Loving & Leaving League

The Way I See It - By Mark Geyer

Footballers face many tests, and retirementís one of the biggest.

 

When you begin your league career at whatever age Ė usually from six to 10 Ė the main reason you join up is for the chance to be with mates, because thatís what makes rugby league such a great game; the boys and men you play with usually become lifelong mates or friends.

Along the way, you start to grow and become a man. The voice changes, girls become a lot more attractive and your focus in life has just about been set in clay. If youíre like me, you have two options: (1) Hang with the blokes who party and play up all the time or (2) Make the sport your chosen profession.

Even at 10 years of age, I knew what I wanted to be: Les Boyd. Soon after your grade career starts, new and fresh ideas are presented to you. You learn new skills and your desire to make it to the top accelerates. As time goes by you will get advice like, "Youíre only in this game for a short while, son. Make the most of it".

"Sure, Iíll be doing this forever," you think, but without the benefit of hindsight. And hindsight is a great thing.

Once you finally make it all the way to first grade, rep honours become your goal. If youíre lucky, theyíll follow. Then you can shoot for the ultimate: playing for Australia.

After laying great football at whatever level, you get adjusted to the good things in life. Things like sponsorship, free food, attention that you never wouldíve got if youíd become a mechanic or builder instead of a star sportsman.

So you get used to the high life, then three or four years pass, your speed starts to slow and your agility vanishes. You still have that same desire, itís just that your body seems to think differently. You find the closer you get to the age 30 mark, aches and pains last longer, and so does your memory of the pain.

Then one day the coach asks you to his office. You think, "This isnít a good sign. Iíve been struggling lately". He says if your form doesnít pick up, heíll have to put you back to the seconds. A vast amount of thoughts and emotions go through your body, the first being: "Thatís it, itís all over".

The thing about riding the rugby league roller-coaster is that when youíre a kid, all you want to do is make it to the big time. Along the way you might forego some sort of education, with many players leaving school to take up league at the grade level. In my case Ė and I can see it in a lot of players nearing the end of their careers Ė you donít realise just how much it affects you.

You honestly think youíre still making contributions on the field until the coach shows you just exactly how things have changed. Itís always hard to say goodbye to something that youíve known and loved for 25 years. Anxiety and depression are just a couple of the crushing emotions you experience when you realise itís over.

Thereís also the fear of the unknown. For the last 10-12 years you have had every day of your life mapped out for you, and now the corporate world awaits. Itís scary. But for a handful of former players, most go back to nine-to-five jobs. Itís a big letdown after what youíve just been through, but one you have to take on.

So if youíre a current player reading this column, my only advice to you is this: learn as much about life outside of football as you can.

Because I tell you, youíre going to need it.