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Things can change in the blink of an eye

After being delisted by Geelong at the end of 2012, Tom Gillies started to think seriously about life after football. By the start of 2013 he was back on an AFL list – having signed on at Melbourne as a delisted free agent – but knew things could change again in the blink of an eye.

“Once I got the flick at Geelong, I sort of started planning and it became more real. I was lucky to get the extra-year – I was more prepared [for life after footy] coming out of Melbourne than I was coming out of Geelong,” he said.

Gillies had aspirations of entering the police force. Though he wasn’t in a position to formally begin that process while still at the Demons, he took steps to ensure he would be as prepared as possible for the police entrance exam when the time finally came.

“I was more prepared [for life after footy] coming out of Melbourne than I was coming out of Geelong” – Gillies

In 2013 he enrolled in the AFL Players’ Career Skills program, which helps players build and improve on the personal skills required to further their career opportunities. Rather than assisting players specifically with their chosen career pathways, the program provides players with the basic tools they need to excel in their pursuits outside of football.

“For me, it was based around my English skills because I obviously haven’t been to school for about six years and haven’t been in an exam environment for a long time,” Gillies said.

“I used the program to get my head used to exams, tests and pressure. I took tutoring to make sure that I passed the test so I didn’t set myself back another couple of months.”

Best of all, the program didn’t interfere with his football.

“The lady I worked with was pretty flexible. Most of the time she came out to the club and a couple of times I went to her office in Collingwood just down the road, so it was pretty simple. ”

When Melbourne delisted Gillies at the end of 2013 the time was right to take the police entrance exam. He got the result he wanted, and is on his way to entering the academy.

“I’ve got my fitness test and then a final panel interview, which will be a couple of months after that. I’m hoping to start sometime at the back-end of the footy season, but you can be on the waiting list for a year or a month – you just don’t know.”

While the Career Skills program can help players that have low levels of numeracy, literacy and language skills, Gillies’ story is proof those at the higher end of the spectrum can also use the program to their advantage.

This article will appear in the AFL Players’ 2013 Development and Wellbeing Report, set to be published next month.