Calling time: life after sport

Exploring life after sport with AFL player Josh Bruce, Olympic gold medallist Petria Thomas and Ben Hardy, Olympian and former Australian National Volleyball captain.

Calling time: life after sport

On Side host Tim Gavels talks with AFL player Josh Bruce, 3-time Olympic gold medallist Petria Thomas and Ben Hardy, Olympian and former captain of the Australian volleyball team.



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    Josh Bruce: You're absolutely in a bubble. You're essentially quarantined from everyone, really, just so it's a professional sporting environment and to keep those standards as high as possible. You know, as you get older, you sort of realise how different your life is and how different your work is to most workplaces.

    Ben Hardy: When you're playing in a high-level sport, you've got a lot of things that are taken care of for you. So, I didn't have to worry about paying for my accommodation, you get a good salary, all those sorts of things and then you come home and that's all taken away from you but the spending and so on is still there.

    Petria Thomas: When you spend so much of your life devoted to one particular thing, and it really is the focus of everything you do in your life and then that's gone all of a sudden, it's a big hole to fill.

    Josh Bruce: There's so many transferable skills. You don't last in a system as cut-throat as the AFL for nearly 15 years if you don't have the ability to obviously work hard, be disciplined, be part of a team, execute skills, culturally lead the right way, so yeah, I've got no doubt that that will transfer.



    Podcast intro: Welcome to On Side, the official podcast of Sport Integrity Australia. Our mission is to protect the integrity of sport and the health and welfare of those who participate in Australian sport.

    Tim Gavel: Hello and welcome to On Side, I'm Tim Gavel. Well, what a feast of sport we've had over the past month. It was a fitting end to the season in the AFLW and the WBBL competitions. In the AFLW the Brisbane Lions won a second premiership after an impressive come from behind victory over North Melbourne. 

    The Strikers won back-to-back WBBL championships after defeating the Brisbane Heat by three runs in a pulsating final for the ages at the Adelaide Oval. We have the BBL kicking off and the basketball season in full swing, and the Matildas are building towards the final Olympic Qualifier against Uzbekistan in February. 

    And who can forget the Australian men's cricket team winning the World Cup for the 6th time? The superb victory means Australia extends their record as the most successful side in 50 over a side World Cup history and now sits four titles clear of the rest of the pack. 

    In other news, our Cyber Safety and Security in Sport course has taken up the top gong at this year's LearnX awards for the categories of Best eLearning Project and Best eLearning Design. The LearnX Awards recognise innovation and best practice in learning design around the world. 

    We've also just released a Safeguarding Children and Young People in Sport induction course with new recruitment and screening modules. You can check it out at

    And while last month Sport Integrity Australia welcomed the appointment of 11 members to our Advisory Council, including the reappointment of prominent lawyer and sports administrator Sarah Kenny as the chair. 

    The Advisory Council provides strategic advice to Sport Integrity Australia's CEO and advice to the Minister for Sport relating to the operations of Sport Integrity Australia.



    Tim Gavel: In this week's program we explore life after sport and how hard it is for athletes to find their niche. We talk to AFL forward Josh Bruce, who retired because of injury near the end of the AFL season, three-time Olympic gold medallist swimmer Petria Thomas and Ben Hardy, an Olympian and former captain of the Australian National Volleyball Team.

    First up though, we've been joined by Josh Bruce. Now Josh played 163 AFL matches across 13 years in the AFL, representing the Western Bulldogs, St. Kilda and Greater Western Sydney and Josh made his AFL debut in round 5, 2012. Well Josh, obviously retiring from the AFL, 31 years of age, 163 games in the AFL. What is life like on the other side, after announcing your retirement from the AFL, is it hard at times to come to terms with what is next?

    Josh Bruce: Yes, it is. It's been a bit of a whirlwind though. It was obviously taken out of my hands a little bit with my second ACL and then subsequent retirement after that, and then sort of immediately we realised that we weren't going to live in Melbourne for the long term so we thought it'd be best to be surrounded by family and whatnot for the short period so we essentially tried to get our house ready for sale, moved the kids out of the house, get them to Canberra, go through a whole auction campaign, so I haven't really had time to stop and think too much, and currently on the job hunt so.

