Fans Mental Health

‘You need to take this opportunity… don’t waste it’

Twelve months ago former Melbourne defender Daniel Ward was facing a significant transition period in his life.

Eleven years out of the system and seeking a change after working in sales since his 2007 retirement, Ward contacted the AFL Players’ Association’s Alumni manager Brad Fisher for assistance.

Fisher, who played 99 games for Carlton between 2003 and 2010, suggested to Ward that he should attend the Transition Camp for recently retired and delisted players following its 2017 launch.

Experiencing trepidation and anxiety around what to do next Ward “swallowed his pride” and attended last year’s Transition Camp.

Overcoming his anxiety and nervousness around attending, Ward used the camp to identify his skillset, build his personal brand and network.

Fast forward to this November and in front of this year’s crop of recently retired and delisted players, Ward presented about his own experiences and the work he is now doing in a key account management role with Bunzl Australia – a job he landed utilising the networks he built at last year’s camp.

“Because I was so structured with football I found I had lost my way a little bit,” Ward told about his career crossroad.

“I’d been out of the system, went straight into work after football and 10 years down the track realised I wasn’t happy in what I was doing.”

Daniel Ward presenting at the 2019 AFLPA Transition Camp. Source: LinkedIn Bunzl Australasia.

For the more than 80 players that transition out of the AFL system each year, facing unique difficulties around career transition from a professional sporting environment, financial literacy and challenges associated with re-entering the workforce is common place.

Following feedback from the playing group, a number of key focus areas were identified for the Association with transition and mental health becoming priority areas.

To address the players’ concerns around the transition phase of a career, the AFLPA instituted the annual Transition Camp, which started in 2017.

Partnering with career coaching firm TwoPointZeroAFL SportsReady and insurance group AIA Australia, the AFLPA’s 2019 Transition Camp was set over three days in the Yarra Valley to help upskill attendees and provide networking, mentoring and potential employment opportunities for past players and those currently transitioning out of the game

For former Brisbane midfielder Ben Keays, the two-day camp provided a chance for him to discover what work and study opportunities exist beyond football.

Keays, an Academy selection in the 2015 Draft (No. 25 overall), was delisted by Brisbane at the conclusion of this season following a 30-game career.

At 22, Keays still has a burning desire to continue his career at the highest level but said he’d never factored in what would happen if he left the game so young.

By his own admission he was footy-oriented only focusing on the ‘now’ of his career and not his future.

“I had a lot of anxiety around attending and knowing that the demographic of players here would be a little bit older, but I’m glad I made the decision to attend because at the end of the day we’re all in the same situation,” Keays told

With the average AFL career spanning five years, players are encouraged to work with their club Player Development Managers (PDMs) and AFLPA Regional Managers to plan for life after football and pursue their interests and career aspirations away from the field.

For those players like Keays who are unsure on the direction they want to take after football, day one of the Camp started with a vision and goal-setting run by the AFL Players’ yoga and mindfulness partner, lululemon. This included identifying personal values of each individual, most of which centered on family, fun and passion.

Following lululemon’s vision and goal-setting session, players engaged in personal brand building sessions, information sessions around managing their finances, identifying transferable skills, building a LinkedIn profile and the value of networking.

AFL Players’ career services partner TwoPointZero presented two workshops to the group on career assessment and resume preparation using TwoPointZero’s new Thrive tool.

The career assessment session included profiling personality traits and matching them to specific industries and job. The first step was to outline the six traits; realistic, investigative, artistic, social, enterprising and conventional before taking a test that results in a score and finds three traits an individual identifies with most.

Those three traits then suggest a range of jobs and industries that suit the individual’s personality type. These workshops provided the opportunity for players to hone in on individual skills and match them to careers that might be of interest.

Former Melbourne player Declan Keilty attends the career expo on day two of the Transition Camp. Picture: Samuel Kenny. 

After announcing his retirement before the conclusion of the 2019 season, cross-code athlete and former Melbourne player Corey Maynard said the camp was providing him with the tools to “bridge the gap” in his personal and professional skillset.

Maynard’s pathway was different to many of the former players in attendance with the former basketballer having completed his university degree before signing with the Demons ahead of the 2017 season.

The former Category B rookie played college basketball for Bryant University in Rhode Island while completing a degree in Business Management and Sociology.

Despite having laid the foundations for his post-football life during his college basketball years and time in the NBL, Maynard said he still felt a level of apprehension around attending the camp.

“When there is an element of the unknown there is always going to be an overarching level of concern. But that subsided pretty quickly when you realise you’re not alone (in the transition process),” he told at the camp.

“It’s a big transition phase in our lives and you are in limbo a little bit but if you put yourself out and you’ll get out of it what you put in… it’s about making the most of the opportunities available to you.”

Shadforth Group’s Mark Porter presents to the players at the 2019 Transition Camp. Picture: Samuel Kenny.

For the final day of the camp the team from RSN Breakfast, led by former Hawthorn and Carlton footballer and Carlton AFLW coach Daniel Harford, were onsite in the morning to broadcast their show.

Attendees Dylan Buckley, Tom Nicholls, David Armitage and Matthew Lobbe all featured on the program to chat about their individual experiences leaving the game.

Harford emceed the events for the day, which involved the players putting into practice the skills they had acquired in the previous day’s activities.

More than 25 businesses came down to present to the 35-strong group, led by AFL SportsReady, pitching their business and industry to the players and opening the door for future career opportunities.

AIA Australia, Victoria Police, the Metropolitan Fire Brigade and the AFL Coaches’ Association were among a handful of those on-hand to network with the group.

Former Hawthorn player Rayden Tallis and current National Manager of AFL programs at AFL SportsReady left the transitioning players with one final message before they embarked on the careers expo: ‘You need to take this opportunity. Don’t waste it.’

Tallis encouraged the group to have confidence in the support they receive from the AFLPA and their networks and to use the passion they had for the game into the next steps of their life.

“It’s time for you guys to start working on yourself and your own business… your attitude and actions can quickly enhance your brand so be known as that reliable person.”

Two Point Zero’s Steve Shepherd unveils the new Thrive Tool to the players in attendance. Picture: Ben Guthrie. 

With the average career of an AFL player ending before the age of 24, there are certain drawbacks of being a professional athlete.

Maynard said the greatest challenge he has faced in retirement so far is the underlying element of guilt he feels in relation to training, diet and being used to living by athlete standards.

For 10 years, Maynard has been on the move between South Australia, the United States, far-north Queensland where he played in the NBL for the Cairns Taipans and Townsville Crocodiles and returning to Melbourne where he now resides.

“I’ve always been worrying about training and maintaining that athlete mentality and because of that I probably haven’t dealt with the harsh realities yet of no longer being a professional athlete,” he said.

“I want to push myself because the athlete in me tells me to despite not needing to go that hard any more. There’s a little bit of guilt there and that’s probably been the one emotion I’ve felt straight away but I’m trying to balance it all at the moment. It’s been a big 10 years.”

Maynard has spent time since retiring reflecting on his career and what he’s been able to achieve and the challenges he’s faced.

A chronic hip injury forced Maynard into an early retirement at just 28 and despite his career ending prematurely he’s thankful to have been in the unique situation professional athletes find themselves in.

“You’re only there for a really minute period of your life and so it’s important to make the most of it, take advantage of the opportunities that are presented to you and embrace the challenges,” Maynard said.

“Make a connection to the bigger picture, it’s hard to do but it’s important to be focused on more than just what is right in front of you. Step outside, have a look around and see how big the athlete world really is.”