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From USA to AFL… and back again

My journey into the AFL scene was nothing short of incredible.

Growing up, it was my dream to be a great athlete. I was always the first participant of anything involving a ball and a chance to run around so I could improve my natural athletic ability. I wanted to feel ultimate domination at recess, and compete against my fellow classmates.

I was raised in Milwaukee, and growing up in the USA, I developed an interest for many different sports. I played baseball, (American) football, soccer, tennis, golf, hockey, basketball and many others. I was raised solely by my mom, and was blessed that she introduced me to all these different sports.

After completing four years at Marist College, a D1 mid-major college for which I receive a basketball scholarship, I was on my way to play pro ball in Munich, Germany. Before I left for Munich, I got an unexpected call. Notre Dame Hall of Fame coach and ESPN College Game Day Analyst, Digger Phelps, was on the other line. He was representing the Sydney Swans in their pursuit to find an American that had potential to try out for their team.

Coach Paul Roos had informed Coach Phelps of certain characteristics he was looking for, and after a little bit of research, miraculously my name came up – beginning my journey into the AFL.

Why me? I may never know, but all I can say is that I believe it was fate. I moved on to play for Collingwood Football Club for three successful seasons, and even though I didn’t satisfy my personal expectations in this sport, it made me realise that maybe my path in life wasn’t – as I once thought – in the realm of athletics.

You see, playing sports and reaching my athletic potential wasn’t my end goal, but the vehicle that introduced me to my real purpose in life. Throughout my athletic journey, and especially up to the last days with Collingwood, I began to think more consciously about the challenges of professional athletes in elite environments.


At times, players can become institutionalised – doing exactly what’s asked of them, living and acting in accordance to what the coaches say or want, and performing daily and weekly tasks in a residual routine fashion. I am fully aware of why this has become more common over time, but the freedom to do whatever you personally have to do in order to become the best you outside of the team trainings, film and line meetings can sometimes be lost.

The impact of this can be that some players stop pushing themselves, mentally tune out, complain or get lost within the mix and become just another number to fill the gaps. I always did everything I could in my preparation but certainly felt I was just filling a gap during my last season at Collingwood and that the time the coaches put into me wasn’t what it had once been. Consequently, I spent much of my time simply trying to lay low. As long as I didn’t do anything wrong I was just an island. As this occurred, my motivation waned. I began to truly understand and realise that each individual is influenced, motivated and deterred uniquely in different ways.

Throughout this experience I stayed true to my nickname, “Big Dyman” (Diamond). I was mentally tough and, just like a diamond, could only be broken down by myself. This is why I decided to call my business Diamond State of Mind. During that last year at Collingwood, one of my teammates in a similar position to me, and to my amazement one of the coaches once asked him, “Why can’t you be more like Shae? He’s staying strong and being resilient, even though he knows his days are numbered.”

I‘m sure there are others who have been treated similarly, but in my opinion this is exactly what is wrong with the professional scene these days – not just in sports, but in all forms of business. You’re only as good as what you can offer, as seen through the eyes of the people who pull the strings.

The fact I wasn’t going to play senior football meant that, naturally, the football department spent more time focusing on developing other players. Having said that, the club continued to support my off-field development – for which I was, and still am, very grateful.

A conversation with Collingwood’s sport psychologist David Stiff introduced me to life coaching – something that could allow me to potentially help athletes and people in other professional fields to perform and reach their greatest potential. With the support of the AFL Players’ Association’s Education and Training Grant, this became a fast reality. I am now a certified Life Coach that focuses on helping clients with their performance and overall wellness.

I recently finished up my first season as a Performance Coach for the Lakeshore Chinooks. A select collegiate summer league team, the Chinooks are in the 3rd best league out of 40 playing across the US. We ended up smashing the competition in the regular season and in the playoffs, while setting all kinds of records for the franchise. My role was to do weekly team building workshops, followed by individual coaching sessions. We worked on whatever the player felt that they needed to work on for that week, in order to give themselves the best opportunity to succeed.

It can be easy for some players to go through the motions and feel that what they’re doing is good enough, when that might not be the case. They can start training and playing on autopilot, and lose focus of what they’re trying to achieve, and what’s required to make those dreams become a reality.

My challenge to athletes is this: If you find yourself getting lazy, lethargic and bored, just ask yourself, “what can I do differently to help improve and enhance my given situation?”

Be the difference in your life, because you never know when it can be all over. The only thing you will have is the memories of what you did, didn’t, would’ve, could’ve and should’ve done differently… Have no regrets and take action today!

Good luck and God bless,

Shae McNamara

Find out more about about Shae’s story, and his life-coaching business Diamond State of Mind here.