    Tim Gavel: Yes, how hard is it to get your mind around preparing for the next stage in your life? Because you're in a bit of a bubble, aren't you? When you're playing professional football?

    Josh Bruce: Well, yeah, you're absolutely in a bubble. You're essentially quarantined from everyone, really, just so it's a professional sporting environment and to keep those standards as high as possible. It's just interesting the way that it's, as you get older you sort of realise how different your life is and how different your work is to most workplaces. 

    Yeah, I mean it's something that I've certainly tried to dip the toe in over the last few years doing work experience here and there and yeah. I mean it's something that I feel like I'll be, it's definitely something that I'll miss, but yeah, I was ready for it to finish, especially after the second injury.

    Tim Gavel: I would imagine though as a footballer, very hard to think about anything else but football, hard to commit to the next stage in life, isn't it? While you're playing football.

    Josh Bruce: Well it is and I mean you come into the system and people talk to you and they say 'Football's not going to last forever' and 'Make sure you have a plan for afterwards', and all these things which is obviously super important but at the same time, you want to make a fist of your career so it's kind of, I've got to give everything to football to succeed at the same time as, well, 'Let's think about if it doesn't succeed', so it's kind of like a catch 22. 

    Sometimes you think, 'Oh, if it doesn't work out then I'll do this', but sometimes you just got to back yourself and say, 'Well it will work out' and it did for a long period of time, and I finished with a carpentry apprenticeship and a business course and a bunch of stuff. So yeah, yeah, should be fine.

    Tim Gavel: Do you think enough is done though, to prepare professional sports people for life after they finish playing sport?

    Josh Bruce: I think they've come along leaps and bounds in the last five or ten years or so, but I guess it's just one of those things that you have to go through to understand, and it's something I'm in the middle of right now. I mean, you can always, I think I've said this before, but it's funny when you start your career and you see old guys retiring and they go 'Oh it all went so fast' and blah blah blah blah blah, and you just sit there going 'Oh, that'll never be me, I'm never going to retire', next thing you know, 10 years later, 13 years later, it does go quick.

    Tim Gavel: Yeah. Because you do read about and you see former professional sports people falling into a bit of a black hole because they don't have that adrenaline rush, they don't have that system in place, that program in place that has guided them from the very early age into their 30s and suddenly they're left without those support mechanisms and as I say, mental health becomes a real issue.

    Josh Bruce: Yeah absolutely, and I've got very high emotional intelligence and self-awareness and I know that I would potentially have risk factors for some of those issues so we immediately made the assessment we needed to be surrounded by family and support networks first and foremost because we got two young children and no family in Melbourne whatsoever, so, just some clear risk factors there and I'm having the support of both my wife Pip's family and my family in Canberra. 

    It's a huge chance and I've seen it happen over and over and over again with ex-teammates. They don't have that rush, they don't have the people screaming their name, they don't have the, there's all sorts of things about professional sport which make you feel good about yourself, your dopamine spikes and your serotonin, and you're exercising every day and you're forced to be there, you have to be on a certain time and without that regimented structure in your life with all the other bonuses on top in terms of the way it makes you feel, people can find it really challenging.

    Tim Gavel: Yeah. How do you how do you cope with it? Do you make yourself busy? You mentioned there surrounding yourself with family, but how do you cope with it?

    Josh Bruce: I make myself busy, yes. I force myself to exercise, even though I don't really feel like it right now, because that's crucial for someone who's been addicted to exercise for such a long period of time. I'm also just trying to set some little goals in terms of, just so I've got a purpose for my exercise, so I'm going to start doing some, little triathlons or Aqua bikes, get my knee right, I'm going to play footy next year with my brother which is something that I'm passionate about is coming back and playing with him at Eastlake, and coaching them as well. 

    So doing a bit of coaching so I don't know how many games I'll get in with my knee, but yeah, just little things like that to just give you a bit of purpose with what you're doing instead of just floating around. 

    Tim Gavel: And I guess finding that next adrenaline rush is going to be interesting for you and whether or not there is that adrenaline rush out there for you. 

    Josh Bruce: Yeah. I mean, who knows? We'll see what happens. Hopefully I can get it playing AFL Canberra, but if not, I'll have to go to Indonesia and get barrelled. 

