Words by Kavisha Di Pietro
After four years balancing their football commitments with part-time study, four current and former Port Adelaide players have completed their post-graduate studies.
Port Adelaide captain Tom Jonas, Darcy Byrne-Jones, former Port Adelaide and Melbourne player Jack Watts and former Port Adelaide player & current Head of Welfare and Player Development Paul Stewart are set to graduate from Torrens University Australia this week with their Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree.
The four students will mark the first cohort to graduate from Torrens University as part of their partnership with the AFL Players’ Association.
The graduation marks a significant milestone for both the players and the club, who pride themselves on fostering a culture of learning and personal development among the playing group.
Studying alongside the group, and supporting them in his role as PDM, Stewart lauded the players for successfully juggling their sporting commitments while pursuing their academic goals.
“I’m incredibly proud of Darcy, Tom, and Jack… There were some rough subjects along the way, some that you’re grinding through, but the boys worked hard,” Stewart told aflplayers.com.au ahead of their graduation.
Stewart, who played 101 games for Port Adelaide between 2008 and 2016, was transitioning from his role with the Power’s Next Generation Academy into the player development space when he made the decision to return to study.
Passionate about business administration and sports management, Stewart originally pursued a post-graduate degree in sports administration.
After discussions with Torrens University and their student success team, Stewart opted for the straight MBA.
Through his role at the Power and his personal relationship with the playing group, Byrne-Jones, Jonas and Watts enrolled in the MBA at the same time.
“As it happened, it worked out amazingly that we all started our course together and we will graduate together this week,” he said.
“It certainly helped that we were able to support each other through the journey… At times it can be a grind between balancing your other commitments. We all had moments throughout the four years of study where you do think to yourself, ‘Can I keep going?’ But in the end we got each other through.
“We were doing the same subjects and working together when we could so that support helped us to work through the tougher moments.”
While the lockdowns and restrictions of COVID in 2020 and 2021 provided a silver lining in having more time to study, finding the right balance was still a grind.
The players, along with Stewart, studied one subject a trimester with the lockdowns providing the opportunity to overload (study more than one subject).
Despite Watts departing the club ahead of the 2020 finals, the group remained committed to studying together when and where they could and supporting one another through the journey.
Along with the practical skillset Stewart has gained from his studies, it is the impact and understanding of what it takes to complete a degree whilst balancing full-time work and his family commitments that is most prominent.
“One thing the experience taught me, and I’ve been using in my role as PDM is to encourage the players at the club to study while they’re in the game,” he explained.
“As a club we focus on work-life balance. Of course, we want our players doing well on-field, but we want them to be equally as engaged off it. We’re flexible with our players allowing them time to study or pick up extra-curricular activities to aid in their post-football lives.
“My message to the players is that you don’t want to be studying when you’ve got three kids and working full-time post football. Get it done while you can, when you’re in the system and have the support of the AFLPA and club behind you, and you have got time on your hands to study (or pursue an opportunity).”
Through the AFLPA’s partnership with Torrens University, all members can receive a 25 per cent scholarship to aid their tuition alongside the current Education & Training Grants and have access to a dedicated success advisor through the Elite Athlete Program.
Torrens University’s athlete program enables a seamless pathway into tertiary education for professional athletes, understanding the unique demands placed on athletes and guides them through their qualifications.
Stewart said the university were exceptional in their understanding of the unique commitments of athletes and, more broadly, their support of those students who were balancing their academic commitments with full-time work.
“From the first day, Business Development Executive, Shirl Kean presented what Torrens University could offer to the players and to me; she’s made herself incredibly accessible and been a great support network,” Stewart said.
“The boys were really comfortable talking to her and she’s got a great understanding of what each course entails, the time commitments and above all, was honest with the players about what she thinks they have the capacity to do, whether that was starting with a post-graduate degree or working your way through an undergraduate degree or certificate.”
As work-life balance and preparing for life post-career becomes more important for the players, the role of club development staff alongside the AFLPA has become critical.
A significant part of Stewart’s role is centred around supporting players through their time in football and helping them understand what life might look like beyond the four walls of the club.
Stewart said as a club Port Adelaide was committed to supporting players in their off-field endeavours.
“Our goal as a club is to try and commit to having every player engaged in something outside of football to ensure they have that work-life balance. We know how important it is these days and especially beyond the field,” he said.
With their study behind them, Stewart and the group are relishing in their achievements.
“If I’m being honest, when I started, I wasn’t sure I’d finish. I felt like I was dipping my toe in at the start hoping to latch on and get through the other side. I’m extremely proud to be alongside the boys in completing this milestone and for us to push each other during the harder times. It’s been one big group effort in a way for each of us to get here,” Stewart said.