Pacific Players: Family, friends and faith

By International Rugby Players

As we continue our look at player development programs around the world, we speak with Gaylene Osbourne, Personal Development Manager for Pacific Rugby Players, based in Fiji. 

Personal Development Managers in rugby tend to come from different backgrounds; some are former players themselves, some come in from other sports and some from academia.

Gaylene Osbourne, PDM for Pacific Rugby Players, comes from the latter.

“I used to teach at the University of South Pacific for many years,” she explains. “I have a psychology background predominantly in sports. I always volunteered with rugby within the mentor school space and this position (at PRP) became available. 

Gaylene now takes charge of the personal development of players from Fiji, Tonga and Samoa and is currently based with the Fijian Drua Super Rugby team. So what kind of counselling and mentoring do her players need?

“From my experience I find that the emerging players require a lot of support in that transition phase from school boys or club rugby as they go into the academy or national teams. In our case we have the Fiji Warriors.

“The kind of assistance they require is not only in mental health, wellbeing or mental skills, but it’s more, around just managing themselves; giving them skills around self leadership, so that they can go and manage themselves in that high-performance environment.”

“It’s a different kind of assistance there (with the Drua) It’s more preparing for life after rugby. You know most of them have just signed their first professional contract and it’s just preparing them for the things that they need to deal with. Money for example. Putting money aside for purchasing a house or purchasing land.”


Like other player associations, PRP gives guidance to players who wish to pursue skills during their playing days.

“We have players who are at school doing anything from sports science through to civil engineering degrees. At the Drua level, I find that it’s more about preparing for that inevitable time, whereas at the, at the academy and representative level, it was more about giving them the skill-sets to help them with self leadership.”

Leadership comes naturally to some but not all.

“There are some young men who come from backgrounds where they’ve had to grow up very, very quickly either because of their family situation or they went to boarding school and they’re put into position positions of leadership at boarding school and they’ve had to sort of step up.

And in those instances, the players tend to be very committed. They show self-leadership in their everyday sort of tasks and you don’t have to tell them to do anything. They take initiative or they show initiative.

Whereas for others, if they require a lot of, how do I say it… they need to be told little things like pick up that water bottle you just left behind, where’s your notebook and your pen? Just those little things.”

Osbourne focuses on those “little things” as her theory is that, just like on the field, getting the little things right leads to bigger wins in life.

“Some people might think, you know, well, it’s just nothing. But it’s an important part of the players showing that they’re committed to their job and they’re committed to their goals of wanting to be a professional rugby player.”


One of the main topics that was discussed at the recent Global PDM conference in Dublin was around mental health issues that players experience. 

“I’ve noticed that within the professional environment, the players require a little bit more information around mental health and wellbeing than I would provide in, say, the academy. The reason being is because of the stress and strain of having to quickly adapt to the high pace, the high performance environment, the constant routine.

“A lot of them are not used to that routine. Get up at this time, eat at this time, do this at this time. So for many of the players who would have previously “flowed” through the day, they struggled initially to keep up with that pace and the time and the rhythm of a high performance team in a professional environment.

So many of the skills Osbourne imparts to her players are focused on the player coping and manage themselves. However, getting players, particularly the men, to talk about their issues is still a work in progress for some. 

“For a lot of our men talking about their problems is a sign of weakness. So regardless of wherever you come from in the islands, there is that predominant theme that to talk about your feelings, to show your emotions as a man, is a sign of weakness.

“But I’ve noticed, slowly, that a few of the players are starting to change. Any little thing, they’ll come and see me, you know, which is great. It’s great that they’re coming out and talking. That’s something I’ve noticed just within the last year or so within the professional environment.”

Does that signal a culture change happening on that front?

“Yes. Which can only be a good thing. I’ve always talked to them about stress and coping and the need to reach out to connect with family, with friends, with faith. Whenever one is feeling sad or angry or lonely or feeling anxious it’s important for them to reach out. So for those players who’ve been through the system, these are the players that talk about their problems, will come and see me when they have an issue. They come and seek advice or seek reassurance that they’re doing the right thing.

“Number one is preparation. I think preparation is key and preparation is not only two weeks before you know you’re exiting, but just throughout your career, preparing for that inevitable time.

The other message Gaylene Osbourne is keen to get across, is one aimed at retired players. 

“PDMs talk about retirement and encourage players to have a plan in place – it’s really important to have that plan in place and prepare not only for your next job or your next career, but also prepare for the changes that may occur in your relationship, the changes with your spouse, the changes that may occur with your health and wellbeing, mental health and the changes that may occur with your finances.

She also wants retired players who have been out of the game for some time to keep in touch. 

“These players must reach out even if they’re post one-year (retired) just to reconnect with their PDMs. It’s so important to have someone to talk to, to connect with, in terms of family, friends and faith.

“When the final contract is up does not mean that you guys are gone,” adds Osbourne.

International Rugby Players and its member associations are aware of how requests for support from retired players is increasing and will undoubtedly rise as the number of retired players grow, becoming a focus area for the game in times to come.  

International Rugby Players

/ Contributor

Join the Conversation

Enter your email address and be the first to know about our news and events around the world.