AFL Hall of Famer Scott West was considered one of the hardest working and most sportsman-like of footy players. His career spanned 16 seasons and 324 games for the Western Bulldogs, winning a record seven Charlie Sutton medals as best and fairest for the club. In life, as in the game, he’s widely regarded as a bloke who tells it as it is. Here he advises young players of today – as well all young people – how to keep themselves safe, and when to make a stand.
For me to be able to work consistently hard on the footy field, over the full four quarters of a game, meant that I had to have a good understanding of my resources, so I didn’t burn myself out in 10 minutes and have nothing left for the rest of the match. You can run on to the field feeling like a million dollars, but you have to know how to spend yourself at a sustainable rate.
Life’s like that off the field as well. One of the big risks in playing footy, is that you end up with a fair amount of disposable income and time on your hands. When you’re a young bloke, you might not be thinking too much about the future and you don’t feel you have too many responsibilities to worry about, except staying fit for the game.
Because you’re making some good money, maybe it doesn’t feel like it matters too much if one week you blow your entire wage on the horses or a night at the casino. There’s another pay day coming and you can sort out the bills then. You’d never apply that sort of thinking to a game – you just wouldn’t get away with saying, “oh well, I dropped the bundle this week after 10 minutes, but I’ll be right next time”. You certainly wouldn’t get away with it week after week. You’d find yourself out of the game.
With your match fitness, you’ve got a whole team of people keeping an eye on you, giving you direction. But what about your fitness for life? How you spend your money and carry yourself is largely up to you. My advice is if you’re making a living, put some of it aside and don’t touch it. If you like a bet, budget for it, in the same way you might budget for eating out with friends or having a drink.
There’s a lot of adrenaline in playing footy. I can understand why some people might try and chase that high. Keep the rush going. I’ve never been a gambler myself. Never placed a bet. That’s because I’ve worked too hard for my money to risk it, and I’ve got four kids to support, so I have a pretty good idea of the value of money. But I understand how it would feel to see a horse come in at 10 to one or whatever. I can see the thrill in it. But I can also see there’s no future in chasing that sort of thrill. The only future is falling into a big hole and the thrill is gone.
Now, you might still have your mates. And I think mates need to step in and have a word. It’s risky though. It’s a bit like when you’re on the field and your mate’s getting into trouble, you do what you can to keep him safe. You might end up hurt, but you get in there anyway. Of course, on the field, your mate will thank you for stepping in. Off the field it’s just not so easy. You don’t want to be interfering in somebody else’s life, and chances are you won’t get thanked for speaking up. But you have to do it anyway.
Of course mates can’t be there all the time.
When I started out playing footy, there was a race day on Saturday and that was it. Now there are races every day of the week, and apps you can download on your phone with the click of a button. I have a son turning 18. I don’t know what his mates are up to. If they wanted to gamble secretly, how would you know? Again it comes down to the simple message that we all have to be responsible for ourselves and to parcel out your resources – be it money or time or energy – in the way that you can best afford. That way you get to carry yourself through life in the best shape possible.