Yorkshire Cricket’s Groundswoman Jasmine Nicholls, has written an honest account of how she has learned to cope with mental health struggles and has moved from being ‘invisible’ to ‘visible,’ while establishing her career in the turf industry and combining training as an athlete.
Jasmine lived with anxiety for a number of years, with nothing seemingly able to help improve her “inner darkness”. But during the Covid pandemic the Leicester-born, national race walker, said her life was transformed after a regular brew and a chat and friendship found since joining the groundstaff team at Yorkshire.
Jasmine has gone on to prepare pitches for Yorkshire Cricket across all formats at Headingley, been part of the award-winning team that prepared fabulous conditions in the Test Match during the Men’s Ashes summer, while also claiming a piece of Ashes history when she joined an all-women team that prepared the pitch for the first Vitality Women’s Ashes T20 at Edgbaston.
Jasmine explains how she now wants to encourage more people to be able to talk and encourage more women into the turf industry.
My mental health and competitive sports
For years I have found my mental health a tough topic to talk about and something I have always kept hidden.
As a child and teenager, growing up in Leicester I kept myself busy, competing in race walking. I dedicated a lot time to my training, competing at national level. It was something I enjoyed and training also acted as an escape for me after being bullied at school.
But from a young age, inside my head there was, what I like to call, the darkness. It was always there and very rarely left me alone. I always felt like I was an outsider, never fitting in, no matter what I was doing. Even when I was with others, I didn’t feel like I belonged there.
In 2013 I moved to Leeds to study at university. I am a big family person and moving away from them in Leicester was hard and I found that my mental health suffered. I made myself invisible by blending into the background and tried not to be noticed. I avoided social events and opted to hide away in my room. I deliberately isolated myself from everyone. Looking back, I can see that my self-esteem was at an all-time low – I felt hopeless and useless.
How anxiety affected my training
One by one, my mental health problems started to sabotage my performance. Certain training sessions were easier than others. I found it easier to switch off on longer walks, they were my escape. I didn’t have to think, I could just walk at whatever pace I wanted. But I almost always left training disappointed because I felt I could give more, but something was stopping me.
I knew something wasn’t right but I was scared to admit to it. I thought it would make me weak to say I was struggling. After finding the courage to finally go to the doctors I was signposted to a therapist at the university. I went to about four sessions and that was it, and after those I didn’t want to go back and burden others with my problems.
In 2014, it came to a head. I was in my first year at university and I was competing in the England under-20s race walking meet at Bedford representing Leicester. Anxiety had a hold on me in the run-up to the event, but it never crossed my mind that I wouldn’t be able to finish. Perhaps a third of the way into the race I knew my times had started to slip per mile and the negative talk in my head started and I just couldn’t shift it. For the first time ever, I couldn’t finish a race. I stepped off the track and I can’t remember what I said to my Dad after about why I did that. I think I said I thought I had an injury. I was a bundle of anxiety and it had started to unravel. I didn’t want to worry anyone so I kept it to myself and tried to put it behind me.
Time for change
In 2019, I knew things had been going on too long and I wanted to start making a change. I reached out to my coach who put me in touch with a sports psychologist and that was the beginning of turning things around.
One year later, and it was the start of the Covid pandemic but for me, I will always remember it as the year I started to get to know Richard Robinson – who is now the Head of Grounds for Yorkshire. At the time Richard looked after Weetwood – one of Yorkshire’s out grounds and I was an Assistant Duty Manager on the same site. Despite us having worked together for years, I’d barely spoken to him.
During 2020, we started talking more. I’d take him a cup of tea during the day and we would sit in the sun. At first it was mainly Richard talking but gradually over time and, after lots of cups of tea, I was able to speak about some of my struggles, and he listened. Richard helped me rebuild trust in people – something which I’d struggled with after experiencing bullying at school.
Next steps with the groundstaff team at Headingley
Shortly after an opportunity came to join the groundstaff team at Yorkshire Cricket as a casual and I started working alongside Richard. I also became friends with one of the coaches – Rick, and we had our little ‘dream team’ as we called it. With these two and my causal work, there was a little bit of light for me as being around them meant that I could start becoming myself again.
I still felt everything from before, but now it became easier with the support from a Sports Psychologist and my ‘dream team’. Fast forward a couple of years to March 2023 and I was able to take the next step. I became a full-time Groundsperson for Yorkshire.
At first it was a big job change – stepping into a full-time role in the sports turf industry – where 98% are men. I questioned whether this was the right thing for me and if I could manage to deal with that. But from day one, I was made to feel welcome and for the first time, I felt like I belonged. Richard, who was now Head of Grounds for Yorkshire, the whole groundstaff team and everyone at Yorkshire welcomed me with open arms.
Breaking Ground: A piece of Ashes History
I’d only been in the job a couple of months with Yorkshire and I had the opportunity to join an all-women team to prepare the pitch for the first Vitality Women’s Ashes T20 at Edgbaston – working alongside an eight-member team, headed up by Gloucestershire’s Meg Lay. It was an exciting opportunity, in a first for cricket in this country but at the same time, it was well out of my comfort zone.
Even though it was a welcoming space to be in, my anxiety went through the roof. I was in charge of the nets area, and although I was able to put my head down and do a good job leading anxiety had a hold on me throughout. At the end of the day I didn’t join in with the celebration drinks back at the hotel, I kept to myself – I reverted back to shutting others out, but that was a coping strategy for me at that time. It was an incredible experience to be a part of, and the whole team was recognised at the 2023 Grounds Manager of the Year Awards.
In a whirlwind of a summer I was back at Headingley straight away – there was no break as we were prepping for The Men’s Ashes, with the grounds team and extra casuals. For me, I found the whole experience daunting. I’ve never been comfortable in big groups, so I found jobs away from others where possible. One of the team noticed I wasn’t my normal self and texted me that evening to check I was OK. Just having one person check in meant the world to me. On another of the days, I went for a walk and watched part of the game on my own at the top of the stands. Just doing that changed my day and my mindset a little and it really helped.
Since joining the Yorkshire Family, my life has changed for the better. I feel like I belong and I’m where I need to be. A lot of this is down to Richard and the team. Everyone needs a friend like Richard – so thank you because you’ve brought out the best in me and every day I’m thankful that I get to work with a fantastic team and do something I love.
I still have bad days – but now I have more strategies to help. If I feel low, sometimes, I’ll go and sit in the stands away from everyone else but when this happens, one of the team will always make me a brew, hand it to me, and ask if I’m OK. Such a simple gesture – but it means everything to me.
Making myself visible
I have two young nieces who I absolutely adore and I want them and the rest of my family to be proud of me and for my nieces to know that they can do whatever they put their mind to. For me this means stepping out of my comfort zone. Every game at Headingley I make sure I’m visible and out working on the ground so girls like my nieces can see that they can do whatever they want. And I want to play my part in making it normal for women to be in every job possible in cricket.
In the past I’ve found it difficult to talk – particularly in the darkest parts of my life – even to family. Looking back this wasn’t because I didn’t trust them, it was because I didn’t want them to worry. I know that they will love me no matter what. Struggling isn’t anything to be ashamed of, it just means you need a little support to help you along the way.
Throughout everything, I have been extremely lucky to have such supportive parents, coaches and people around me who never judged me.
Looking back I’ve learnt that darkness fades. No matter how bad things seem, something good will be coming your way.
I’m so glad that I took the leap of faith and joined YCCC, it was the new adventure that I needed.