Clinton Toopi believes the NRL’s State of Mind program can expand to reach more people simply by course participants becoming advocates of their “Get in the Gaame” philosophy at a grassroots level.
The global pandemic in 2020 forced Toopi and the NRL to turn their State of Mind program into an online tool but with face-to-face contact now resumed the former NRL star has wasted little time getting back out into the community to spread the message of mental health.
While conducting workshops with the four men’s and women’s NRL All Stars teams in Townsville, Toopi is also clocking up the miles in the car with six club visits to regional towns like Bowen and Charters Towers.
But it is his work with teams like the women’s Indigenous and Maori All Stars that has the potential to have the most impact as those players all have direct links back to grassroots clubs where they play during the season and can put into action the skills they learn from Toopi and fellow ambassador Preston Campbell.
It is hoped that within two years Toopi can develop some of the elite players into official advocates who host workshops like himself so they can reach more people on the ground than the 2300 participants in their program in 2020.
“If they can talk to their own community that is exactly what we want. That is more clubs reached. The power of that just magnifies. We just want to make sure they see what we’re doing and how they can be part of it,” Toopi said.
“The key thing for us is to make sure they’re across the correct messaging. I know they will approach it in their own manner but if they can be trained up or across our programs then they’re staunch advocates on their own accord.
“The ultimate goal of us as a game is to empower our athletes not just at grassroots level but our leaders of our game.
“It resonates more when it comes from our own players. We’ve had expert partners tell us it resonates well when we have athletes deliver the same message as what we are doing. That’s why it’s important we have our athletes across it.”
What Toopi has learnt as the program enters its eighth year is how they must adapt and change their delivery depending on who they’re talking to and their own cultural background. What resonates with Indigenous players on the Gold Coast is different to those who live in far north Queensland.
Their Get in the Gaame program, which is aimed at 13-17 year-olds, helps them break down their action plan into five key areas: Get Informed, Adopt Strategies, Ask Questions, Make Connections and Enlist Support.
Best feeling ever: Marshall-King on playing with brother Benji
While the program may be aimed at a specific teen bracket, it applies across all ages with the challenges of the pandemic during the past 12 months and increased family stress showing just how important it is for everyone to keep an eye on mental health.
“There were a lot of people in our friendship group and our community who went through really stressful times for them (in 2020) so having this program we diversified and provided an online program,” Toopi said.
“But nothing beats face to face so now we’ve got that opportunity to get out to our clubs. It’s how we can really impact them a lot more than online does.”