    Tim Gavel: [LAUGHTER] Just on your career, fantastic career with GWS, St. Kilda and the Western Bulldogs, what was the highlight for you? That 10-goal effort against North Melbourne? 

    Josh Bruce: That was a good day. That was a very good day. You know pretty clearly, but there was a couple of days at the Saints where I sort of had breakout games, which were pretty cool in 2015, I think it kicked six or seven against the Gold Coast and then another five or six two weeks later and just sort of that period where it's like 'Oh actually, I'm a bona fide AFL player now. This feels pretty good.' And then sort of, at the Bulldogs I felt like we had some really, really good team wins in 2021. We had a couple of massive wins on the road, Port Adelaide over there, and I think we won 10 or 11 of our first games in a row so just, yeah, that was a pretty special time. 

    Certainly, felt like I was at the peak of my powers, I got really fit, I was playing good footy, I was, nearly winning the Coleman, team made a grand final. It's like 'This is the year', and then did my knee, so... 

    Tim Gavel: Yeah, injuries can be cruel, and that that's part of the mental health battle a lot of athletes have because often their careers end prematurely but while they're rehabilitating just making sure that they remain focused and don't fall into that hole. 

    Josh Bruce: Yeah, I mean it's really challenging. When I first did my first knee, I've had mental health issues growing up just based around some family stuff. I've had belief issues and struggle issues and imposter syndrome issues which everyone sort of does coming into the system and then sort of felt like I belonged for a while and then, it's just constant ebbs and flows and then yeah, when I did my knee, obviously what I alluded to before in terms of, that was the year for me, I just felt like it was just such a waste of time, like sacrificing so much and then I was stuck in lock down watching them play finals and stuff and then came back the next year and sort of didn't really come back to where I thought I was going to be in terms of my body. 

    It was never the same really, my left knee's not, it's still not quite the same so, and then, yeah, this year I sort of rebuilt myself and my confidence again decided to go and play in defence to get a game because I knew they got Rory Lobb in, and I broke my sternum and four ribs in round five, which hurt, a lot. [LAUGHTER] I lost a lot of confidence then and went through a really tough patch this year, like a really tough patch, I was playing twos, and I was just, couldn't be bothered getting out of bed, I couldn't, for the first time in my life I didn't want to go to training, I was over it and then enjoyed some of my footy in the twos, the twos started humming along, we were winning, we won five or six in a row and I was like, I'll just happily, play twos for the rest of the year, I don't care, you know, hopefully win a flag with the twos. And I got the call up, answered the call and did my other knee so… [LAUGHTER] I was like, I'm so over this. I'm so sick of sacrificing - 

    Tim Gavel: Yeah. 

    Josh Bruce: - and my body's just, yeah, it's had enough. Just flogged it, so... 

    Tim Gavel: Just on that imposter syndrome that you were talking about there, a lot of people would find that hard to imagine given they see you on the stage and they think 'He's made it', yet in your mind at times you think 'Gee, am I worthy of being here at times’. But that must be a hard thing to deal with at times, when you're on the field and people are sort of adulating you yet at the same time you have those self-doubts. 

    Josh Bruce: Oh, constantly through my whole childhood, my whole career, it's constantly just like 'I'm not good enough, people don't think I'm good enough, I'm going to prove them wrong.' but at the same time my brain's saying 'When's everyone going to realise that you're a fraud? When's everyone going to realise you're actually just, you've faked it the whole time?' You know? it's just the craziest thing, your brains are just wild how you look at someone you'd think would be supremely confident, but they've got the same issues that you've had or the same thought processes, it's just the way our brains are wired so, yeah, it's pretty fascinating stuff for sure. 

    Tim Gavel: You can't afford to show that weakness, can you? You've got to be out there looking as though you're supremely confident. 

    Josh Bruce: Yeah, I think so, but I think within the four walls of your footy club and around your family I think that vulnerability is crucial to any sort of growth and to realising that, whether or not I played a good game of footy doesn't make me a better person or a worse person. I'm still worthy of, everything, so. 

    Tim Gavel: As a footballer, I mean, you do have certain skills that can be applicable elsewhere. Obviously well known, you've shown that you can be disciplined within a structure, there are plenty of things that can be transferred into general life from being a professional sports person. 

