Anxious? Worried? Excited? It’s OK. That’s all normal.
You’re almost there. Soon it will be a reality and all in front of you.
Although it was 17 years ago, I vividly remember all of those emotions. Just thinking back to it all, it still elicits a visceral memory. I felt the exact same concern, enthusiasm and zest for the opportunity that you’re experiencing right now.
I mainly recall the apprehension and the feeling you may have of constant unease. Right now, you don’t know what you don’t know. And what you know, is only to skim the surface of a very deep pool of information. You’re probably feeling that right now.
Don’t stress. We’ve all been there!
There’s a lot of doubt about what the future holds. The draft is upon you and it is totally out of your control. All you can do is sit back, wait and hope that it all works out for the best.
It’s a daunting process for anyone, let alone for young men still finding their true identity and place in the world.
But as my dad told me after I was drafted to Fremantle in 1999 — after he saw me quietly contemplating the multitude of challenges I was about to face … “Your boyhood dream has come true son, how lucky are you? There are so many of your friends and in society who would love to be in your position. Don’t waste a minute. Go and enjoy it.” Sage words of advice that held me in good stead for almost two decades.
Being drafted onto an AFL list is an accomplishment in its own right and one you should take pride in.
But in reality — like it is for every single AFL player who fronts up year after year — the hard work starts now with your first pre-season. Talent has seen you get this far, hard work, discipline and a strong sense of self will now take you to the next level.
Although many of you have been preparing for this opportunity since you were little kids with focus and determination, it’s now time to really get your hands dirty, dig in and work for every bit of your success and that of your new teammates.
It’s highly unlikely that any of it will be handed to you on a platter. It’s better that way anyway. Gifted success has a veil of worthlessness that no one wants to wear.
If you’re competitive and have a taste for hard work, you will shine. This along with being respectful to your new teammates and every single person at the club you’ve been drafted to is critical to your success and longevity in the game.
Being more specific, when you do join your team for the first time, build relationships with your leaders. It will help establish your career.
You will be given feedback by many coaches and teammates. Take it all on board and see it not as a personal attack, but as an opportunity to improve and develop. It may not always seem that way, but people are only trying to help you grow as a footballer and a person.
There will be inner doubts. There will be challenges. Not even the very best in the league have a long career without many tests of one’s character and questions of their ability. Embrace it all and back yourself in.
As for all other external noise — the media, fans and anyone else who now thinks they can have a piece of you — leave it. Don’t listen. A good bullshit filter is a must have.
This is truly the opportunity of a lifetime. There is nothing better than the feeling of togetherness with your teammates. That feeling of belonging to something bigger than you.
Once you decide to give up a part of yourself for the betterment of your team, it is a meaningful, humbling and truly rewarding experience.
I’ve recently sat down and contemplated it all and the one thing I can’t get out of my head is the people I’ve worked with and played against. The things we’ve done and seen. As much as I’ll try, there is no way I’ll be able to replicate it, particularly game day.
That feeling we as players get of nervous anticipation, a sick feeling that would rise up with what was at stake. Those moments of sheer anticipation, in any walk of life, are rare and precious and only experienced by a very fortunate few.
It’s that moment before the curtain goes up, the lights come on and the crowd is waiting. It’s that electric moment between get-set and go, full of possibility, when we are most alive.
For AFL players, it is often just before you head up the race. The last moments together with your teammates in the dressing room, waiting as one to head up that race together.
The anticipation. The passion. The connection. That emotion always draws you back in. And it is that desire and commitment that will be the starting point of all your achievement. Once you’ve tasted it, I doubt it will ever leave you.
A word of caution though; be careful who you surround yourself with. Now that I’m done, I truly appreciate how important it was for me to stay close with the people I grew up with.
If you choose your inner circle wisely (friends, family, partner, manager etc.) and have people in your life to hold you accountable to your actions, you’ll succeed both on and off the field.
Speaking of off the field. Please, I implore you to find something else to keep you occupied and your mind stimulated. It is a fact that those who have a meaningful focus off the field — study, apprenticeship, business interest — are the ones who are successful on it.
Don’t waste the opportunity that is in front of you — the fact you’ll be surrounded by the best medical staff, conditioning coaches and other fantastic well-being resources to help make your career a success.
Furthermore, you’ll have the great support of the AFL Players’ Association. Take the time to fully comprehend the services they provide, as it is a wonderful source.
An organisation that offers so much and strongly represents the views of players and advocates on their behalf is at your fingertips.
As mentioned, the real work is just about to begin, so push yourself to become a better athlete and critically a better person every day. The game makes young men grow up quickly and become leaders of our society.
You are now an example to all young people from Bunbury to Bondi and everywhere in between.
Congratulations again. It’s all in front of you now.
And finally, in the words of Dr. Seuss, “You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose. You’re on your own (well not really — see above). And you know what you know. And YOU are the one who’ll decide where to go.”
AFL Players’ Association President