Footy just the beginning for Saints’ Mason Wood
St Kilda’s Mason Wood would be delighted to be in the minority – the 30 per cent of AFL players who retire with justifiably high wellbeing and financial security. Relatively few professional athletes have the luxury of such a positive outlook.
But for Mason, who is near the finish line of his studies at Australian Catholic University (ACU), life beyond footy is an invigorating prospect.
“I’d be happy to say that’s it if footy finished now,” said Mason who has revived his career at St Kilda after being cut by the Kangaroos in 2020.
“I’ve made a lot of connections, I’m 30 next year. I’d be happy to jump into what’s next.”
Mason still has goals to kick, literally and figuratively, on the field after re-signing with the Saints until the end of 2023. He averaged almost 17 disposals and five marks a game in 2022.
Off the field he won the Robert Harvey Best Clubman Award for his work with the club’s emerging talent and AFLW program. And he was among the inaugural ACU cohort to receive a Blue, the highest sporting honour to be awarded within tertiary institutions.
Retirement can wait for now but he is aware of the risks that come with being unprepared for life outside the boundary.
Choice is everything
According to the AFL Players’ Association Insights and Impact Report, 70 per cent of players who were delisted after short careers experienced lower levels of wellbeing and higher levels of career self-doubt compared to players who exit on their own terms.
The 30 per cent who retired exited with stronger career confidence which has been linked with higher levels of wellbeing and financial capability.
“The data would suggest that we have a large proportion of young players with strong athletic identity leaving the game without a (Player Individual Development) plan. This issue has been identified by the AFLPA as a barrier to successful player transition,” AFLPA general manager member programs and services Ben Smith said.
Australian basketball legend Lauren Jackson and Olympic swimming great Grant Hackett are among countless other who have wrestled with transition out of elite sport.
Mason has seen peers exit his sport unprepared for what’s next and grow to resent their first post-football role.
With the club’s support – the Saints know when assessments are due for all players and issue timely reminders – he will return for the 2023 pre-season having completed a Bachelor of Exercise and Sport Science.
It took the 29-year-old almost a decade across two institutions to get there. His only regret was not tackling a higher study load sooner.
“From a holistic point of view, I didn’t fully understand how important study was until the end of 2020,” he said. “I was extremely stressed, I hadn’t finished study and, if football ended then, I was thinking about where to live.
“I needed to have something else. It was only then I started realising I had this spare time and study was a great escape from footy.
“People don’t think about transition because it’s scary. But you’ve got so much time and as I got older I realised I could do a lot more.”
The right support
Mason is a member of ACU’s Elite Athlete and Performer Program (EAPP). The program supports students to balance their academic and high performance commitments.
Hundreds of athletes, including Mason’s teammate Jarryn Geary, Australian Paralympic great Ellie Cole, three-time NRL premiership winner Luke Keary and national women’s cricket captain Meg Lanning have benefitted from EAPP support.
His studies at ACU and exposure to the club’s performance and conditioning department have encouraged Mason to extend his education to pursue a Master of High Performance Sport. The postgraduate course includes professional practice-related learning, independent research and internship opportunities and is an ideal launchpad into a high performance career.
“For me, football’s the best fit but it’s a wide world. I need some more experience before I can run a program but I’m confident enough to step into a strength and conditioning role somewhere,” Mason said.
“I’ve got plenty of contacts, some overseas, and am trying to make myself as big an asset as I can.”
Ready to pursue university? Check out the courses on offer at ACU.