November 30, 2017

What’s next? This is the simple question we ask ourselves daily. But the prevalence this question plays amongst young people and young athletes is crucial to their personal and professional career. I have been involved in Football from a local level to a semi-professional level in the VFL for a sustained period now and have been exposed to the pressures of putting it all on the line, day in day out to become an AFL footballer. This is every boys dream growing up. Do you remember kicking the footy in the park or in the back yard and replicating your favourite players every move, whether it was snapping goals from the boundary like Peter Daicos, strutting around like Dermott Brereton or taking hangers like Alex Jesaulinko.  If you remember the feelings you felt back then, the excitement through your body, the smile on your face and the way you were unaware about outside pressures, you would understand the position most young athletes find themselves in now. The industry has evolved over the years, we now see every move an AFL player makes through the media, we follow the stars on social media and heavily criticise their mistakes and judgements. When you were kicking the due off the oval on a Sunday morning at 8am, this wasn’t an issue. During the week, you would go to school and after school get the footy and run around the backyard, after a few hours out there you would come inside for dinner with sweat pouring down your face, your knees and elbows full of mud and in some cases blood dripping from one of your limbs. My point being, you didn’t have a care in the world, no matter what you or your siblings and friends did, you were satisfied with the outcomes. I am a big advocate of enjoyment creates passion. If there is something that you enjoy so much and you continuously pursue this happiness, it will become a passion. Nowadays, passion is so hard to find. When you get a chance, ask a friend or family member what their passion is? I bet 70% of people won’t have a passion in life, they might have something they like to do but it has not become a passion. I believe everyone needs to have a passion, something they can turn to when life becomes distressing, because we all need a release, a chance to get away from the pressures of life, family and careers. I struggled to find this passion for a very long time, it drove me to a place I never want to be exposed to again, a place where I continually questioned my purpose, my vision, my goals and everything else which drove me previously to succeed.


Once I broke through to the Calder Cannons TAC Cup squad in 2011, the pressure increased, the scrutiny increased, the enjoyment of my passion was lost, I became entrenched in scrutiny, my ability to love the game I once envisioned in my head was diminished. At the end of 2011, after winning the Robert Hyde Medal for best and fairest of that year, I was overlooked for draft selection in both the National and Rookie draft. I remember sitting in front of my computer screen at the end of the rookie draft, as it was streamed on the AFL website, thinking ‘What’s Next’? I had this feeling in my stomach that all my dreams and hopes had been washed up and spat back out. For the next hour, I sat on the couch and thought that I was going to wake up from this horrible dream. It ate me up inside, but I eventually thought to myself, let’s way up my options now. VFL? Local footy? Quit completely?...... These were all the options running through my head now. After speaking with my manager at the time, it was best for me to apply my trade in the VFL, as this would give me the best opportunity to make it in the AFL. In the meantime, I enrolled in a Bachelor of International Business as an emergency backup plan, but this was the furthest thing from my mind. For the next 5 years I played a total of 35 games, mostly VFL reserves games. These next 5 years consisted of continuous hamstring tears and left and right shoulder dislocations resulting in surgery. At the end of 2016, I once against said to myself ‘What’s Next’? I knew at this moment my boyhood dreams were over and to be honest I think I knew they were over 2 years prior but was holding on to the dreams I had as an 8-year-old boy. I was working as a relationship manager for a logistics company at the time and remember being so disinterested with my life at that time, my partner noticed changes in my personality, I became hard to deal with and she voiced her concerns to me. In the background, my father was struggling with a cancer battle. So, at the start of 2017 I decided to make some changes, changes that would be of self-interest, things that would allow me to find that passion for life again. I quit my job to spend more time with my father, I decided to go play local football down at Craigieburn and learn to enjoy the things I had missed out on due to my continuous drive to play AFL. I had travel plans I always wanted to achieve and put this high on my agenda. I finally felt at peace with myself, the pressure I had previously felt was no longer sitting on my shoulders. I still believe there is a reason why I went through all those injuries and it was because my passion and my motivations had changed from when I was a boy. But simple changes to my life made a great deal of difference to my overall well-being, I learnt to enjoy life for what it is, but what it is, was what I made of it. Anything you get out of life, is a result of what you put in, this is true in sport, in business, in relationships and in the world today. I cherished the people close to me, advocated the power of a positive mind to friends and family, but put plans in place to become the person I want to now become. A month later my father passed away and a month after that I tore my ACL in a practise match which required surgery. So, ‘What’s Next’?


So, I would love to know how many people plan for ‘What’s Next’? How many young aspiring athletes and seasoned veterans plan for the next stage? We never know what will happen next, planning that next stage of our lives is frightening because that next stage may not be the stage we envisioned in our heads as kids. I most certainly didn’t envision the stages of life I went through, but altering the controllable is crucial to ultimate fulfilment. I don’t look back now and regret one part of my life, each stage of my life has brought me to a place which satisfies who I am as a person and who I want to become. As young people and athletes specifically we are measured on what we do but more importantly what we can become and that is the most daunting task. Measuring someone on what they can become has significant ramifications on the aspiring young people of our generation. The pressure that comes with what you can currently do but what you can produce moving forward is relentless and ongoing. The modern game has so many demands, with them increasing with every season through the media, sponsors, fans, society and clubs. What we tend to forget is these young combatants are just people, they still have emotions, feelings, perceptions, views and ambitions like anyone else and they all have variations to these needs. Football is a stage in life and yes, for some people it will become a lifelong career through media, through coaching or other various forms of involvement, but for most the average AFL career is a couple of years. After all that sacrifice, what are your next moves? What cards will you play next? I wish I could say our young people of today are prepared for ‘What’s Next’ but all too often we see instances of insecurity, inability to adapt to changes and uncontrollable forces dictating our lives. I am a believer that repetition is crucial and mastering one task rather than multiple will achieve ultimate success. But in the world of professional sport, mastering the task has a lifespan and once that lifespan is up we must look to master another task. I think where people come unstuck is when evolving is not part of their nature, we get stuck in a comfort zone that doesn’t allow us to be released from, it will consume our every thought and our every action until we make a change. We cannot make a change to our thought process without some understanding of who we want to become.


So, I will say this, never be consumed in what you can do but rather what you are doing right now. The way you shape the actions you have now, will ultimately shape your actions in the future and lead you to a fulfilled life, a life which will give you appreciation rather than expectation. Appreciation will be your greatest asset in life, because it will give you a greater perspective on what is important to you.


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© Damien Bugeja 2018