    Josh Bruce: Yeah, absolutely. There are so many transferable skills. You don't last in a system as cutthroat as the AFL for nearly 15 years if you don't have the ability to obviously work hard, be disciplined - 

    Tim Gavel: Be part of a team too. 

    Josh Bruce: - be part of a team, execute skills, culturally fit in, lead the right way, so yeah, and at three organisations as well so yeah, I've got no doubt that that'll transfer. 

    Tim Gavel: Yeah. And you mentioned a moment ago that you're focused now on possibly getting back playing with your brother Aaron, and that'd be fantastic for you, wouldn't it? Just to get out there and play with him. 

    Josh Bruce: Yeah, it would be. He's been my best friend and my best mate for ever and a day and we've both been in teams that have been historically not that good, in terms of team success. Eastlake haven't won one since 2001 and I played in one final in my career and lost it against my old team, so we'd call each other at the end of the year and we both kicked a bunch of goals, and the teams weren't in any teams that sort of had any success meaningful. 

    So yeah, it's more than half the reason of why I moved back to Canberra so I'm looking forward to running around. 

    Tim Gavel: And of course, another skill is that you have the ability to relate to fellow sports people, understand what they're going through in a bid to achieve success. I think that would be an absolute gift in terms of a workplace. 

    Josh Bruce: Yeah, it is, and I love connecting with sports people, ex-sports people, because there just sort of things that you go through that most people don't understand or realise how difficult certain little aspects are and it might even just be something small. But yeah, it's certainly profound when you can have a meaningful conversation with an ex-athlete or an ex-sports person so. 

    Tim Gavel: Good luck with the future, Josh. Great to have a chat and obviously a few goals yet to be kicked in life and thanks very much for joining us on On Side. 

    Josh Bruce: Thanks for having me. Cheers. 

    Podcast Transition: You're listening to On Side, the official podcast of Sport Integrity Australia.



    Tim Gavel: Welcome back to On Side. Our next guests are Olympians Petria Thomas and Ben Hardy. Petria made her international swimming debut at the age of 17 and went on to amass three Olympic and three World Championship gold medals. 

    Following her retirement, Petria became team leader at three Commonwealth Youth Games, Deputy Chef de Mission at the Gold Coast Games in 2018 and was appointed Australia's first female Chef de Mission for the Birmingham Commonwealth Games in 2022. Petria is currently Sport Integrity Australia's Acting Director Sports Partnerships. 

    Ben Hardy competed at the 2000 Olympic Games in the sport of volleyball. He was captain of the Australian National Team and was a member of the team that won gold at the 2007 Asian Men's Volleyball Championships. 

    He ended his professional sporting career in 2011, and like Petria, Ben continues to give back to sport, working with Sport Integrity Australia as a Senior Intelligence Analyst

    Well firstly to you Petria, you retired after the Athens Olympic Games where you won three Olympic gold medals in 2004. Did you know at that time what was next and after sport?

    Petria Thomas: Yeah, look, I tried to be diligent during my swimming career and prepare for life after sport as best I could, and so I completed a degree in sports management and had a little bit of work experience but obviously taking the giant leap of retiring from your sporting competition is a big step and it leaves a big hole in your life for a period of time until you find something else that's challenging and rewarding to do.

    Tim Gavel: How long did it take you to fill that hole?

    Petria Thomas: I was quite fortunate in that given the success I'd had in my career; I was able to do a bit of public speaking and presentations and things like that for probably 12 to 18 months, I think. I sort of managed to make enough money to live and things doing that but then that sort of started drying up and it's probably not my comfort zone thing to do either, so I really started looking for a job and it was actually quite difficult for a fair period of time to find some work.

    Tim Gavel: What about the highs and lows of professional sport and those incredible highs that you experienced in 2004 at the Athens Olympic Games. It's very hard to replicate that I would imagine outside the sporting arena.

    Petria Thomas: Yeah, there's few things that come close, to be honest. I think probably getting married and having kids are probably the two things that I can describe that would come closest to that sort of feeling of euphoria and happiness and in some stage's relief as well. So yeah, it is different, I think it certainly take a period of adjustment to settle into normal life where there's not those huge highs if you're lucky to get them during your sporting career so yeah, it's not easy and some people struggle with it. 

