Mitch Brown played 94 games for West Coast from 2007 to 2016. Having transitioned out of the AFL system last season, he took the opportunity to write to the newest crop of players who will leave the game in 2017.
Firstly, I would like to congratulate you on your career.
As a player transitioning out of the AFL system, it is important to reflect and be proud of the incredible achievement being an AFL player really is, no matter how many games you did or didn’t play.
Transitioning out of AFL footy last year certainly does not make me a master on the topic. I represent just one of the 120 players that exit the game every year and my experience is only one of many.
No two players are the same. Some cross over smoothly and quickly and land on their feet with ease. Some struggle to find a purpose as satisfying as footy. Some blokes are relieved to be out of the system. Some have no idea what they are going to do in the morning. Some blow out. Some get super fit. And some struggle with their identity away from footy.
To be honest, there were moments I felt pretty alone in my transition.
Sometimes the anxiety that came with worrying about money, employment and relationships overwhelmed me. People added their two cents. Some told me to play local footy. Some told me to totally shut the door on it. Some people told me go on a huge holiday.
Other people told me that I should take the first opportunity that lands because, ‘they won’t be knocking tomorrow.’ Some told me to study and others told me I didn’t need to. I knew they were trying to help but all it did was confuse me.
I thought I had a ‘life after footy plan,’ but the truth is I really thought that D-day was a tiny bit further away. It snuck up on me like a ghost in the dark and next minute I really started questioning myself.
Fast forward to now and I am starting to feel more structured and beginning to have greater direction towards my new purpose.
While I am still learning every day who I am away from the game and establishing my non-athletic identity, it didn’t take me long to realise a few things. We are not defined by football. Your career in football made you the person you are today and sets the foundations for the incredible things you are bound for in your next journey.
The demands of modern day professional football tests our physical capabilities, but it also challenges us to develop mentally and emotionally.
We learn to work in teams. We learn to play our role. We learn about leadership. We learn to strategise. We learn the importance of building a high-performing culture. We are taught discipline. We learn to speak publicly. We learn about compassion and empathy. We practiced resilience.
You may not be an AFL footballer anymore but what you have gained as a person from this experience makes you incredibly valuable in society. Never doubt this. You have been in a high-performance environment that even some of the best businessmen in the world could only dream of. Use these skills. Be proud of these skills.
Embracing every single thing that comes your way and maximising your time in the game is the key. Find a purpose that motivates you and excites you. Throw caution to the wind, try new things and be willing to explore the unknown.
It seems hard sometimes to ask for help and support but creating a strong network around you will make a big difference. Be sure to use every resource available to you, especially from the AFLPA. And reach out to the other boys that might be going through the same thing.
Things will take time. You will have your ups and downs but have faith in this process and keep a positive attitude. Crave getting outside your comfort zone and be curious about things around you and what you could become.
You are embarking on your next adventure and trust me there are plenty of moments post football that will give you the same adrenaline rush and excitement that we got playing this great game.
I wish you all the best and remember your mental health is as important as your physical health.