At a glance:

  • Head of Mental Health and Wellbeing Ben Robbins explains how St Kilda's focus on mindfulness has helped with on-field performance.
  • Robbins has helped implement a number of techniques and has encouraged Saints to be proactive with their mental health.
  • Robbins bolstered St Kilda's new-look football department ahead of 2020 alongside Jarryd Roughead, Sean Dempster and David Rath.

Deep breath in, deep breath out. Focus.

Saturday night’s quarter-time huddle wasn’t what you would typically see in a high-pressure game in front of a hostile Port Adelaide crowd.

Eyes closed, deep breaths in, the Saints took the few extra seconds to collectively calm their minds and ready themselves for the next stage of battle against their formidable opposition.

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To the everyday footy fan, the pensive moment might appear out of place on a footy field.

But the meditation technique is more than a simple nerves-steadier according to Head of Mental Health and Wellbeing Ben Robbins, who says it’s just one way the Saints are implementing their new mindfulness practices to aid their on-field performances.

“Everything starts with a breath and you can use it anchor into the present,” Robbins told saints.com.au.

“There’s a lot going on in a game of footy and we want to get the guys concentrating on things that are important and not get distracted, so the breathing is just their method to get present more than anything, which is fundamental for performance.

“It doesn’t guarantee anything, but what it does is get you the best chance to reach your potential.”

Ben Robbins played 92 games for the Bears, Lions and Kangaroos.

Robbins believes the playing group’s focus on mindfulness has a strong correlation with on-field performance, further tying into Brett Ratten’s mantra of connection and creating a deeper understanding between players.

After spending time at North Melbourne for five seasons as a mentor to the club’s leadership group, Robbins joined David Rath, Jarryd Roughead and Sean Dempster in bolstering the Saints’ new-look football department for Season 2020.

Robbins holds a PhD in Clinical Psychology, with his doctorate investigating the psychological wellbeing of professional athletes.

Through his knowledge and expertise, he’s also helped the Saints become more proactive in taking care of their mental health.

“It’s all about trying to proactively support mental health rather than seeing it as a cure,” Robbins said.

"Rather than seeing it as a fix we see it as something we just do, and the skill to develop that and the skills that we’ve trained are relevant to both well-being and performance.

People often think there must be something wrong to go see the psychologist, but we want to try and give the players the tools to try and proactively manage their mental health in what’s a pretty challenging environment.

- Ben Robbins

The idea of mindfulness never crossed Robbins’ mind across his 92-game career for the Brisbane Bears, Brisbane Lions and Kangaroos.

Fast-forward 15 years, and there’s been a noticeable shift in the focus on players’ mental health and wellbeing.

“During my career you’d go through the psychologist if something was wrong, whereas we’ve been integrating it into our program and it’s becoming normalised among our playing group,” Robbins said.

“There’s a stigma around mental illness and mental health, but that’s why we’re working on that and changing that perception.”

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Robbins has helped introduce numerous practices to the playing group, both from an individual and team perspective to be implemented on and off the field.

And with 2020 posing a whole new set of complications and unprecedented circumstances, the importance of psychological skills can’t be undervalued.

“In the two weeks we’ve had, it’s like flying to Perth on the same day you’re playing,” senior coach Brett Ratten told the playing group.

“People would have said ‘you’re mad!’ and we go and win two games back at a venue that we haven’t won at in ten years.

“It’s above the shoulders and the way that we go about it. If we get that right, whether we can play with freedom or we have to stiffen up and be steely in the way we go about it, or just show a bit of composure.

“That’s going to be the challenge going forward.  Forget the seven days, it’s short turnarounds. Our mind above the shoulders is so critical.”