    I think there's been plenty of stories around, certainly some of my swimming colleagues and friends have really struggled with the adjustment I think to living a regular person's life.

    Tim Gavel: We'll look at that next stage in just a moment with you, Petria but we've also been joined by Ben Hardy, the former Australian Volleyball Captain, and Ben played at two Olympics, four World Championships, but as I say he was captain of the Australian Team, 420 games for Australia but he retired from professional volleyball as a full-time player in 2011. 

    Ben, how hard was it for you to step away from being a player into regular life?

    Ben Hardy: It certainly has some big challenges. I think when you have such a long career, I mean, my career went 16 years or 17 years, and then you're changing that, you've essentially stopped cold turkey, it has some big challenges. I remember similar to, or in some ways to Petria, but I decided I had to finish because of family reasons. I still had the opportunity to keep playing and being overseas and playing professionally. 

    When I came home I started my university degree and I didn't do that while I was playing cause I didn't want that distraction as an athlete and that was really difficult, I mean, it wasn't the fact of actually doing university and doing the degree itself, it was things like the refinement and accepting that things aren't quite as perfect as they should be because you've spent your entire career trying to refine things and make them perfect and that was really difficult in a schooling sense I guess, because everything you're trying to complete you go; 'Oh, I'm not quite happy with that. I want to do a bit more', or 'I'm not quite happy that with that I want to do a bit more', and that was the hardest part for me was getting that balance to life right.

    Tim Gavel: What about filling the void of the life of a professional sports person where you do have incredible highs? Has it been fun to replicate that?

    Ben Hardy: It does. It is. Like, I remember when I first came back to Canberra, and I essentially went cold turkey for four months. I didn't do any physical activity, you haven't got the program that you're doing your schedule which is laid out for you, it's essentially on you and I didn't want to go to the gym, I didn't want to do that stuff 'cause that was all part of what I had to do to play volleyball. 

    But I came into the ACT team after doing nothing and I realised that actually this was almost a release for me to go back into the state team and do something I knew very well how to do, and I could relax doing it. 

    For me it was great to have a season of 'casual volleyball', let's just put it that way, or more relaxed volleyball and get that softer relief out of playing rather than the hard landing of going cold turkey.

    Tim Gavel: What about employment? Was it hard to enter the workforce after being away from it for a while?

    Ben Hardy: It was. It's two phases, like when you're playing in a high-level sport you've got a lot of things that are taken care of for you. So, I didn't have to worry about paying my accommodation, you get a good salary, all those sorts of things, a bit more of a casual lifestyle where you're going out, you're going to dinner and you're a bit more affluent with your spending and then you come home and that's all taken away from you but the spending and so on is still there. 

    I mean, you see a lot of athletes I think getting into trouble when they finish because they've gotten used to this lifestyle which you can't maintain because you don't have the income anymore. 

    So that's one of the biggest things and then trying to, I guess, recognising that you haven't got a lot of these skills that other people have been doing for 15 or 20 years in the workforce and you have to start from a relatively low bar. I guess for me that was OK, I'm comfortable to do that, recognising that my experience in some ways is very comparable, in other ways it's not. 

    You just have to get back from the top of the rung of the ladder and start your way not at the bottom, per say, but you got to put the work in again to learn new skills.

    Tim Gavel: We'll come back to you in just a moment, Ben. But Petria, how did you turn things around, given that you said you found it very hard to get back into the workforce?

    Petria Thomas: Yeah, look, it was hard. I suppose I just kept putting my hand up for opportunities when I saw them and I missed out on a few jobs but I eventually got an opportunity to do some part-time or casual work at the Australian Sports Commission and I did that for a while and then I had my first child and was out of the workforce again a little bit with that, but thankfully they took me back and I was able to eventually win a full-time role at the Sports Commission and that's where my, I suppose, post-sport professional career started. 

    But as Ben mentioned, you spend, I was 10 years behind everyone else and Ben was even further behind with the amount of time that you'd devote to your sport so it can sometimes be quite hard even though you've got a wealth of experience in the sporting world, it might not necessarily be the experience that people are looking for. It's really hard, you just got to keep trying and looking for those opportunities and taking them when they come up.

    Tim Gavel: A natural progression might have been to go back to the pool and be a coach, but you had no desire to spend more time at the swimming pool, having spent most of your life there already.

