David Shillington is an Australian former professional rugby league footballer. After a long career as a professional athlete, David has come to value working with motivated teams. He believes strong leadership, communication and support is key to helping individuals to thrive and teams to excel. He values mental health as important as physical health and uses the connection of sport as the vehicle to drive positive outcomes in the workplace, community group, or sporting club.

Kicking Goals in Mental Fitness

Meet David Shillington. Most people who know him, know him as a legendary rugby league football player. Now we want to introduce you to a new David Shillington, the CEO and Founding Director of Prime Effect. Prime Effect brings a range of mental fitness programs that deliver simple yet powerful evidence-based techniques to shift personal and professional mindsets so people can be their best selves. 


Prime Effect Noun
The state or time of greatest vigour or success in a person’s life which is a result or consequence of an action or other cause.


After a long career as a professional athlete, David has come to value working with motivated teams. He believes strong leadership, communication and support is key to helping individuals to thrive and teams to excel. He values mental health as important as physical health and uses the connection of sport as the vehicle to drive positive outcomes in the workplace, community group, or sporting club.


David takes a strength-based approach to mental health & well-being, and he uses his personal and professional experience as an elite athlete to connect with people and groups to help them understand what they can do to boost their mood, motivation, and performance. He also presents workshops to improve help-seeking behaviours and equip participants with positive psychology strategies to build their mental fitness and aims to normalize and destigmatize the conversation around mental health in sports and everyday life.

What led to the evolution of Prime Effect

During his time as an elite athlete, David Shillington witnessed a significant shift in the perception of mental health. It moved from being a stigmatised topic to something that was embraced and invested in daily. The practice of gratitude and mindfulness were daily practices he and his teammates incorporated into their training schedule for performance benefits. Many of them adopted these same practices in their personal lives for general well-being. After retiring from sport, David worked with the National Rugby League (NRL) managing their mental health education program. He later became a Principal Master Instructor with Mental Health First Aid Australia and started his own business to expand on his work in Rugby League and mental health.

Mental Fitness in the NRL

Rugby is synonymous with physical training and the “celebrity” status, with very little media attention given to the mental disciplines and training aspects of the game. 

David is actively working with a number of current and former athletes to share his knowledge and experiences. He believes that the general public, including himself, can learn a great deal from professional sport. Athletes face many of the same mental challenges as others, including the need to be coachable, overcome self-doubt, block out external distractions, and be resilient when faced with setbacks. They must learn how to bounce back when they miss their goals, and maintain motivation and energy during tough times. Athletes also need to find balance in their professional and personal lives, which is a challenge that many people face. David emphasizes that no one is naturally perfect at handling these challenges, but it can be helpful to learn from others.

The Importance of Mental Fitness Everyday

He emphasises the importance of investing in mental health and well-being, stating that the amount of time one should invest in it depends on their current stage in life and what they want to achieve. He suggests that if one is feeling good and they think it’s sustainable, they should continue with their current practices. However, if an individual starts to feel unwell, such as experiencing anxiety or a negative attitude, then it is important to take steps to correct course and get back on track. Simple lifestyle changes such as getting enough sleep, regular exercise, eating nutritious meals, and staying organized can be helpful. He recommends reaching out to loved ones and being honest about how one feels, and dedicating time to building healthy habits while removing unhealthy ones. If an individual is struggling to cope and feel their best, David advises not to ignore this and to seek professional help as soon as possible. This can be done by booking an appointment with a GP, and getting a professional plan to move forward, which can include helpful strategies that are proven to work.

Desensitising Behaviours

Finding joy from healthy and sustainable activities in life is so important, but if you’re used to getting thrills from things like porn, alcohol/drugs, and gambling then the simple pleasures in life aren’t so pleasurable anymore. Those unhealthy activities feel incredible at the time but the crash that follows is equally as dramatic. It’s not nice and it’ll make life feel a whole lot harder than it has to be. It’ll no doubt effect all parts of your life – financial health, physical health, relationships, and employability. It’s important to cut those things from your life asap, and don’t wait until you’re in crises to do that. Once you do make the change, it’s important to be realistic on the path forward as you wont necessarily feel fantastic overnight when you drop those habits, in fact you might feel worse for a few weeks or more as you re-adjust, but eventually you’ll enjoy those simple pleasures again.

Strategies to Improve on Mistakes in Business

He believes that it is important to view setbacks as normal, inevitable and healthy, and even finds them exciting. He encourages people to view constructive feedback as an opportunity for growth, and to enjoy the process of strategizing and achieving their goals. He emphasizes that mistakes can be simple to fix and at other times, it may require re-evaluating one’s approach and seeking guidance from others. He sees this as an exciting process, because it is a reminder that everyone is a work-in-progress in life and it is important to find pleasure in the process of achieving professional and personal goals. He suggests that if an individual can find pleasure in the processes, they are setting themselves up for long-term success. For example, if an individual’s goal is to lose weight, he suggests enjoying activities like walking in the morning with a friend, swapping unhealthy foods for healthier options at lunch, and experimenting with new healthy dinner recipes at home with one’s partner. By committing to the processes required to achieve the goal, they can make it long-lasting and enjoyable. He believes that setting the goal is one thing, but committing to the processes to achieve it is where the focus should be and where the fun can be found.

"Circuit Breaker"

It’s common for individuals to get stuck in negative patterns of unhelpful thoughts that can make them feel sad or irritated. People often try to feel better with short-term solutions that end up prolonging or worsening their mood. As an example, he describes a situation where an individual may be overwhelmed with work and in an attempt to cope, they consume multiple glasses of wine with dinner and watch Netflix until midnight. While this may provide temporary relief that night, the next day they may feel tired from poor sleep and have to rely on coffee to get through the day. This can continue for days, weeks, or even months and can lead to a slow decline in mental and physical well-being. David suggests breaking this common routine and understanding that small but better choices can make a huge impact on one’s future. Instead of drinking multiple glasses of wine to relax, one could choose exercise, connect with loved ones to laugh and have a good time, read a heartwarming book before bed to shift their mood, practice guided meditation to fall asleep more easily, and start the next day with positive affirmations about oneself, one’s ability to handle large workloads and tackle any challenges that come their way. David notes that there is nothing wrong with enjoying a beer or wine, but it is important to recognize if it will actually make one feel better or if it will likely prolong or worsen things.

Mental Health Self Awareness

He has been aware of his challenge with anxiety since he was a teenager. It took him a long time to manage it well, and he still struggles with it today. As a professional athlete, when the pressure increased, he would worry excessively about not being good enough and letting the team down. There were times when he would rather be injured than risk playing in a game where that could happen. But alongside that fear, was a deep love for the sport and a fierce determination to reach his potential. Over time, he became determined not to let the fear overcome his dream, and started being more proactive in managing his mental health by doing things that were helpful and would reduce his anxiety. He noticed gradual improvements in his life and career, and learned to turn his anxiety into action. He learned that if he was worrying about something, he needed to assess if it was important to him, and if it wasn’t, let it go, but if it was, to do something constructive about it. Some of the strategies he use today to manage his anxiety include guided meditation before bed, practicing gratitude with his kids, regular exercise, limiting alcohol to special occasions and talking to his wife about what’s going on for him. He finds that talking about his worries helps him make sense of them and get clarity.

Advice you'd give to your 22 year old self?

I think just understanding that everything we know now, that benefits us with better mental health, is a worthwhile investment in you, your future, and the people around you. I’ve learnt to value my mental fitness just as much as my physical fitness. It’s traditionally been drilled into us from a young age that taking care of our physical health is very important for quality of life and longevity. I feel the same way about mental health and it’s impacts on quality of life and longevity. I’m working hard to shift the focus for people on mental health to see it as a real opportunity in that if you invest the time into it, in yourself, you will feel better, aim higher, and have more success.  Being physically fit is a great feeling, and so is being mentally fit.

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