Former Western Bulldogs and North Melbourne player Nathan Hrovat played 69 games across a seven-year career. Having transitioned out of the AFL system at the conclusion of the 2019 season, he took the opportunity to reflect on his career, preparing for the future and what his first 12 months out of the game has involved.
Early in my career I think I was your typical player – I enjoyed having recently been drafted and having the chance to play elite sport as a career.
I certainly wasn’t thinking about life after football at that stage, but as my career progressed I became increasingly conscious of the importance of investing time into, and developing, myself.
I had a modest career at the Western Bulldogs and North Melbourne.
I was very fortunate to play 69 games and am so incredibly grateful for the opportunities that football afforded me, but I also knew, as a fringe player, that footy wasn’t going to last forever.
In those last couple of seasons, in particular, where I couldn’t cement myself in the side, I knew I had to start tapping into what life away from football might look like.
After my fourth year in the system, I felt I had a good grasp of the day to day requirements of AFL football and decided to start investing more of my spare time into finishing my degree and discovering my passion outside of football.
There’s no denying that it’s an incredibly daunting experience trying to network, especially when you’re young, but mustering the confidence to put yourself out there can prove invaluable.
Being part of a football club provides you with an enormous network at your fingertips and if you take that first step, you’ll be rewarded.
For me, the perfect example of that fear around networking came to the forefront at club events – a best-and-fairest, season launch or celebration – where players would often congregate together instead of with the attendees.
It was then that I knew I had to find the confidence to step outside my comfort zone and reach out to people.
I certainly wasn’t going out for coffees every second day, but tapping into the people around me that were experienced in such a wide variety of fields to help me find my own passion for a career post-football.
One of the key things I kept reminding myself at these events, or any other opportunity I got, was that these people have been in your shoes before and, more often than not, they’re happy to impart their experience and knowledge to you.
Networking gives you a great platform to meet different people, understand varying industries and hopefully give you a better idea of what interests you so you can make informed decisions about what’s next.
Towards the end of my career, my passion for playing the game started to subside a bit and so when the time came at the end of the 2019 season and I was delisted, I felt comfortable to put my AFL career aside and pursue a new path.
There’s no denying that making that decision was incredibly daunting – entering the system as an 18-year-old football was all I had known.
Playing the game at the top level is every player’s dream but it’s important to understand that football only forms part of your identity, not all of it. For the players reading this, you’re more than a footballer.
The support of my partner, my family, the club and the AFLPA were critical in helping me overcome these challenges.
When you’re transitioning out of the game – even if you’re as prepared as possible – you don’t really know what your life is going to look like, so it’s important to tap into the resources available to you.
Those support networks are incredibly important during your career and more so as you start to leave the game.
I was one of the players that took full advantage of what the AFLPA had to offer throughout my career, in addition to my own personal support network.
When I finished playing football I was fortunate to be offered a part-time role working in football operations at North Melbourne under (Football Operations Manager) Laura Kane.
In the past 12 months, my time has been split working across football operations and in our people and culture team.
These opportunities have given me a chance to gain some fascinating insights into what creating a strong organisational culture involves and also how football clubs run behind-the-scenes.
It was the perfect combination to combine my love of sport with my passion for business.
Not too long ago, a vacancy opened up as the Football Operations Manager – AFLW & VFL, which I was incredibly pleased to accept.
This year with COVID-19 there have been a number of challenges, with an added layer of complexity of learning a new job while working from home.
It’s been a whirlwind experience but one I’m so grateful for and excited by.
My first 12 months out of the game has taught me, more than anything else, that you get out of life, what you put in.
After being delisted and then deciding to fully step away from football, the biggest thing for me was wanting to give myself the best opportunity to understand the landscape holistically and more broadly and therefore be able to learn and develop as much as I possibly could.
I was only 25 when I was delisted, so I felt like I had a bit more time on my side, but whatever age you are when football ends, I think the one thing applies: be open and willing to soak up as much information as you possibly can to then be in a position that will allow you to make informed life-changing decisions.
For this year’s group of transitioning players, as daunting as it is, find what you’re passionate about and go full throttle at it.
When you leave the game there is always that anxiety and uncertainty around your future whether it be financial, career progression or related to something else entirely.
But, I think once you find what you’re interested in outside of playing sport, then you can embrace that fully and commit everything to that.
Finding my purpose certainly helped with my transition experience.
Your football career passes in the blink of an eye.
I know it’s easy to get caught up in those first few years in the system, and understandably so, because it is an enormous achievement to get drafted, but it’s also important to maximise your time in the game.
But, make sure to embrace everything that football has to offer – from the AFLPA services, to your club support and the broader industry.
Tap into every resource you can. They are available to you for a reason – because they are valuable!
The AFLPA is committed to supporting player development and growth to ensure a smooth transition from the game, which players have highlighted as one of their biggest issues.
The annual Transition Camp will be run online as a series of Development and Growth webinars in November to upskill participants and enhance capabilities for when player enter an environment away from football.
Please contact your Regional Manager for more information.