    Petria Thomas: [LAUGHTER] Yeah, no there definitely wasn't any desire to be a coach so. I mean, as you mentioned like one of the reasons why I wanted to retire is because I was sick of the routine and getting up at 4:45 in the morning, six days a week so yeah, I was ready to move away from it. But I always knew that I loved sport and still love sport, so I was really interested and keen to get a role in sport somewhere and I've probably taken a different route in terms of becoming an administrator rather than a coach or etcetera, but I really enjoy still being involved and still being able to contribute.

    Tim Gavel: What about mental health? Because we have spoken to a number of people who've just retired and they're saying mentally they're struggling. And you mentioned a moment ago, you alluded to it, about former athletes struggling, is that a major issue, do you think for former athletes?

    Petria Thomas: Yeah, absolutely. I think it's a very real issue. When you spend so much of your life devoted to one particular thing and it really is the focus of everything you do in your life and then that's gone all of a sudden, it's a big hole to fill. I think some people fill that hole better than others and as I mentioned, there's been some of my swimming colleagues over the years that haven't made the adjustment very well or they didn't prepare for life after their swimming career. 

    I think there's a lot more effort now that goes into, athletes preparing for their life after sport, so there's a whole network of support staff through a lot of the Olympic and Paralympic sports now with athlete wellbeing and engagement that helped them actually put some of those plans in place and take those steps to help prepare themselves for life after sport.

    Tim Gavel: All right. We'll come back in a moment, and I guess we'll get some advice from you on current athletes and how they can better prepare for life after sport. 

    But Ben, you mentioned there that it was just hard to get back going again. How did you motivate yourself apart from having that soft landing with the ACT volleyball side? How did you get back into it given you were so far behind everybody else as you mentioned?

    Ben Hardy: Well, I guess the first thing was I realised that I wanted to get an education and I wanted to go back to university to do that. Something I hadn't done when I was playing and that, I guess, gave me the first stepping stone, is to give myself some direction about what I wanted to do. It's not an easy thing when you've got all the choices are your own, pretty much, coming from a situation where it's all very prescriptive, so I guess I had some help from the local sporting scene as well, I got an opportunity with Volleyball ACT which gave me a little bit of a grounding in there and some opportunities and from there, I guess putting the work in at university gave me the opportunities to get properly into the workforce. It's not easy. 

    I would put down to having a good support base around you as well and having that motivation to help you, because there are people there who love and support you, that is really important. I think when you've got people who don't really have that structure around them and people that don't really have the opportunity to bounce off ideas and have those discussions and talk about the issues, that it really is hard for athletes when they get thrown from a very spotlight environment to an environment which six months down the track, yeah no one really wants to talk to you anymore because you're not relevant and then you end up not being on the front pages anymore, it can be quite challenging, so you need a good support crew around you.

    Tim Gavel: And away from the structure too, that sport provides.

    Ben Hardy: Yeah, absolutely. I mean that's the hardest thing. Some people might need to start putting their own structure in place to help them, not that I'm sitting here as a psychologist or in that sort of space, but it is certainly an area where having done sport for a long period of time, and athletes who, in my case was it was voluntary, I decided to finish when I finished, whereas other athletes get injured and their career is cut short. 

    So, it's a completely different animal when you've got, you want this whole career in front of you, you're getting success and then because of injury, you have to stop. There are different reasons that people finish their careers and I think I was a pretty lucky one.

    Tim Gavel: And mental health, as we've mentioned with Petria, it is a major issue for people stepping away from the spotlight.

    Ben Hardy: Yeah, absolutely. As I talked about beforehand, you have the fame, you have people wanting to know what's happening, you have the means to, I guess, have that lucrative sort of lifestyle and then once that's all taken away from you it can have a big detriment to your mental health and that's a normal thing that you know of what's happening, but if you got that support base around you I think it can really, really help.

    Tim Gavel: Petria, do you think there is enough being done? I know you've alluded to it with a number of programs, but I would imagine that an athlete in a bubble isn't really thinking outside the bubble in terms of life after sport because they're so in the zone. How do you break through that and is enough being done to help sports people at the moment?

