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Jackson's battle for a life outside of football

Peter Ryan  February 1, 2013 7:39 AM

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Daniel Jackson says footballers need balance in their lives

"[Winning is] why we play footy but I think there are areas where there can be a better balance
RICHMOND midfielder Daniel Jackson took eight years to complete his Bachelor of Commerce at Melbourne University.
It is a three-year degree.

Jackson is not slack, or silly either.

Such are the time demands now made on AFL footballers it's becoming increasingly difficult – even for the most driven of players such as Jackson – to complete a long-term education program.

As the environment changed, Jackson knew the only way he would possibly complete the course he began when he first joined Richmond was if he created a hectic routine for himself.

He has stuck to that routine for the past three years.

In the first semester he would do two subjects (full-time students manage four). Realistically he would attend three of the six contact hours that doing two subjects required, and then find a way to cover the other three.

In the second semester, when footy became a grind, the body began to struggle and more time was needed each week to recover he would drop back to one subject.

Doesn't sound like much time to find but it is in the current environment.

Industry observers fear Jackson might be becoming a rare beast in combining a football career and finishing a university degree.

Not rare because players don't want to access opportunities outside the club. And not rare because the AFLPA isn't funding programs and creating conditions that encourage players to establish a life outside of football.

Jackson's achievement might become rare because the demands of AFL football are so great that many players put creating space to pursue outside interests, particularly long-term educational opportunities, in the too-hard basket.

"Other guys aren't the same as me so they just cut the things out that they don't think are necessary, whether that is study or work or whatever or they will try their best to do something but a lot of guys aren't finishing things because it gets too hard to [properly] prioritise your football and your welfare," Jackson said.

Jackson said that creating interaction with the general community through work or study is, for some players, dropping down the list of priorities behind training programs, other club or game-related commitments and the need to see family and relax with friends (many who are also footballers).

"There are a number of things the AFLPA is already doing really well. They just need the support from the AFL and the clubs," Jackson said.

He knows that for proactive player wellbeing initiatives to succeed, the game's culture needs to support them.

And at the moment many aspects work against them.

The game itself has also become so demanding that the lifestyle that is required to prepare for the battle and then recover had chewed up time and mental energy players previously had in store to focus on things other than football.

With only one bye, and a condensed off-season as clubs and players look for any opportunity to get a competitive advantage, the game is mentally and physically demanding. Senior players have been heard to say they are glad they are not starting in the game now.

Club and game-related commitments away from the track have also increased.

"At the moment, we are really at the pinnacle of trying to squeeze everything we can out of players," Jackson said.

The clubs are not to blame for that trend either. Their want for a premiership and to be successful is one shared by the players.

Most clubs also understand the importance of players leading a balanced life and encourage off-field activity. However everyone knows the only way flags are won is through hard work. To compete you must go as hard as the next team. And for most players something has to give.

Jackson gets that. After all, he imagines winning the premiership would be the greatest feeling in the world. Not blessed with supreme natural talent, he works hard on his game.

He also loves the club environment and his teammates and is keen to emphasis that he is not complaining about what life is like as an AFL player. In fact he says it is a great job - but it is unhealthy for anything to be all consuming.

"Players, more than anything, want to win, so we don't want to make anyone take any short cuts in regards to giving their team the best chance of winning a flag," Jackson said.

"It's why we play footy but I think there are areas where there can be a better balance."

He just thinks it's time for the game to have a conversation about the effect such an environment might have on the young people involved in the game.

"[It's not] necessarily having a less is more policy but definitely not having a more is more policy," Jackson said.

Jackson has benefited from having a set day off every Wednesday (a condition achieved through the latest Collective Bargaining Agreement that enabled him to lock in study time), although he concedes not all players are convinced that the day off needs to be the same day each week.

And with the Tigers' coach Damien Hardwick encouraging his players to do something productive away from football, Jackson felt comfortable pursuing his off-field objective too.

"It's been a pleasure to work with him. He is very, very understanding," Jackson said.

The 26-year-old is also an advocate for a set industry return date that sees each club begin training on the same day and says the industry could learn from things other sports have done to build a barrier around time demands made on players.

After nine seasons and 123 games, he knows that without industry support, an individual will find it hard to resist the push to do more and more to improve his football.

"It's about players being able to take [off-field activity] up without being pressured that they are sacrificing their football," Jackson said.