Where Are They Now: How Scott Hill beat depression

Scott Hill has spent the past 18 months ensuring that a prosperous playing career translates to similar success post-football – but it took a harsh dose of reality for him to realise that he was headed down the wrong path.

Hill, who played his last game for English Super League club Harlequins in 2008, this week opened up for the first time about the severe depression that crippled him in the months following his rugby league retirement and left him but a shell of his former self.

“I struggled that first 12-18 months after I finished playing and even now I struggle at times,” he told NRL.com. “It’s a really big issue for any professional sport making that transition to retirement.

“My wife really struggled there for a while because she could see my personality changing. As it was I was suffering from depression.

“She had seen it for 12 months but it’s hard to admit it to yourself. It got to the point where I was struggling to get motivated to even go out with the kids. My wife ended up putting me in front of the computer and said ‘have a look at these symptoms of depression’… and I had eight out of the 10.

“That’s when I really had to be honest with myself. I spoke to a few different people and it’s actually not out of the ordinary these days with elite sportspeople making that transition to a normal life.”

Unsure what to do with himself after returning to Australia with his family (including four kids), Hill briefly turned to carpentry in Brisbane but struggled with the sudden career change.

“Rugby league was all I had known for so long,” he explained. “When you go through your career you think ‘I don’t want to work hard when I finish – I’ve built up all of these investments’. But I couldn’t just go back to being a carpenter and plug away at something I wasn’t enjoying.

“I sat down with Robbie Ross’s dad, Les Ross, who looks after the financials for Lote Tuqiri, Wendell Sailor and Darren Lockyer, and we drew up a budget. He said to me: ‘You know, 95 per cent of Australians go to work each day and don’t enjoy what they’re doing.’

“When I heard that I thought, ‘life is too short to not enjoy what you’re doing. I don’t want to be slugging it out not enjoying life for the next 20 years’.

“So that’s what has led me to where I am today. I’m on medication and I’ve really re-focused myself so I’m very excited about where I’m headed.”

It was Hill’s passion for all things sport – and the desperate need for a new direction – that has led him to his latest career vocation.

Teaming up with highly respected physiotherapist David Becker, who was the brainchild behind the innovative concept, Hill has just released the first of a series of books called Sports Wisdom Revealed: The Coaches, which aim to provide a unique insight into what it takes for players and coaches at all levels to achieve success.

“Throughout my career I was always asked questions from athletes and parents and various people wanting to know about the coaches I had been involved with through my playing days,” Hill said. “I felt that there was a big gap between those people that are involved with youth sport and the elite coaches – no-one gets access to these guys, I guess.

“There is no better way to learn from those that have been successful in sport or have helped develop sportspeople than directly from the coaches themselves, so Dave approached me and we came up with the concept for this book – you know, let’s sit down with Wayne Bennett and ask all of those questions that people want to ask but never have the opportunity to ask. We did research with parents and coaches and found out what they wanted to know, what they were struggling with and I was lucky enough with my profile to be able to approach these coaches and organise to sit down with them.”

Hill said his experiences with his own children had helped pave the way for the series, with a second book entitled The Captains due out in August.

“It’s not easy making the right choices for your kids,” he said. “Even for me, I’ve got four kids and although I was a professional sportsman it’s still not easy to make the right choices for them through their sport. You might have issues you have to deal with in terms of the coaches or other parents so that’s part of the questions we asked the coaches as well.

“At the end of the day we want so help parents help their kids be successful in their sport but what these books are really about is what sport gives individuals. You talk about all of those success attributes – ambition, attitude, confidence, work ethic, discipline, resilience – you need all of those to be successful in anything you do. So if we can outline that through stories and insights from these coaches and athletes then that’s another bonus. It’s exciting.”

The long-term ambition is for Hill’s new business to forge an ongoing relationship with schools and junior sporting clubs and already he and Becker are compiling a monthly newsletter to aid these organisations in their progress.

“It’s a slow process to inform the general public of what we’re doing,” said Hill, who has launched a website at www.sportswisdomrevealed.com.au.

“We’re pretty serious about what we’re doing and how we want to help youth sport. It’s not just a few books, we’ve started a business and this will be a tremendous online resource for parents and athletes and coaches.

“It’s a busy, busy time for us – between me, Dave and his wife there are only the three of us doing it – but the feedback we’ve been getting from parents and coaches so far has been tremendous. It gives us a lot of drive.”

Hill, of course, enjoyed plenty of success during his own playing days. A long-time servant of the Melbourne Storm and a member of their 2006 grand final squad – the first of four successive grand final appearances – he was renowned as a silky-skilled playmaker in the No.6 jersey and, salary cap controversies aside, helped forge the success that the club has enjoyed in recent years.

“I just really enjoyed my time down there and seeing their success makes me feel proud that I played a part in establishing that leadership system they’ve got in place,” he said.

“I obviously had some disappointments in missing the 1999 grand final through injury and losing in 2006 (to Brisbane) which was my last opportunity. They won the year after and that’s hard to handle sometimes but my own achievements with rep footy and things like that – not too many people get those opportunities.”

Hill played 10 games for Australia between 2000-04 but it was his five games in the NSW jersey that hold a particularly fond place in his heart as he helped the Blues enjoy lengthy period of dominance of their Queensland rivals.

“I was fortunate to be involved in that very successful team in 2000 which is a greet memory,” he recalled.

“Unfortunately injury played a major role in my rep career and probably impacted on the numbers I notched up – I missed the 2001 Kangaroos Tour and a few more as well – but even now come Origin time I still get excited.

“It’s great to finally see a true Origin leader for the Blues again in Paul Gallen and he just keeps getting better and better. When he first came in he had a lot of mistakes in his game but that’s gone – now he just rolls the sleeves up. It’s something NSW has needed and they can build the side around him. The great thing is that he is showing the other players what a true Origin player should play like and they haven’t had that. I mean, they had it with Brad Fittler and Andrew Johns through their excellence but not with that raw grit and grind and passion that Gallen shows.

“It’s great to see and there is no reason why he can’t take them into a new era starting with victory in Game III.”

Hill admits he still has some way to go to completely overcome the demons that have plagued him since retirement, but with the new business making strides and a secondary career in the media also coming along he is well on his way.

“I just think it’s something that the NRL and all players need to be aware of – that it’s not easy when you finish,” he said.

“The two years I spent in England, in a way you lose your profile so I had to find something I guess to reignite myself and that’s why I’m doing what I’m doing now as well as trying to work my way back into doing some TV work as well.

“I was on Fox the other week and really enjoyed that. I’ve been helping Sunrise out doing the post-Origin panel type stuff which I’ve also enjoyed. I’m trying to open up opportunities that way.

“I guess at the end of the day it’s about enjoying what you do and it’s nice to have found something that I’m passionate about again.”

Get more information on depression at beyondblue.org.au and lifeline.org.au.