    Petria Thomas: Yeah, I think, yeah you definitely do get in a bubble and you're very laser focused on what you need to do and what you want to achieve, but I think also one of the lessons that I learnt along the way is that it's also good to have other things in your life so that when you have a bad training session or bad competition, it's not the end of the world, you've got other things to think about and work on and progress. 

    So that was one of the reasons why I was really, I suppose, wanted to do my studies while I was swimming as well and it took me almost 10 years to get my degree but to be honest, it was one of the proudest moments of my life that I was able to stick through it and get it done and I was able to graduate from my course I think it was not long before the Athens 2004 Games. 

    It was sort of a nice wrap up for me to get those two things done, finish my career and also get my degree, but in terms of the current athletes, I think they are pretty well supported. 

    I'm not saying all sports, but certainly the well-funded high-performance sports, there is a lot of support around them with that athlete well-being and engagement managers in the sports and there is a lot of direction provided and programs that they can do etcetera so, but I think there can be all that stuff in place and people, unless you are willing to engage with that as an athlete it's all pointless. 

    So it really comes back to the responsibility of the athletes I think also to start thinking about those things and start doing that preparation work so that when they do finish their careers and hopefully as Ben was saying they can finish on their own term, but so that when they are ready to hang up the shoes or whatever it might be, that they have something else to move on to.

    Tim Gavel: Do people seek out your advice? Athletes that are about to retire or, given you have significant roles in Australian sport, including the Chef de Mission of the Australian Commonwealth Games Team for the Birmingham Commonwealth Games, do you find that people are asking your advice about, what is life like on the other side and how do I prepare for it?

    Petria Thomas: Sometimes. Yeah, sometimes they’ll ask me ‘When do you know when it’s the right time to retire?’ and I said, I always just say ‘You’ll just know.’ You’ll know when you get to that stage when you’ve put everything you can into something and it’s time, whether it be through, your body failing, or you just had enough. And I was fortunate enough that I could go out on my own terms similar to Ben in that 2004 was always going to be my final event, regardless of the result. 

    But yeah, certainly when anyone asks, I'm more than willing to chat to them around my experiences, the things that I learnt along the way. But everyone's got to go on their own journey, and they've got to take responsibility for their own path as well.

    Tim Gavel: And Ben, do you think enough is being done for the sports people these days to prepare them for life after sport?

    Ben Hardy: Well, I know it certainly has been a focus, particularly from the Sports Commission and AIS perspective, has been a focus of people's careers outside of sport and it is something they're quite proactive at. It's quite difficult sometimes to get sports people to think about the secondary, the future in their life because a lot of cases we're talking about young individuals who are, like, to coin Petria's ‘laser focused’ on what they want to do, and they don't want all these other distractions. 

    It's not an easy balance to get when you have athletes that are trying to achieve and be the best that they can be, and then you've got this other focus on the side, but there is enough downtime in most sport to be able to do these sorts of things. I mean, I know from my perspective, I wasn't as planned as Petria was in in her life, I really just wanted to be the best that I could be and that was what I wanted to do so it's down to the individual to help themselves a little bit, but there are mechanisms in place now where they can reach out they just have to be cognisant enough to know that; 'Yeah, I have that ability to be able to do that' and be courageous enough to say; 'I need a little bit of help here and these are the mechanisms I can go to try and get some of that help'.

    Tim Gavel: You have still been involved in volleyball as a coach, do you find that people are asking you in a mentor role, life after professional sport? If I step away from volleyball now, what is life going to be like?

    Ben Hardy: Yeah, I do, and I find I had more conversations with the younger athletes rather than the older athletes because they're not quite there yet and I would always tell them, 'Your sporting career is maybe 10 years long, in some cases less, some cases more but if you've got this education behind you that can benefit you for your life.' 

    It's not something I did, but it's certainly something I would champion is trying to get all these young athletes to go through the schooling system, allowing themselves the time to go and get themselves educated so they can get back into the workforce a little bit easier.

    Tim Gavel: Good on you, Ben. Thanks very much for joining us on On Side today and thanks to you, Petria as well. Thank you, Ben. Thank you, Petria.

    Ben Hardy: Thank you.

    Petria Thomas: Pleasure. Thank you.



    Tim Gavel: Well thanks for listening to On Side, we'll be back with another episode shortly.

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