Mental health campaigner, rugby league player, and LBU student, Kevin, shares his inspirational story
Carnegie School of Sport student, and French international rugby league player, Kevin Larroyer, is championing the need for better mental health support for rugby league players.
Moving from France to the UK in 2013 to play for Hull KR, Kevin’s world was turned upside down when the club was relegated, and his contract suddenly ended. The mental health issues Kevin had faced since he was a young child, growing up in care and being abused by his mother, were brought to the surface as he struggled to adjust to his changing surroundings.
Commenting on this time of his life, Kevin said: “It was a really difficult time for me. I was still battling demons from my childhood and now I was out of a job with a mortgage to pay and a baby on the way.”
Support came in the form of Rugby League Cares, a charity which supports current and ex-rugby league players in all aspects of their lives. Joining their welfare programme, Kevin began talking more openly about his past and implementing positive coping strategies. It was a Rugby League Cares careers advisor who suggested the idea of going to university.
Kevin said: “I never thought I’d end up going to university. Where I come from in France, it’s a deprived area, there’s a lot of social problems, there’s not much hope for the future. Nobody in my family went to university, so I was never encouraged to even think about further education. I was always athletic and so from a young age I threw myself into rugby, never realising I could be both sporty and academic.”
Kevin first started studying at Leeds Beckett in 2017 on the BA (Hons) Sport Business Management course, studying part-time whilst playing rugby for Castleford Tigers. “It made sense for me to study at Leeds Beckett. The university has a strong relationship with the rugby league community, the lecturers there have come from working in the industry, and after I’d visited the campus and seen the facilities, I was sold on it."
“The course is really practical; you get to work on real-life scenarios and have the freedom to pick and tailor your own assignments.”
“Leeds Beckett has helped me develop a passion for study. At first, I just wanted to pass, but after my first year, and through the encouragement of my lecturers, my objectives changed, and I wanted to get better and better grades. It’s a bit like sport, once you start winning games, you just want to win more and more.”
Kevin successfully graduated with a First Honours Degree, and shortly after, he was approached by Rugby League Cares to work for them as a Mental Health Fitness Ambassador. Kevin now works on mental health programmes working with kids and male rugby league players to help break the stigma of mental health and get people talking.
“When I was struggling with my mental health there wasn’t much support around, but I’m pleased to say that’s massively changing. There’s still negative assumptions that exist, and there’s still a long way to go, but through talking to players, teachers and coaches about what mental health is, how to spot the signs, and how to focus on positive influences, we’re successfully breaking the stigma of the subject.”
Kevin’s passion for academia has continued and he has just started his MSc in Strategic Sport Marketing at Leeds Beckett. Part-funded by Rugby League Cares, Kevin hopes to apply his learning whilst working alongside the marketing team at the charity to increase their reach and awareness.
Commenting on progressing to postgraduate study, Kevin said: “I’m excited to start studying again. Like many others, I had a tough time during lockdown trying to be a player, a dad, a partner, a student, and homeschooling! But it was during this time that I realised having a masters degree alongside my work experience would really help make me stand out in the job market.”
Kevin is featuring in a Sky documentary called Ahead of the Game on Friday 15th October, where he’ll be talking about his challenges with mental health, and how the rugby league community is coming together to help raise awareness. Watch the documentary at 5pm to hear more about his story.