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11 October, 2020

Confronting life after football

Former Centrals Trinity Beach senior coach Wayne Sharkie has been around football a long time.

By Brad Sinclair

His senior coaching journey began before many of his Bulldog players were born. 

He thinks the one thing that could improve in the game is player welfare off the field. Sharkie believes when the journey for a footballer or a coach comes to an end, it can be both brutal and confronting. 

 Sometimes a phone call from someone to see how the player or coach is are doing is all that’s required. The call doesn’t have to be when their career is at the end, it could be along the way when they’re facing the challenges thrown at them both in sport or life in general.

“Unfortunately most men won’t talk openly about the things that are troubling them.” This recently hit home with Sharkie when a footballer he recently coached took his own life. That player also lost a good mate in similar circumstances a year earlier. 

 Losing a job and a partner as well, put him in a very vulnerable position. The player went back to his home town of Townsville to be around a support network he had known for many years. Sharkie kept in touch with the player and it appeared he was ok. 

 He had a new job, was back playing football with his junior club and when Sharkie checked in, the reply was, “thanks for checking in on me, I’ll always be ok.” That was the last contact he had with him. “This was the spur for me to try and make a difference and to help others that may find themselves in a similar position.”

 This was the second suicide he has confronted since COVID hit in March. 

 “It has me thinking, can I have an impact in my local community to prevent this happening?” “When it comes to my sport, there needs to be more done regarding player welfare.” 

 There is an organisation based in Melbourne called “Outside The Locker Room” founded by ex-Carlton footballer Jake Edwards. They conducted sessions with Sharkie’s former club in Cairns - the feedback from players was fantastic.” “The program had a positive impact on one player on the verge of doing something silly and he is still with us and doing well.” Sharkie got in contact with Outside The Locker Room in October last year to facilitate more sessions, but when COVID hit the project was “put on the back burner.”

 Sharkie would like to localise a similar program here in the Far North not only for AFL footballers but all sportspeople. He is in the process of getting the network started. 

 “Even if it’s just a shoulder or an ear when they’re vulnerable and they have someone to call and catch up for a coffee and chat.” 

Sharkie believes the sport’s controlling body should employ a welfare officer at the very least in a part time role to facilitate certain programs. 

 You only have to look at Sharkie’s background, relocating to Cairns from Melbourne and taking up a senior coaching role at the Bulldogs with a two year deal, unfortunately let go after one year. “Even if a coach finishes up at the end of their tenure naturally, it would be a good idea for someone to make a call and see how they are doing.” “Sometimes it’s just a phone call that can make all the difference.” 

 “Clubs have a role to play, but they’re hardly going to make that call, but the controlling bodies have a duty of care here.” Sport can be your best support mechanism and when it’s over it can also be terribly confronting. I’ve been fortunate enough to be involved in football as a player and coach now for 47 years and my day too is drawing near. I still remember walking into the Clayton Football Club as an excited nine-year-old boy with dreams of making it to the “Big Time”. 

 Along the way there are many speed humps and hurdles you have to jump, some you can handle on your own but many you won’t admit to needing help. This year COVID has put many of these speed humps and hurdles in our path and I believe that all players, coaches and volunteers have done an amazing job just to have a season. I, along with Wayne Sharkie believe that it’s time more is done in the area of player welfare and by player welfare I include all coaches and volunteers in that. 

 I also think Sharkie is on to something here and I truly hope that he gets the full support that will be needed, or at the very least this time around he gets that phone call.

Readers seeking support can contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Beyond Blue on 12300 22 46 36

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