Kerry Lee: Ponsonby Rugby Club’s Mark Hooper

In the weeks ahead, the Ponsonby Rugby Club will be hosting an evening focused on the mental health and wellbeing of its members.

Could you tell me a little about yourself?
I’m the General Manager of the Ponsonby Rugby Club and I’ve been in the role since October 2018. I’ve been involved with the club since I was 10-years-old, first as a player, then as a coach, and now as the general manager.

Could you tell me more about the upcoming Mental Health and Wellbeing evening you’ve got planned?
On the 3rd of July we’re holding a Mental Health and WellBeing evening hosted by Paul Whatuira who’s an ex-rugby league player. He does a lot of work around mental health and public speaking, and we thought it would be a great opportunity for our club.

What can the club offer to members who are suffering from the effects of mental illness?
I think it’s about opening our eyes to the problem, and having someone to talk to. It’s all about offering them the tools they need to cope better by using education about mental illness to help them.

It’s an important problem in our society, so we have to make sure that we all look after each other.

Giving our members the skills to be able to reach out and look for help and to look after themselves is really important to us.

What do you want people to get from the evening?
For us, we’d like people to go home with the idea that the club is here to help them. I mean yes, we’re a rugby club, but we’re also here to support the wider community.

We’re here to give people the tools that they need to become a better person and to upskill them because we think that it’s really important to be able to give back to our community.

We want people to go away thinking, “I feel a lot better about myself, and I can handle a few situations a bit better now.”

Why do you think that sports people like Paul Whatuira are choosing to come forward?

Years ago mental illness in sport was frowned upon, if you went through a tough time, you were told to “just get over it.” Now you have Paul Whatuira and Sir John Kirwan who have gone through it, and come out the other side.

What they’re going through may not be the same thing as what someone else is experiencing, but it’s about upskilling people, and giving them the confidence to say its okay I can go this way and reach for help. I think that’s why more people are coming forward now.

Do you think that sport should take more of a lead in issues that affect New Zealanders, like mental health?
Yeah, I think it really should. We’ve got a lot of young kids coming out of high school playing First 15 rugby and then moving into club rugby. I think there’s a lot of pressure on them to perform and to succeed, both externally and internally. The question becomes how do we upskill these kids to make sure that there going to be okay?

Not every kid is going to go on to play professional rugby, so it’s about giving them other options in life and saying it’s okay if rugby doesn’t work out for you because you can still do something else.

I think as a country we get a bit fixated on our players becoming the next All Black. It’s great to have those goals but we’ve got to make sure that we have other options and opportunities for our young people.

So, it’s not just about mental illness, but showing younger players that there are other options out there?

Yeah, I think so. It’s about opening their eyes to other opportunities. Rugby is great but it could be over in just one injury. You could break your leg and that’s your career done, so there have to be other options for them. (KERRY LEE)

For more information about mental illness, please visit Youthline at and for more on Paul Whatuira