'I'm competing in the Women's Six Nations, here are 7 things playing rugby has taught me about my body'
There aren’t many players who made as big of a bang as Jess Breach did on her international debut. She scored an epic six tries against Canada, then followed that up with another five tries on her second cap. She also competed in the Rugby World Cup 2022 (alongside fly-half Zoe Harrison, who we also caught up with), and is now part of the Women's Six Nations squad.
Breach, who plays wing position, was invited to England camps when she was just 16, where she secured a spot in the England U18 training squad and won the European Sevens in 2014 and 2015. She then moved to the England Sevens squad in 2018, but her rugby tenure began way before she went pro. She’s been playing since she could walk, telling us, ‘My dad and brother played at my local club and I wanted to try it as I always wanted to do whatever my brother did.’
Over the next 20 years, Breach, now 24, learned a lot about her body and health, and even though you’re probably not training to compete in front of millions of people, they’re things you could all learn from. From how social media could be detrimental to your health, to how to tell when you need to take a step back, here’s everything she wants you to know.
1.Support is invaluable
When Breach’s mum was sadly diagnosed with breast cancer in 2019, her presence at Breach’s games while she went through treatment was sorely missed. ‘The hardest thing was my mum not being able to watch me play during her treatment,’ she said. ‘Her and my dad literally came to every game I have played for England, and this was the only one she missed. Everything you do, you do it for the people that have helped you get there, which is your family.’
While she missed her own support, she was also worried about not being there to support her mum. ‘I couldn’t see her or help her, it was just her and my dad,’ she added. ‘My brother only lives ten minutes away so that was quite nice and they have quite a good supportive friend group, but because I lived an hour and a half away that was quite hard.’
Whether it’s having a friend there to cheer you on during physical fitness classes, or just when you feel a bit ‘meh’, don’t take them for granted.
2. Mental health affects physical health
Everything works in tandem. If your head is not in the right place, nor will your body be. Breach experienced this first-hand when social media started to impact on her mental health.
‘As young female athletes, you are quite vulnerable,’ she said. ‘But you have to promote yourself to get brand deals, a following, to help the team and get people watching on TV.
‘I needed to not allow social media and other people’s images to affect me. I needed to stop comparing and be comfortable being me. I got into really bad habits and I started to not eat or skip meals because I thought that was a quick fix to lose weight.
‘I went home one weekend to see my parents and just broke down. That was a turning point for me and I realised I needed to change.’
It’s easier said than done, we know, but it’s about recognising when you’re struggling and taking the steps you need to feel better.
There’s no shame in asking for help. If you'd like to speak to a professional, Mind has put together a handy list of helplines.
3. Nutrition and training aren’t mutually exclusive
In the same way that your mind and body can’t be treated as separate entities, nor can your exercise and diet routine. When Breach started to struggle with her nutrition as her mental health was affected by social media, so did her workouts.
‘My training was affected and you just spiral,’ she said. Everything is connected.
Now, she eats what she enjoys, in moderation. ‘I’m a pescatarian so I eat a lot of fish and vegetables as I love them,’ she tells us. ‘I also love crisps and chocolate but I don’t eat them often as they don’t make me feel good if I eat too many. I love a tea as well; they get me through my day.’ A girl after our own hearts.
4. Small sacrifices may add up to success
Now, we’re certainly not saying you should give up everything that brings you joy, but small sacrifices may mean bigger wins in the long run. For Breach, trading nights out for training has got her where she is today. For you, sacrificing that extra 30 minutes in bed for a quick walk might be the difference between a productive day and a complete write-off, for example.
‘When I was younger, the hardest thing about playing rugby was having to miss out on things, such as birthdays and nights out,’ she tells us. ‘But now I know they’ve all been worth it.’
5. Rest days are just as important as training
If you’re a loyal WH reader, you’ll have heard us harping on about how rest is important for recovery (it's when cells called fibroblasts come in to repair the muscle tissue you damage during exercise and help the muscles grow stronger), but if you need any more confirmation, Breach - one of the best sportswomen in the world - also takes days off. Even at World Cup camp.
Shortly before the Rugby World Cup 2022 began, she told us: ‘We’re currently in England camp and train four or five times a week. Which includes rugby training, as well as speed, skills and weight lifting. We usually have weekends off when we are in England camp, but games days are currently on a Saturday.’
6. Mental downtime is also key
Anyone noticing a theme? Like physical rest is important, so is cutting yourself some mental slack. When Breach isn’t training, she makes a conscious effort not to think about rugby.
‘I try to properly switch off by hanging out with my friends or boyfriend and just try to get away from rugby. I love spending time at the beach and being in the sea,’ she tells us.
Rugby is her work, so for you, that might mean not checking your emails outside of office hours. Switch off your Outlook notifications if you can't help but look.
7. Your health comes first
How many of you have powered through a workout with an injury? Or at least a slight niggle? Thought as much. Whether you’ve looked forward to it all day or not, neglecting rest when you need it could be way more detrimental than not doing that one workout.
Breach was forced to pull out of the Autumn Internationals in 2019 due to injury. She said, ‘I have had several injuries over the last 18 months, it’s to be expected in a contact sport at this level but I have been unlucky.
‘The two most serious were my right ankle in May 2021 which required surgery and extensive rehab over 16 weeks, then shortly after returning I sustained a fracture to my lower back in an England training session.
‘The back injury was unusual and had an uncertain recovery period. However, this gave me time to work on my mental strength.’
Her setbacks helped her realise that as much as she loves rugby, her health comes first.
‘Although I was frightened by the injury it actually made me realise that professional rugby isn’t all there is to me and I will not be around (playing rugby) forever.
‘I was able to concentrate on finishing my degree and starting planning for life after rugby. However I never thought about giving up if I was physically able to play.’
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