When an AFL career comes to an end, players are often faced with the dilemma of what to do next.
Some prepare meticulously over their journey for that moment, but some don’t have the luxury of a long, distinguished career to plan for a career after football.
That was the case for former Hawk Matt Little when his AFL career came to a close at the end of 2007.
Little was on Hawthorn’s list for three years and, with one AFL match to his name, his career finished at the age of 21 having commenced some study the year before.
And while the plan was always to further his education, his lack of time at the elite level meant putting in the hard yards without the security of an AFL contract.
“I was just working at a warehouse unloading shipping containers two days a week while studying for three days plus VFL commitments were also quite intense,” Little told Aflplayers.com.au.
“One of my mates was working there and he said if I need some part time work while you figure out what you want to do feel free to come on board.
“I ended up working there for five years while I finished my degree. It was pretty lucky in some way because it wasn’t fantastic work but it did teach me things about what I don’t want to do for the rest of my life — it’s not the easiest of work going around.
“You start at six or seven in the morning and finishing at four and going to footy training is a pretty tough way to get by. That work was always a means to an end and I enjoyed my time there but I was pretty happy to move on also.”
Little completed a double degree in arts and business through Victoria University before undertaking a graduate diploma of teaching while fulfilling his playing commitments at Williamstown, and then at Bendigo in the VFL.
While pursuing his studying ventures, he came to the conclusion that sport was the career his heart longed for.
“I knew I wanted to work in sport and I knew I wanted to work in footy. So when I was playing I was geared towards getting an opportunity in footy but the thing is if you want to work in footy, it’s very hard to keep playing footy,” Little added.
“At the end of the 2012 season I asked myself can I get drafted, and the answer was no, so I made that decision to step away from VFL footy. My whole footy journey was geared around playing at the highest level, so it was a pretty difficult decision but at that stage it was the right one to move forward with and start to establish a career.
“Pretty much the whole time I was playing VFL I was studying. I finished the Graduate Diploma at the end of 2012 and at the end of that season, I got the role of VFL Operations Manager at Essendon.
“I stayed in that role for three years and took over as the Bombers’ Player Development Manager at the end of 2015.”
Player development is the rising area of the AFL industry and has become an important part of helping players maximise the opportunities that an AFL career provides.
Trying to enhance that area, the AFL Players’ Association launched a specifically designed Executive Certificate of Player Development to ensure those who are garnering to work in the industry have a range of skills to do so.
“The ideal person working in this space would have a portfolio of life and education experiences that position them well to understand the unique challenges facing AFL players and to provide structured support mechanisms to help players maximise their time in the game,” AFLPA Player Development and Engagement Manager Marissa Fillipou told Aflplayers.com.au.
“We don’t necessarily believe the ideal candidate for such a role would be solely a former player or, on the flip side, someone without playing experience. There’s also an element of enhancing the player development area within the industry and we’re well positioned to utilise our resource base to develop a pool of suitably qualified future player development professionals on behalf of the industry.”
Those employed in the industry to have completed the Executive Certificate include the likes of Brent Prismall, Shannon Byrnes and Marcus Drum, and there have been 44 graduates across the two intakes since being launched.
Part of the recent crop to undertake the Executive Certificate, Little found the qualification helpful for dealing with a range of issues that face AFL Players.
“I found it really rewarding listening to other people talking about the role and people outside the industry talking about player development. I was new to the role and even though I had been in the system for a while, it’s always good to listen to others talk about different scenarios that pop up,” Little adds.
“They’re people who have been around footy a lot longer than what I have and it’s good to listen to people talk about handling different situations particularly in the Indigenous area.
“I have some playing experience with Indigenous players but have never been out to a local community or spent significant time at an Indigenous player’s house or with their family. So it’s good to hear and gain some information and best practices with dealing with indigenous players who have come into the system — I’ve found that really beneficial moving forward.”