In the lead up to the Madden Medal presentation on Thursday, the retiring class of 2019 have put together a letter to their younger selves detailing the lessons they learned during their careers. Over the next week, aflplayers.com.au will publish the letters of these players to help celebrate their achievements. Here is former Sun Tom Nicholls’ letter to his 17-year-old self.
Dear 17-year-old Tom – all 203cm and 80kgs of you,
You are about to embark on a 10-year journey which will take you through some of the best and worst experiences of your life.
Don’t be nervous though, at the end of this pathway and decade, you will have learnt a number of valuable lessons that you wouldn’t have in any other alternate universe.
Early days/school/first game
Once you move up to the Gold Coast, your immaturity and the environment of the place will seem like a holiday for the first couple of years.
Take this in, but learn to work hard early on, it will make the game and your life a little easier. Completing year 12 while playing in the VFL with the Suns will be a tough juggling act, but it’s a year you will look back on with great fondness. Just don’t let (former Suns teammate) Mav Weller walk around the school with his shirt off, sunglasses on and coffee in hand… (just kidding Mav, you do you brother!)
You’ll get your first taste of senior football soon after your 19th birthday. You won’t get another opportunity for more than two years. Work hard.
Your next opportunity will come in 2013, where you will somewhat reach your pinnacle as a player. You will fuel the fire and obsession of becoming the best athlete possible.
Unfortunately, you’ll sustain your first of many serious knee injuries. Don’t worry, the morphine in the hospital will be another “experience” to add to the list. The lessons you learn from an extended time in rehab will also serve you well in your future – just stay the course and nail the monotonous routine.
falling out of favour/new purpose/2016
The next chapter of your career you will play a handful of average games and fall out of favour.
You’ll encounter more injuries and struggle for motivation and drive while playing reserves football and start to question your footballing existence.
Again, don’t worry as this will serve as a period that reinforces some more valuable lessons – resilience, competitiveness and outward thinking. No matter how hard you think it is, think the six-hour run of the Grand Canyon followed by a 21km running session the following day, there’s always someone doing it worse than you. Never think of just yourself, always help out your teammates and anyone else in need for that matter.
The silver lining of not playing another senior game after 2016 will be the the purpose you find in protecting, developing and genuinely investing your time in the younger players who don’t receive as much attention as some others.
This will give you great satisfaction playing alongside them, seeing them grow on and off the field and building stronger, more meaningful relationships. That feeling lasts a lot longer than the 10 minutes of ecstasy straight after a win in the AFL.
As many will tell you, and you’ll finally realise, 10 years goes by in the blink of an eye.
The transition period will be one you navigate successfully after a couple of months, but it will be your hardest one yet. You will become institutionalised through the 10 years of your regimented routine and, as soon as this is taken away, you won’t know what to do with yourself. You’ll feel extremely lost and scared for a period, experiencing anxiety and stress like never before.
Again, don’t worry, you have definitely made the right decision. Finishing your commerce degree while playing will be a proud achievement – not only will it be a passion outside of footy, it will help you transition into investment banking with Henslow. As much as you will miss the day-to-day relationships with teammates and staff members of the club, a lot of these will actually improve after retirement.
Mate, in summary, it’s going to be a tough but extremely fun and rewarding 10 year period. The lows will be low: homesickness, surgeries, break-ups, deaths of friends and family. But the highs will be high; your first game and win, meeting hundreds of new teammates, overseas trips and seeing some of your best mates start their own families.
Stick with it, work hard and enjoy it. It’s a roller-coaster that very few are lucky to experience. Best of luck and start slamming down some protein shakes from day one!
P.s when you get kicked out of the Beach Hotel in Byron in 2016, through no fault of your own, embrace it, you’ll end up meeting a pretty special woman named Devon!
Yours truly, 28 year-old, 203cm and 105kg (with the same amount of muscle mass as 17-year-old you) Tom