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360 reasons to look forward to 2015

In 2014, Sydney was one of four clubs to pilot MAX360 – a program developed by the AFL Players’ Association to assist players with their holistic development away from the footy field. Midfielder Dan Hannebery, one of 45 players involved in the program at the Swans, writes about his experiences with the program.

There’s no whirlwind in footy like your first few months at an AFL club.

It doesn’t feel like long ago that I was in the position of our first-year players, who are quickly learning that the early days of an AFL career involve little more than training, sleeping and eating. From day one, players are given an idea of how physically and mentally demanding an AFL career can be. It doesn’t ever really slow down from there.

Everything outside of footy – from social lives to academic pursuits, and everything in between – gets put on hold when you first start at an AFL club, and once you’ve stepped away from these things it can be hard pick them up again. Because the daily grind of footy is so draining, spare time becomes a valuable commodity.

‘Because the daily grind of footy is so draining, spare time becomes a valuable commodity.’

After a long day of training it can be hard enough to conjure up the energy to go out for dinner with a mate, let alone find the concentration required to organise yourself or head to university and sit through a lecture. The easier option is just to go home, put the feet up and watch TV or play some PlayStation – and in my early years, that was what I did.

But the Swans pride themselves on having a strong club culture, and part of that involves developing players as people, as well as footballers, wherever possible. While I was pretty obsessive about my footy in my first couple of seasons, our player development manager, Dennis Carroll – along with John Longmuire and our senior players – was always encouraging me to make the most of my time by pursuing other interests.

At first I was reluctant to get involved with too much outside footy. I barely had any time as it was – how was I going to find an extra few hours each week to explore other interests? But all our players are encouraged to find interests away from footy, and I was no exception. After a while, I began to see the benefits.

For me, off-field interests work as a release. They provide an escape from footy and the pressure to perform each week, which builds up over time. Off-field development isn’t solely about doing a degree so that you’ve got a career pathway when you finish footy – it’s also about knowing when to step away from the game mentally so that you can avoid getting burnt out.

I first heard about MAX360, the program created by the AFL Players’ Association to help players track and reflect on their off-field development, midway through 2014. It was presented to us as a program that could help maximise the opportunities that come with an AFL career, and every player on our list took part.

First, we were asked to rank ourselves from one to four in areas varying from how organised we felt we were, through to how well we looked after our money and how happy we were with our personal brand.

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Max Scale

From there, I had a follow-up meeting with Richard Champion and Marissa Fillipou from the Players’ Association, which Dennis Carroll sat in on too. In the second meeting we put together a personal action plan with goals for different areas in which I felt I could improve.

‘There are plenty of ways in which players can continually develop themselves, but looking after your general wellbeing is as important as anything.’

For me, one thing I wanted to develop was my day-to-day organisation – making sure I’m replying to important text messages and emails, organising meetings and not getting to the end of a day and realising there were things I’d hoped or planned to get done but forgotten about. Because the life of an AFL footballer can be so hectic, people often try to help you out by taking care of some of these little tasks; while this can be helpful at times, it’s also important not to become too reliant on others.

Getting those little things in order helps everything from footy and leadership through to my studies away from the club. That focus on study – I’m currently completing a Postgraduate Diploma in Commerce, as are six or seven other guys at the club, along with some recent retirees such as Jude Bolton – is another important aspect of MAX360.

There’s also a huge focus on making sure I continue to spend time doing things I enjoy, whether that’s surfing, playing golf or just going out for lunch with the boys. There are plenty of ways in which players can continually develop themselves, but looking after your general wellbeing is as important as anything. In the hustle and bustle of an AFL season, this sometimes gets forgotten.

When it comes to footy, players are always striving to be better and there’s an endless number of ways to measure progress. That hasn’t always been the case for players away from the footy field, but the introduction of MAX360 means this is changing. I’m looking forward to making the most of the opportunities that come my way in 2015 – both on the field and off it.

Lenny Hayes wishes he’d had this program: Richardson