Take some Top Blokes grads and excited mentors, mix them with NRL athletes, and you have the makings of an insightful and open discussion on mental health.
The Top Blokes crew, along with eight of our winning grad club members, headed to the home of NRL Dragons at the WIN stadium, Woolongong to take a tour of the facilities, watch the professional league players train and interview the players one on one on the topic of - you've guessed it - mental health. And what a day!
From the moment they entered the grounds, it was evident to everyone that this would be an experience they’d never forget. With our camera crew at the ready, the boys prepped their questions ready to meet Dragons' centre Zac Lomax and prop and lock, Blake Lawrie for our Top Blokes interview.
These professional rugby league players weren't afraid to discuss their own personal experiences and stories, helping send a strong message to the boys that it ain't weak to speak.
Resilience, respect and embracing emotions were just some of the discussions at hand. And it was evident that our grads had just as much to say on the topics as the professional league players.
The resilience and pressure factor
Top Blokes grad Ryan shared his perspective on resilience, emphasising, "To be resilient means bouncing back. If you have a struggle or something knocks you back, you need to overcome it and keep going. You need to stand strong."
This sentiment resonated with a Dragons player, Zac Lomax who revealed, "There is a lot of expectation as a professional rugby league player. But for me, I am doing something that I love doing, and it's at a higher level, so pressure is a privilege. Sometimes we get caught up thinking we have too much on, too much expectation and pressure. If you buy into that, you'll crumble."
Top Blokes grad, Nemani, shared his strategy: "I deal with pressure by just sitting with it, acknowledging it, and then I do other things to get my mind off it. I sometimes feel pressure with school work and assignments, especially when I do things last minute."
This struck a chord with Dragons' Blake Lawrie, who admitted, "You can put pressure on yourself when you haven't done the preparation. I feel the pressure when I haven't done the preparation for a game. Make sure you ask questions to the teachers; if you're unsure, ask the questions and make sure you nail it. Do the work and get it done. Preparation takes the pressure off."
Lessons in life
The grads and Dragons reflected on influences and role models and the life lessons they have been given.
Grad member, Deacon shared how his dad and professional soccer player Cristiano Ronaldo are significant in his life, "My dad is my role model - he helps me improve my soccer game and make me the best player I can be. But I also look up to Ronaldo. He has a team-first mentality- he is first to training and last to leave. I look up to that."
Dragons player Zac Lomax added, "My parents instilled in me to work hard. What you put in, you get back in life ten-fold. Hard work and dedication will come back to you."
These words resonated with Top Blokes grad, Max who shared his motto in life, "Never give up. I keep that in my mind every week when I am trying to push through to do my hardest and my best. I carry that with me every single day."
Dragons' Blake Lawrie reminded everyone, "Don't take things too seriously - when I'm playing my best footy, it's about doing it with a smile on my face. I take life day by day. You're not guaranteed tomorrow."
Defining manhood and embracing emotions
Nick, a Top Blokes graduate, kicked things off with a powerful statement: "It's ok to open up. I feel like that's a really big thing for men these days. We need to realise that we can open up and talk about our feelings." This set the tone for a conversation that would challenge stereotypes and encourage a new level of understanding.
"To me, a man is to be respectful and polite. You protect your family. You protect your mum in particular. You stand up for what you believe in and speak up. Speak your mind but always be willing to learn," added Dragon's player Blake Lawrie.
Top Blokes grad, Nathan shared, "I aspire to be a good person rather than viewed as a good man. I just want to do the right thing, not put people down, be respectful and not go down a bad path."
Rafe, another Top Blokes grad, chimed in with his thoughts, "A man is accepted by his values and beliefs. You have what it takes to call yourself a man, and you have the right qualities, good morals and ethics."
Embracing vulnerability and growth
The conversation reached a deep conclusion as Top Blokes graduate Logan stated, "Men are allowed to cry. Everyone is entitled to their emotions regardless of what the situation is. Bottling it up and not talking just leads to worse things."
Dragons' Blake Lawrie agreed, "100%. Men are allowed to cry."
This heartfelt conversation between the NRL Dragons players and the Top Blokes graduates highlighted the importance of breaking down barriers, embracing vulnerability, and nurturing authentic connections. It was a reminder that strength lies not only in physical prowess but also in the courage to share, listen, and grow together.
Appreciation and lasting connections
The day spent with the NRL Dragons was more than a fun outing for the Top Blokes graduates. It was an experience that taught them valuable life lessons, gave them the opportunity to discuss mental health openly, and created lasting memories. With newfound inspiration, these young men will continue to grow and excel.
Thank you to the Dragons Club for hosting Top Blokes and special thanks to Blake Lawrie and Zac Lomax, who took time out of their busy training schedules to talk to us.
Stay tuned for more inspiring conversations that challenge norms and foster growth. If you've graduated from Top Blokes and want to stay connected then join the grad club and continue your incredible journey of discovery and empowerment!