A dedicated group of Sharks NRL squad members have met and overcome the challenges of Covid lockdowns and the resulting difficulties around face-to-face learning, by completing a TAFE Diploma in Counselling.
Six Sharks, including Braden Hamlin-Uele, Royce Hunt, Andrew Fifita, Jackson Ferris, Ronaldo Mulitalo and their 2021 teammate Josh Dugan, recently graduated the course in a significant achievement surrounding personal development for life post their NRL careers.
Darryl Gardiner a TAFE Teacher and the owner of Rolling With The Punches, a private Mental Health and Addiction Counselling, Education and Rehabilitation service, helped facilitate the course in partnership with the Jeff Robson, the Sharks Education and Wellbeing Coordinator.
Gardiner explained the process leading up to the course being offered.
“During the 2019 season, staff from the Wellbeing Department of the Sharks were approached by a number of players interested in diversifying their skills and engaging in studies to create career options post football,” Gardiner began.
“Through these conversations, the Sharks began liaising with the Wollongong TAFE to explore what might be available as education options for the players.
“Twelve players were enrolled into the Diploma of Counselling under a flexible model of delivery that met the rigorous education requirements of TAFE but also the dynamic training and playing commitments of the students,” he added
The following three years were not without their challenges, with player movements and injuries, enrolment extensions, not to mention the NRL relocation in 2021 to a Brisbane Covid bubble and the bio-security measures that went with it, requiring transfer from face-face learning to online delivery on multiple occasions.
Despite their resolve being tested, Gardiner was impressed with the way the group dealt with the obstacles and committed to completing their course, while also looking to make a difference in the extremely important area of mental health.
“What shone through was the players genuine yearning to help others, a commitment to utilising their skills and qualification to improve the lives of those experiencing addiction, mental illness, grief, loss and trauma,” Gardiner explained.
“They had a desire to overcome adversity and to use their own stories to be educate others, break down barriers to accessing education and to eradicate the stigma that men do not seek help – by becoming counsellors themselves and showing that it is ok to no be ok – and if you are not ok then we can help you.”
Throughout the course the players shared experiences relating to overcoming challenges during their NRL and life journeys, offering unwavering support in encouraging younger players to continue or commence studying, while furthering their own personal development.
“We now have students amongst this group who have created a Mental Health Smart Phone App, are interested in University study in Psychology, in developing culturally safe rehabilitation centres, and are already working with young people with a disability. We even have a qualified teacher amongst them,” Gardiner said.
In addition to the six players to graduate with their Diploma of Counselling, the remaining students, will continue their study in aiming to complete the course in late 2022.
The Diploma course was made possible with the support of Robson and Gardiner, but also Louise McCourt, a TAFE teacher with over 30 years’ experience in Private Counselling, specialising in Gambling Addiction and Rehabilitation with Lifeline Australia and Mission Australia.
“Louise bought mix of compassion, empathy and understanding of life challenges required to nurture young men into effective counsellors,” Gardiner added.
The Diploma of Counselling course is just one of a number of educational initiatives arranged for NRL squad members and for all levels of players throughout the Sharks pathways system.