Passion the key to post-AFL life.
You can lead a horse to water...
I’ve followed along this week as former Saints skipper Nick Riewoldt spoke boldly about his former team mate Sam Fisher and his current issues with alleged drug trafficking.
Speaking on On The Couch, Riewoldt said players were ‘falling through the cracks.’
He’s not wrong. Players - like the rest of the community - suffer from all types of issues in and around their professional lives.
Form dips, family troubles, fan abuse, cash problems, media speculation - and so on and so on.
Players are no different to Jimmy Smith in the community. The same risks are there. Drug use, alcohol consumption, pressure from friends or family intent on destruction.
Just because your name sits on one of 18 AFL lists it does not exclude you from the same troubles that the remainder of the human race faces.
What players do have is access to an unending supply of resources, networks and opportunities to further themselves as athletes and people - for when they’re in the game and when they depart.
I’ve recently transitioned out of the AFL system as a player - but I have been incredibly lucky to maintain a part-time role inside an AFL club.
That has, no doubt, allowed me a more subtle transition away from the Saturday to Saturday sameness of a football schedule.
But the major reason why I feel like my move away from AFL and into ’normality’ has been because of one thing.
I have a passion for something away from football.
Yes, the AFLPA provides countless options for players to pursue their goals. University grants, short courses, on-the-job training, networking with some of the nation’s premier business minds plus access to further education and training - almost all at the cost of the Players union.
I do not see any of that as the major problem.
There’s not a lack of training or education or a lack of care from anyone across the industry.
The hardest part is helping these young men - and they are young men in terms of their total life - find something they are equally (or even remotely) passionate about.
Anyone can attest to not being able to put your best foot forward without having a level of passion and enjoyment for what you’re doing.
Send me out to teach kindergarten and I reckon I’d last a fortnight. (I’ve got three gremlins of my own, thanks).
But allow me to pursue sports broadcasting opportunities across various sports and I am all in.
I’ve been as excited about beginning life with SEN radio, Sportsbet content and racing integrations as I was about preparing to tackle the Power in one of the 10 Showdowns I played in.
Sounds like a foolish thing to say. It's not, I love what I'm doing now as much as I did pursuing excellence as an AFL player and within my AFL team.
I loved playing for 11 years at the highest level but I’ve always had a huge passion for sports media. And now I get to follow that passion without the shackles of AFL life.
That’s the issue of so many leaving the game.
What are you actually interested in?
What are you good at?
What do you see yourself doing?
Finding a passion that can fulfil the void left by ending a lifelong dream of playing AFL can be so damn hard.
It can lead to many issues when you cannot find that desired line of work.
Going from feeling like a superpower earning half a million dollars with adoring fans to someone with no real-world skill set, no real pathway forward and nothing significant to fall back on can easily lead good people to bad places.
The AFLPA plays its part with countless opportunities to pursue life away from the game - both during and after.
The clubs guide and educate as much as possible.
But at the end of the day, the horse needs to find water he or she is willing to drink.