Origin great tackles mental health of our business leaders

Former State of Origin star David Shillington knows more than most the role that poor mental health can play in influencing success on the football field and now wants to apply the knowledge he gained to help business leaders look after themselves at work.

Nov 03, 2020, updated Nov 03, 2020

Shillington is forging a post-football career as a leading adviser on mental health and well-being, telling businesses that both can have a profound impact on workplace productivity.

He says he was lucky enough to realise early in his days as a professional athlete the effect that looking after his mental health had on the quality of his playing.

“Mental health was never talked about back then,” he said.

“As a professional athlete I just focused on my physical health and fitness but I definitely struggled mentally with the ups and downs of an NRL career.”

He said it was only when his then coach, Brad Fittler, suggested he see a counsellor that he realised the value of good mental health.

Now he is hoping to convince business leaders that they should factor in good well-being as a big contributor to career success for themselves and their staff.

Shillington will present a seminar on the mental health and resilience for leaders at the Brisbane Business Hub this Wednesday – just hours before the State of Origin series gets underway in Adelaide.

The Brisbane Economic Development Agency, previously known as Brisbane Marketing, has created the Brisbane Business Hub to offer courses, workshops and support for established firms and start-ups for the recovery phase of the pandemic.

Brisbane Lord Mayor Adrian Schrinner said the hub’s aim was to act as a kind of matchmaker for the city’s small businesses, where people needing advice on a particular aspect of their business are able to find people who can provide it.

Shillington  played 215 NRL games, 14 Tests for Australia and eight State of Origin games for the Maroons before retiring after the 2016 NRL season.

He is a former Men of League Foundation general manager and has worked with the NRL to promote good mental health in junior rugby league clubs.

“As a manager, of course you need to take care of yourself but taking care of your staff and seeing them as human beings is also important,” he said.

“You want them to perform their best and there may be things going on in their personal life that is making them not as productive. You need to know there are plenty of support services out there to help them.”

“As managers you might think it’s not your place to get involved with the personal issues you staff are experiencing but you also want them to feel good about coming into work and performing well.”

Shillington said Wayne Bennett’s success as an NRL coach was based on his support for his players as people as well as athletes.

“That is where the magic happens because Wayne wants all his players o be the best versions of themselves so they can go out and play their best footy.”

Shillington’s advice to managers and bosses is to pick up on unusual behaviour in the workplace as a sign of possible mental stress.

“If someone who usually comes into work and has good interactions with their colleagues and are bubbly and upbeat but suddenly become irritable and withdrawn that may be a sign things aren’t going well mentally,” he said.

“Everyone has their bad days but it is important to pick up on those signs of unusual behaviour.”

Shillington said mental and emotional resilience will be especially important to help business recover from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

And his tip for the first State of Origin game on Wednesday night? “As a proud Queenslander I would love to see a big upset and the best thing Queensland has going for them is that they have been underdogs many times before”.

The hour-long seminar is free and starts at 11am on Wednesday, November 4, at Level 2, 155 Queen St. For more information, go to

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