A North Queensland sport psychologist has reiterated the importance of support for athletes forced to retire from sport early because of injury, after young NRL playmaker Te Maire Martin this week announced he was quitting owing to a recent brain injury.
- NRL player Te Maire Martin, 24, retired from rugby league this week, citing a recent brain bleed
- The North Queensland Cowboys said they were helping Martin develop a plan for his future after footy
- Sports psychologist Jo Lukins said it was important to remember there was a huge difference between choosing to retire and having it forced upon you
The North Queensland Cowboys are working with the playmaker on his plans for the future and insist he is well supported.
Martin, a New Zealander, has had a career many would envy, but which this week abruptly ended at the tender age of 24.
After breaking into the NRL with the Penrith Panthers in 2016, Martin switched to the North Queensland Cowboys, while also representing New Zealand in rugby league for three consecutive years.
Now, four years after his debut, Martin has been forced to retire from football owing to a brain bleed detected nine months ago.
“I’d like to reassure everyone that I’m doing well, and I have recovered to the point where my day-to-day life isn’t affected,” Martin said.
“I can’t get past the contact stage of training.
“I can’t play footy anymore.”
The club’s director of football, Peter Parr, said the Cowboys were working with Martin on plans for life after footy.
“The challenge for all of us is to make some really good long-term plans so that he’s got a good future,” he said.
“The NRL have a really well-developed welfare program — we’ll keep in constant contact with him.
“The biggest question for him at the moment is exactly what he wants to do.”
Martin has thanked the club for its “unwavering support” of him through the process.
Support needed during ‘challenging’ transition
The forced retirement of professional athletes is not uncommon, particularly in the NRL.
In 2019, a number of players announced their immediate retirement from the league due to injury, including Sam Burgess from the South Sydney Rabbitohs and Matt Gillett from the Brisbane Broncos.
In many cases, professional athletes have dedicated their adult life — and sometimes adolescence — to the sport, and after injury are left needing a career change.
Sports psychologist Jo Lukins has worked with elite athletes and sports teams for decades while studying the psychological experience of injury in rugby league.
Dr Lukins said her research had shown the lifestyle change could trigger a “grief response” similar to other losses experienced in adult life.
“I think that what we’ve got to remember with some of these athletes that we are talking about is that they weren’t in the workforce to start with,” she said.
“Many of these are young women, young men, [and] depending on the sport, have maybe come through from a young age.”
The support available for players transitioning had increased in recent years, Dr Lukins said.
“One of the things that I have seen, particularly with my work with the NRL over the years, [is] there has always been a very strong focus for players to be doing something in addition to their sport,” she said.
“What we can all reflect on is what it’s like when we have had to change jobs or change careers.
“There’s a huge difference in when we choose to do that and when it is forced upon us, which can often in the case of a professional athlete who might be suddenly [be forced] out of their sport or out of their team because of an injury or changes in personnel.”
There is an inherent risk of injury in contact sport, and the recent discovery of a degenerative brain disease associated with repeated head trauma in athletes has been widely publicised.
Despite this, Dr Lukins said many athletes remained loyal to their sport.
“Injury is obviously part and parcel of what happens in sport and in a league sport, and athletes have often spent their careers living with injuries and adjusting to injuries, and there are many challenges that go with that,” she said.
“When I speak with athletes about their experience, even with all of the challenges that are there, there is often nothing else they would rather be doing.”