With the Wallabies away again on a 6-week tour of the UK – a tour that will take the annual tally of weeks away to 24 for our top rugby stars – we investigate the impact this has on partners and how they cope being home alone.
Rugby is not the only sport to experience this, with the Australian Cricketers estimated to have between 250 and 280 days away each year, and other individual sports, like tennis, in the same field.
The lifestyle from the outside may look glamorous, but ask many athletes how it feels and they will tell you of the draining nature of continuous travel, the toll on the body and also their relationships.
With the all too familiar news this week that Brad Hogg left cricket to try (unsuccessfully) to save his marriage, and then spiral into depression, we have taken the opportunity to delve into the too often unspoken impact that travel can have on athletes’ relationships and the people they leave at home.
On the road again...
Speaking to Sarah Mumm, partner of current Wallaby Dean Mumm, I used my family contacts to get an insider’s view of these challenges and get some great advice on how to manage this as a modern reality of sport.
Dean left an English contract last year to return to Australia in a bid to make the Rugby World Cup squad, which started an extraordinary stint of travel for this couple and now young family.
“Dean left in May last year when I was, I think, 15 weeks pregnant with Alfie. He came back to Sydney and he was away for 16 weeks in a row when we didn’t see each other, before he returned to London and then, even though we’re in the same city, we weren’t living together because he was in a hotel. That was another 6 weeks I think without him. Then this year, I think he’s been away for 24 weeks.”
Travel transition the hardest bit
Asked about the challenges this presented, Sarah highlighted the transitions between trips as the hardest part, when routines that have supported a partner at home are broken for a few days of catching up, only for the athlete to leave again.
“I think the hardest thing I find is the transitioning in and out… he’s away for a week and then he comes back home for 4 days and then he’ll go away again. He’s constantly coming and going, particularly in the second half of the year. I think it’s the transition between being here and being away which often causes the most disruption.”
Whilst the athletes are actually away there are different challenges, including the regular maintenance of communication and partners occasionally feeling underappreciated.
“One of the worst things that can happen is if you’re just at home and feel like there’s no acknowledgement of what you’re doing and what you’re living and that you’re just sitting there waiting for them.”
What can the athlete do to make it easier on their partner?
Having worked together on these challenges for over 8 years, Sarah has some great tips for athletes and partners alike.
For the Athletes;
- Communicating while they’re away is of massive importance;
- The more quality time you can give each other, be it on the phone or Facetime or Skype or email, the better;
- Recognise the commitment along the way even before the ultimate goals are achieved.
With the potential for athletes to become singularly focused on their goals, the risk of this being seen as selfishness is real.
“I think it’s important for them to realise that if their partner and their family are making huge sacrifices for them, then it’s not just a personal goal that they’re achieving; it becomes a family goal or a joint goal because everybody is working to help them achieve it. It’s not just something that they are doing on their own.”
Are there any benefits to them being away?
It’s not just the athletes who can be proactive in making the situation a little more bearable; Sarah also had some fantastic advice for partners at home;
- Take a hold of the time and make some plans about what you want to do;
- If you need extra help sometimes, get that help in line before your partner travels;
- Schedule some time out, some dinners with friends etc.
Whilst it may not be the ideal situation for most relationships or families, Sarah pointed out that there are ways of making it work for you:
“Enjoy doing some different things that you wouldn’t necessarily be able to do, or your partner wouldn’t want to do. I think that makes the time worthwhile and exciting for you as well.”
Whilst the challenges are real, and the instance of break-up or divorce are not uncommon, Sarah believes there is a silver lining to the experience:
“I think Dean and I have always taken great confidence in the fact that we are able to stay strong in times apart and show a great sense of love and desire that when someone’s not around you, you still want to be with them. It is tough, it really is, and if you can work through it and build on it together, it can definitely hold you in good stead for the future.”
To listen to the full interview, you can hear it on SoundCloud: