A Forward Pass on Understanding

Nā Maisie Gray. 

From professional rugby to parenthood, author of children’s books to the owner of a wellness centre franchise, if there is anything former Māori All Black and Crusader Tim Bateman has taken from his diverse career to date it’s the power of understanding.

Tim grew up in the heart of Ahaura surrounded by the untamed wilderness of Te Tai Poutini … the loud crash of waves and the whistle of the relentless West Coast wind played as the soundtrack for Tim’s childhood. His early days were spent exploring the coast’s dense bush for the best local treasures and engaging in healthy competition with his siblings. Tim is proud to say his upbringing was “as good as they come.” Life on the coast was quiet and as Tim and his siblings entered their teens, the Bateman family decided to move to Ōtautahi in search of new opportunities.

On the back of Dad’s ute with the cousins at the family home in Ahaura, West Coast in 1991.

Tim quickly settled into Christchurch Boys’ High School, recalling it was here he received the support he knew he needed to fuel his desire for success. Whether it was time spent on the field alongside the likes of Colin Slade, Matt Todd and Owen Franks, or in his role as head boy, Tim found it hard to fault his experience.
Life really took off the year after leaving school as he studied law, accepted a full-time position with the Crusaders, moved in with his partner Laura and became a dad to his first daughter, Shyla. To help sum up the chaos of that year Tim recalls trading a test match celebration with his teammates in South Africa for a late night of last-minute study in his hotel room and, a phone call to his family back home.

It was in this year that Tim’s trainer said to him, “Pressure makes diamonds.” When asked what helped him manage the intensity of professional rugby with the chaos of raising a family, he says “Honestly, what got me through those years was the belief that no matter the situation, the worst-case scenario is that you are always going to learn from it.”

When it comes to worst-case scenarios, Tim is no stranger. In 2013, Laura was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. “Hearing the news was both terrifying and confusing. For both Laura and I, the prospect of us raising our two beautiful girls while she was battling this horrible illness nearly broke us.”

After a tough few months the couple and young daughters Shylah and Mylia moved to Japan to access treatment not available here. There were more bad days than good ones. Referring to high-performance sport as a mirror glass on life, as a parent and Laura’s central source of emotional and in-house medical support, the cracks in Tim’s performance as a player began to show. However, in talking about this time, Tim highlights that although it was the hardest time of his life to date, he walked away with key lessons. The most important of these is that our health is our most important weapon; the second is that there is nothing more powerful than a clear mind.

Ben Bateman (older brother), Will Heinz (Sophie’s husband), Sophie Heinz (sister), Sam Bateman (younger brother), Tim Bateman.

Eager to do whatever they could to halt the progression, the couple travelled to Singapore so Laura could undergo a stem-cell transplant. While there, flotation therapy was recommended as the perfect way to prepare and recover from chemotherapy. Desperate for a solution to ease her pain, Laura took this advice. Eight years on with not one relapse to report, Tim and Laura have never looked back.

“Until jumping in that floatation tank for the first time I never understood the true meaning of relaxation. Among the chaos of my every day, floating offered me a chance to cancel out the outside noise and truly switch off. It is very much part of who I am now.” Tim says flotation therapy allows him to achieve a sense of clarity and mental understanding he has previously been unable to reach, and it is this understanding that has changed his life for the better.

Following significant improvements in Laura’s health the pair moved back to New Zealand to turn their new-found passion for flotation therapy into what is now known as Cloud 9 and the “home of flotation therapy in Christchurch”. Now in its eighth year of business, Cloud 9 has helped many in and around Ōtautahi find that sense of clarity.

Back in the early days of the business, Tim was visited by Crusaders coach Scott Robertson. At first thinking the visit was to give his ex-coach a float tank experience, by the time he left he had signed Tim up for another season. “With the new sense of mental clarity that investing in mindfulness gave me, I knew that my return to rugby was going to be different.

Tim in O-Studio.

It was not until then that I truly understood myself as a player. This understanding helped my overall performance hugely.” When he officially retired from rugby in 2022, Tim knew the transition was going to be hard. In competitive sport, there is much provided physically with the intensity of training; mentally with psychologists on hand; socially with an array of teammates by your side; and structurally through strict routines. “Rugby gave me a core purpose, so I knew when transitioning out of the game forever I would have to learn how to focus my energy elsewhere.”

The world of business is Tim’s new vice. Using the lessons of owning Cloud 9, Tim has spent the last few years focusing this energy on the development of his newest baby, O-Studio.
“O-Studio is the training ground for mental performance and physical recovery. It’s a community of people who come together each day, each week, each month, to take one step closer to becoming their best.”

With six franchises currently operating, Tim has his eyes set on expanding O-Studio. However, his bigger goal is to help instigate an education journey around the importance of understanding yourself mentally, physically and emotionally. This purpose intertwines with Tim’s most recent career exploit as a children’s author. Aware of the toll a mindset can have on performance as an athlete and an individual, Tim hopes to help children combat this by sharing some of the ways he has learned to manage feelings of sadness and anxiety. These messages are displayed within a series of four books following fun-loving fruit who are finding their way through big feelings. The Sad Banana was written in a Japanese hotel during lockdown and is the first of the series. The reader helps Bowie the Banana learn to turn his frown upside down. The ability Bowie discovers to get through the tough times by finding the positives, is something that helped Tim get through his lows on the rugby pitch and, his time spent next to Laura’s hospital bed.

“I have always loved writing and for me I wanted to write fun stories that parents can read with their children, then close the book and have an important conversation.” Tim now spends his spare moments visiting local schools alongside fellow Crusader teammates to share this message and show that even rugby players have to work on their mental health game.

Playing for the Māori All Blacks in 2016.

Not having grown up on a marae, Tim says he always had a slight guilt that he wasn’t honouring his culture as much as he should. However, there was one moment when it all clicked. While playing for the Māori All Blacks, Tim has fond memories of the pepeha each player recites at the beginning of a tour while holding the team’s toki. The toki was gifted to the team by Māori All Blacks kaumātua at the time, Luke Crawford, and it was ingrained into each player that the toki was a way that each player could go back to their maunga.

The toki was originally from Tim’s home in Te Tai Poutini. In 2013, while captaining the team against the United States in Philadelphia, seeking a sense of connection back home Tim asked if he could have the toki with him during the haka. “It was in that moment that I truly felt what it is to be Ngāi Tahu, it was a ‘far out moment’ and a feeling words cannot explain.” That moment was essential in recognising his power of understanding. Whether it is through books or floatation, it’s what Tim is passionate about growing within others.

So, when asked what is next for Tim Bateman his answer is as simple as that: “To help those around me understand who they are, what they want and what they need to do to get this.