The Career Lessons You Can Learn From AFL Players

While being a professional AFL footballer is a dream job, it’s also a job with a deadline. Careers are short and intense: training and games will dominate your life for a few years (the average AFL career is 5.5 years) and then it’s all over, and you’re left looking for a job.

Recruitment expert Steve Shepherd says the transition can be a shock to the system.

“Most of them have come into the system straight out of high school, and really been focused on their football careers. And now they’ve either retired, or been de-listed. They’re starting to figure out, “Okay, what do I actually do now for the rest of my working life?”

As CEO of careers service TwoPointZero he’s partnered with the AFL Player’s Association to help players have a second act in their career.

And the insights they have aren’t just relevant for sports people – it’s sound advice for anyone who’s considering a career change.

#1 It’s all about the transferrable skills

So the job you’ve been working in isn’t working out anymore. The idea of changing careers can be a pretty scary one at first, especially when you spent a few years (and tens of thousands of dollars) studying to get your foot in the door.

All is not lost: the skills you’ve learned will be sought-after in other industries, too. Take AFL players as an example. They’ve developed their team work skills, have demonstrated discipline, resilience, and their ability to take feedback. Not to mention any work they’ve done with charities or team sponsors.

It can take a little bit of time and thought to identify your transferrable skills. Steve Shepherd says you’ll also need to learn how to market those skills. For football players, it’s about figuring out how to speak about their skills in a business context.

“They’ve developed a lot of skills in football, but they think about those skills in a football sense, and now they’ve got to think about those skills in a business sense. You know, they can’t talk football and expect a business person to be able to interpret that.”

#2 Learn how to find opportunities

We all know someone who is “lucky” – always scoring new opportunities, seemingly out of nowhere. But here’s the truth about lucky people: most of the time, they’re very skilled at figuring out where an opportunity is, and putting themselves in front of the people who make the decisions.

This is a skill, and one you can learn. The AFL players Steve worked with had actually met plenty of people who’d be willing to help them with their career change – people who can act as mentors, or who can give them advice on their industry.

Steve explains that as a career coach he helps clients figure out how to identify opportunities. “How to leverage them and the networks that they have, and create opportunities out of that as well.”

Brad Fisher from the AFL Player’s Association echoes this sentiment. “It’s about understanding how to utilise their networks and open doors for themselves going forward.”

#3 Big life changes mean you need to look after your mental health

For a football player, the best-case scenario is that you retire on your own terms after a few hundred games. Often, however, injury will end a career early; or a player’s contract simply isn’t renewed. And as Steve says, that can be a big blow.

“That can be a big shock for them, because also what is very evident is that their sense of identity is as a footballer.”

Even if your career change isn’t sudden, it can prompt a lot of soul-searching. So it’s important to take care of yourself while you’re plotting this big life change.

Confidence can play a huge role in opening new doors. Brad Fisher from the AFLPA says the players found talking with careers experts was hugely beneficial. “The feedback we received was a lot of players left with a lot of confidence and probably a better understanding of the transferrable skills that they have from playing AFL footy.”

#4 You need to identify your career personality

As a career expert, Steve says he sees a lot of people in jobs they think they’re ‘supposed’ to have. “We make the assumption that just because somebody studied a degree, means that that’s where they want to work. But many of them just ended up there because somebody told them to do it, or it was what they were good at.”

A better approach, he suggests, is getting to know your personality as it relates to your work, and using that to guide your choices.

“What is it that you love doing? What is it that you hate doing? What makes you get up in the morning? What are your values?”

Steve says these principles work for everyone. “Whether you’re a football player, whether you’re an older worker who’s been made redundant, whether you’re a student who’s just left university.”

Amelia is the Editor of The Cusp. You can find her on twitter @amelia___m or instagram @ameliamarshall.