is The Raisin Meditation, give it a go. Try experiment and you will find a preferred ones.
  8. Lastly, all the above will help you create your Mental Fitness Tool Bag, you will find things on this journey that help you keep mentally fit, embrace them, get them in the toolbox and use them.


  • Find time to yourself 15 minutes per day to start.
  • Get yourself a quiet place, go onto you tube and type in 15-minute guided meditation and try and find one that suites.
  • Close your eyes and relax and start to realise all thoughts from your mind.
  • Start to breath normally, then after around 1-minute breath deeper holding your breath for a couple of seconds when inhaling.
  • Start to notice your stronger nostril, keep breathing deep breaths as you start to lose all thoughts.
  • After a while keep the deep breaths going and concentrate on your breathing as you start to change the weak nostril into the strong one.
  • Continue with this nostril for a minute or two then reverse the breathing back to the original nostril.
  • Keep alternating the nostril whilst all the time relaxing, losing your thoughts and working on your breathing.
  • Keep practicing the Meditation & Breathing on a daily basis

The Raisin Meditation

Set aside five to ten minutes when you can be alone, in a place, and at a time, when you will not be disturbed by the phone, family or friends. Switch off your mobile phone, so it doesn’t play on your mind. You will need a few raisins (or other dried fruit or small nuts). You’ll also need a piece of paper and a pen to record your reactions afterwards. Your task will be to eat the fruit or nuts in a mindful way.

Read the instructions below to get an idea of what’s required, and only reread them if you really need to. The spirit in which you do the meditation is more important than covering every instruction in minute detail. You should spend about twenty to thirty seconds on each of the following eight stages.

  1. Holding

Take one of the raisins (or choice of dried fruit or nuts) and hold it in the palm of your hand, or between your fingers and thumb. Focusing on it, approach it as if you’ve never seen anything like it before. Can you feel the weight of it in your hand? Is it casting a shadow on your palm?

  1. Seeing

Take the time really to see the raisin. Imagine you have never seen one before. Look at it with great care and full attention. Let your eyes explore every part of it. Examine the highlights where the light shines, the darker hollows, the folds and ridges.

  1. Touching

 Turn the raisin over between your fingers, exploring its texture. How does it feel between your forefinger and thumb of the other hand?

  1. Smelling

Now, holding it beneath your nose, see what you notice with each in-breath. Does it have a scent? Let it fill your awareness. And if there is no scent, or very little, notice this as well.

  1. Placing

Slowly take the object to your mouth and notice how your hand and arm know exactly where to put it. And then gently place it in your mouth, noticing what the tongue does to receive it. Without chewing, simply explore the sensations of having it on your tongue. Gradually begin to explore the object with your tongue, continuing for thirty seconds or more if you choose.

  1. Chewing

When you’re ready, consciously take a bite into the raisin and notice the effects on the object, and in your mouth. Notice any tastes that it releases. Feel the texture as your teeth bite into it. Continue slowly chewing it, but do not swallow it just yet. Notice what happens in the mouth.

  1. Swallowing

See if you can detect the first intention to swallow as it arises in your mind, experiencing it with full awareness before you actually swallow. Notice what the tongue does to prepare it for swallowing. See if you can follow the sensations of swallowing the raisin. If you can, consciously sense it as it moves down into your stomach. And if you don’t swallow it in one go, consciously notice a second or even third swallow, until it has all gone. Notice what the tongue does after you have swallowed.

  1. After-effects

Finally, spend a few moments registering the aftermath of this eating. Is there an aftertaste? What does the absence of the raisin feel like? Is there an automatic tendency to look for another?

Now take a moment to write down anything that you noticed when you were doing the practice.