After 147 games and 12 years with the West Coast Eagles, Eric Mackenzie made the decision to retire at the conclusion of the 2018 season. He spoke to aflplayers.com.au about the highs and lows of his time in the AFL, his work with the Eagles off-field and his new life in Switzerland.
Kavisha Di Pietro: Although you didn’t manage any senior games in 2018, how challenging was it to come to the decision to retire?
Eric Mackenzie: In the end it was a very easy decision! I wanted to be able to run around with my kids and kick a football with them as they grow up. I could have tried to push through the pain but the long-term consequences to my physical and mental wellbeing would not have been worth it.
Retirement, and the immediate periods after, are often a time of reflection for players. Do you look back on your career and feel proud of what you’ve been able to achieve?
I didn’t achieve everything I would have liked to in my career (missing out on the 2015 Grand Final and 2018 Premiership) but I look back on my career and am proud of everything that I was able to achieve. To have been given the opportunity to play AFL for 12 years was a dream come true, let alone winning a best and fairest or playing in front of 40,000 passionate West Coast fans at Subiaco Oval.
What aspect are you most proud of?
Being a great teammate and being part of a hugely successful club. Even when I wasn’t able to contribute on the field, I feel like I played a role in the development of the players around me.
Since retiring last year, what has your involvement with West Coast been like? From what I understand you’ve worked across the Womens’, Next Generation and Naitanui Academies in coaching and sports science roles…
I moved into a Game Development role at West Coast which covered a few different areas, including helping to deliver the Naitanui Academy programs with Kim Hannah and Drew Petrie and within our AFLW High Performance Academy. My role with the AFLW team was a great opportunity as it meant I was involved with the initial setup and planning for our introduction into the 2020 season. This used my sports science and football backgrounds to help design and implement the athletic movement program that our AFLW and academy programs participated in. Another segment of my role was working in the community team, enabling me to get out to schools and communities across Western Australia and promote education and an active, healthy lifestyle. Working in the community space has been very rewarding as you get to see first-hand the reach and positive impact AFL can have on people. I’ve also worked with the West Coast Eagles’ WAFL side in a game-day role, sitting on the bench and communicating between the players and coaches.
How important were these roles in helping to set you up with a career post-football? I imagine real-world experience in that industry is critical…
These roles have been great in my post-football career. I have been able to use my theoretical background from University along with my practical background from playing football and passing on this knowledge to the next generation of footballers coming through. I was lucky at West Coast to be surrounded by people who are highly respected in the strength and conditioning (S&C) industry who I was able to challenge and ask questions of. I believe this also helped me get the most out of my football career. The community aspect of my role has been hugely rewarding, especially seeing the reach that West Coast has in the WA community. This opened my eyes to the fact there is much more to the AFL programs than the games on the weekend as it can reach all different walks of life. My goal now is to use all these experiences in developing my next career in Sports Administration.
When did that passion for S&C/ sports science kick in for you?
I always loved sport and played as much as I could growing up so I always thought a career in sports science would be a good way to stay involved once I finished playing. During my career I realised there were many different careers that can keep you involved with sports and that’s why I am now following my sports passion into the administration side of sports.
You’re currently undertaking your Masters in Sports Administration and Technology at AISTS in Switzerland. What has that experience entailed so far?
It has been an eye opening experience and the course has exposed me to industry leaders. We had visits from the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA), the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the International Basketball Federation (FIBA) to name a few. The course is based in Lausanne, Switzerland which is the Olympic capital. The Youth Winter Olympics are being held in Lausanne during January 2020, which will provide me with an opportunity to volunteer and see how a big, international multi-sport event is run. There are many learnings from this course, which I believe will translate back to AFL and other Australian sports. It is a great experience to be immersed in such a strong sports culture and be surrounded by many like-minded individuals that see the power and influence that sport can have on people. I believe this course will help me achieve my goal of becoming a respected football administrator in the AFL.
Perth to Switzerland is a big move! What has that transition been like and how are you settling into Swiss life?
It was always going to be a big move with my wife Eloise and five-month-old daughter Florence. My family have been great at adapting to the Swiss way of life. It was a big culture shock at first, but we’ve adjusted to life here. Switzerland isn’t the easiest place to find somewhere to live but once you are settled in, it really is a great place. There is so much on your doorstep here which is very different from living in Perth. It really is the centre of Europe and we have been able to do weekend trips to Italy, the UK and France so far.
How did you prepare for life after football while you were playing?
While playing I was always doing study of some kind with an eye to life after football. I was able to complete both a Bachelor of Science and a Master of Strength and Conditioning through Edith Cowan University in Perth. West Coast was great in giving me time to study and sit exams that fit in with the training schedule. The S&C team at West Coast were also a big help as I was always annoying them with questions related to my study. My partner played a huge role in helping me prepare for my next career, as she is a successful lawyer who has been able to give me direction on what the job world outside of being a professional athlete was like.
What are some of the lessons that you learned while playing football that have been able to help set you up for your life after?
There are so many skills developed while playing football that are transferable to jobs and life after footy. Much like when you play football, identify both your strengths and weaknesses and then work on them. This applies to life too. Work out what you are passionate about and what you are good at and use this to shape the direction you want to go in life. The determination and resilience developed while playing football will hold me in good stead for my next career.
This time of the year can be challenging for players beginning the transition process. What is something you know now that you wish you knew during your career that will help hold future players in good stead?
Enjoy every moment of the journey. It will have its ups and downs but you will come out a much better person. Life after football is not a scary proposition, embrace it. Make the most of the opportunities that football presents to you, they can be used for a greater purpose.