Joel Thompson - NRL - AthletesVoice
Joel Thompson - NRL - AthletesVoice


Saving the ones I love

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Saving the ones I love


I feel guilty sometimes that I am able to work with the community and see people change their lives, but I haven’t been able to help two of the people I love most.


I have 15-year-old twin brothers who are in and out of juvenile justice centres. At times, I think I’m not doing enough to help them. What can you do when someone you care about doesn’t want to change? Or doesn’t believe that they can?


It’s frustrating feeling so powerless. I have all this experience and teach things to people that could help my brothers. But I can’t force them to change. It’s on them to take ownership of that.


When you have friends or family going through tough times, it’s important that you let them know you’re there for them. That’s all I can do for now. When they are ready, I’ll be here to show them there is a way out of it. I’ll do anything to help them.


I’ve been through my own absolute shit-storm.


At 13, I was doing break-and-enters and getting into trouble with the police. I had grown up around a lot of domestic violence and drug and alcohol abuse and everything that comes with that lifestyle. Because of this, I moved around a lot until my Nan took me in and raised me like her own. 


Around that time I met my birth father, Michael. He helped arrange for me to go to boarding school, where I started playing rugby league regularly. This was pivotal in turning my life around.


I hope my brothers get the same chance to break out of that same cycle I was in. They are good kids.


I visited one of them in juvie when I was in Canberra for Manly’s game against the Raiders in round 12. He has made some really positive progress and is hoping to get work when he gets out. It gives me a lot of hope and I’ll be here to help him when the time comes.





Six years ago, my wife Amy came with me to get professional help with confronting my demons. Going to those appointments and getting the help I needed, saved my career and maybe even my life.


A big part of my own healing has been going out and helping others in the community. My wife encouraged me to start giving back and use my spare time productively.


I began volunteering with the Australian Indigenous Leadership Centre in Canberra in 2012. It was there I got to develop my own program and it was the first time I truly discovered my passion in life: helping others reach their potential.


When my family and I first moved to Wollongong, I began working with Mission Australia, helping kids transition from school into the workplace. I was also involved with programs with the NRL, driving positive social change and especially working to break the stigma around mental health with the State of Mind campaign. 


At the end of last year, I found myself mentoring the boys and girls at the Reiby juvie in Campbelltown. Leaving my role there was one of the toughest parts about relocating to Manly. I loved my time at the juvie because I was seeing positive change in the kids – something I hope to see in my little brothers.


I’ve been through my own absolute shit-storm.


I’ve tried to learn from all of my experiences and from the incredible people I’ve worked with along the way.


Since joining the Sea Eagles, I have been volunteering my time with the Gamarada healing group in Redfern every Monday night. It’s been an incredible experience so far.


The program doesn’t get a lot of funding or publicity but it’s a place where people from the rehab centres, the homeless and other circumstances can get off the street for a time, speak to friends and eat a warm dinner that has been donated.


It’s also a safe environment where we can have open discussions about a lot of really difficult issues.


Many of these people have suffered heavy trauma in their lives. You don’t realise how tough life can be until you go to a place like this and hear people speak about what they’ve been through. It breaks your heart.


It is also a very positive experience because you know these people are in the right place to heal and move forward in their lives. They’re coming to the meetings and making the effort.


A few weeks back, the group had its 500th session. People like Ken Zulumovski, who facilitates these sessions, don’t get the recognition they deserve. That’s not why they do it, but I hope this story gets the message out there – with more support they could make an even bigger impact.





If I knew then what I do now, I would have dealt with the challenges I faced as a young man in a different way.


I had to learn about resilience. Earlier in my career, I really struggled a lot with the demons of my childhood and I had poor coping strategies. If things were bad, my way of dealing with it was to drink.


Cutting myself off from people was another thing that only made me unhappier.


Going through those hardships, as cliché as it is, has made me who I am today. Stuffing up, especially with alcohol, has taught me a lot about myself.


I’ll never regret those times and I think it all happened for a reason: so I can help people.


At the end of last year, I was thinking about what my life would look like after my career is over – whether that’s in two or three years’ time – and there was only one thing I was passionate about. I want to use my life experiences to help other people.


That’s what The Mindset Project is all about.


I’ve taken everything I’ve learnt over the years, working with a number of skilled councillors and psychologists and have started my own program. It’s about helping people from all walks of life, not just those from difficult backgrounds, but also everyday people. I want to help them face adversity, overcome those challenges and thrive.


My workshops are all about teaching resilience and helping people reach their potential in life.


If I knew then what I do now, I would have dealt with the challenges I faced as a young man in a different way.


I ran an emotional session with the boys at the Reiby juvie before we moved. The officers were surprised when I got the boys’ attention because that’s something that is usually very difficult. But they connected with my story and I got them all listening. It was about showing them there is a way out of their circumstances, no matter how tough things might seem.


To hear that those boys are still continuing to use strategies I taught them months later is incredibly pleasing. This isn’t about teaching skills that are used for a day and then forgotten. It’s about empowering people to improve their lives in the long-term.


That’s why I think this is so important.


I’ve worked with disadvantaged groups, sporting clubs, boarding houses, corporates and schools. I tailor The Mindset Project to any group by looking at what outcomes they want.


I had no idea how to start a business. I’ve had to learn about that side of things as I go. But I’m enjoying the challenge.


Amy has been my biggest supporter. I wouldn’t be doing this without her encouraging me along the way.


I’ve talked with my Nan about the work I’m doing with The Mindset Project and she’s very proud of me. She knows how far I’ve come.


She played such an important role in my life and now I’m trying to do the same for other people.


#Birdgang ? #WeAreManly ??

A post shared by Manly Warringah Sea Eagles (@manlyseaeagles) on




It might sound like I’m thinking too much about life after NRL. I’m not. I’m still at an age where I think I can play some of my best footy and that’s my main priority.


It’s been a challenging season with Manly so far, with some mixed results. There’s been some drama off the field as well but it’s all out of my control.


You learn a lot about yourself through the tough times. What I’ve learnt is that I’ve still got the fire in me. All I can do is focus on playing my best footy.


I’m enjoying playing for the club I supported as a young fella and it’s been great having Baz as a coach as well. There’s time for us to turn our season around. We just need to keep ripping in at training and stop being so inconsistent in the way we play.


Finding balance between footy, family and my work in the community is hard. It’s easy to get caught up in things and try and do too much.


I have to turn down opportunities sometimes because it’s too close to a game or training. That’s tough because I hate saying no to people.


But the time will come. In a few years, when footy is finished, I’ll take The Mindset Project fulltime. Eventually, I’d love to turn it into a program that can be run across multiple locations throughout the week. I want to reach as many people as I can.


I’m building slowly, learning and seeing where it goes.


I’m really excited about what comes after I hang up the boots.





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