After retiring at the conclusion of the 2019 AFL season, former Western Bulldogs player Fletcher Roberts joined Ladder as a program coordinator of the Step-Up Online Program. The 2016 premiership player penned a column on his time working with Ladder, what inspired his passion for mentoring and how other people can become involved with the program.
AFL and AFLW players put their hearts and bodies on the line from siren to siren and they dedicate their time and their minds equally off the field.
Every player gives back countless hours to the community across their careers: footy clinics, appearances and fan engagements – and so they should, it comes with the job and players are powerful figures in the community.
Some equally enjoy studying, have their own businesses or are aligned with personal charities.
For me, I was lucky to find my passion in combining some of these aspects and helping make young lives better.
I first became involved with Ladder when they visited the Western Bulldogs in 2014.
Founded by three AFL players (Paul Licuria, Mark Bolton and Joel Bowden) 13 years ago, Ladder exists to support young people through improving their self-efficacy; community connection; health and wellbeing; independent living skills; education and employment and training.
After hearing about the journey of a young person and the impact Ladder had in turning their life around, I was inspired to positively impact a young person’s life in a similar way.
At this time, Jordan Roughead (current Ladder board member and Collingwood player) was involved, so I had discussions with him about the best way to participate.
From that point, I became a mentor and held a formal mentor-mentee relationship for the next two years. I still mentor this young person today!
When I was introduced to my mentee, he was uncertain of his future direction.
Throughout our journey together, he changed university degrees, improved his health and wellbeing, found a place to live and also became employed.
To say I enjoyed seeing him grow as a person, and knowing that I played a small part, is an understatement.
It’s a two-way relationship because being a mentor also supported my own development.
It’s taught me a lot about using my strengths to help others and opened my eyes to the impact anyone can have on a young person’s life. Specifically, my experience as an AFL player has the ability to generate cut-through and I like using the skills I developed as a professional athlete to inspire others.
While playing, there were other opportunities to support Ladder and their young people, including volunteering in the organisation’s AFL Finals “Change the number” campaign, where we sold premiership pins to raise funds for Ladder.
With this came media opportunities to help promote the campaign and advocating for Ladder at different functions and events throughout my playing career, which may suit others more than mentoring a young person.
When AFL football finished for me in late 2019, I was lucky enough to secure employment with Ladder, which was a natural progression for me given my background in football, the completion of a Bachelor of Psychology degree and my previous experience with the organisation.
In March 2020, I began as the Program Coordinator of the Step-Up Online program, helping disengaged and disadvantaged youths focus on health and wellbeing, community connection, goal setting and independence.
AFL and AFLW players’ involvement in Ladder is vital to their work, not only because we are the official charity of all players, but because of the importance of Ladder’s work and how powerful players and the industry can be when working together to support an important cause.
Both during and post my AFL career, Ladder has acted as a platform to give back to the community as well as progress my own personal and professional development.
I would strongly encourage anyone who wants support in this area or considering a career in youth work or community services to reach out and see how Ladder can best support them.
You won’t regret it.
Ladder is the players’ community initiative that provides mentoring to young people with programs that support young people to improve in key domains including self-efficacy, community connection, health and wellbeing, independent living skills and education, employment and training.
More information on Ladder can be found here or players seeking further information can contact Claire Castle on 0411 392 387.