WHEN former Richmond and Port Adelaide player Chris Naish hung up his boots in 1999, he wasn’t sure what he was going to do with the rest of his life. At the same time, legendary coach Kevin Sheedy helped set up AFL SportsReady, a non-profit organisation that helps connect former players with training and studying.
Naish was one of the first people to use AFL SportsReady, and almost 20 years later he is the organisation’s chief operating officer.
‘‘I worked with the Australian National Basketball League as part of my traineeship. Then I did a [business] certificate III and IV diploma and that gave me the confidence to get into sports business at uni. It was the start of a career path for me,’’ he says. ‘‘I didn’t get the score to get into uni, so this was another way in. I haven’t looked back.’’
Based at Victoria Park in Abbotsford, the organisation works with the broader community, helping young adults from all backgrounds find their way into training and employment. Opportunities are offered in sport and recreation, business, administration, IT, horticulture and retail.
Since 1994, more than 9000 young people have gone through the system, including more than 1000 indigenous Australians.
‘‘There’s no prerequisite to being a sports person. People just need a willingness to be employed,’’ says the 40-year-old Ivanhoe resident. ‘‘Some people apply as mature-age, and some people use it as a gap year to go on to university, for those who don’t get the score they needed to get in straight away.’’
Naish has been one of the driving forces behind the organisation’s growth, with Australia’s four major banks now on board as part of its traineeship program. And this year, the organisation was formally accredited as a training facility, meaning it can train participants in-house.
‘‘We’ve invested in recent times; we’ve got 60 staff across the country and we help employ up to 800 young people across the country each year,’’ Naish says.
‘‘Our aim is to get to 1000 per year within the next three years. We’d love to have more of an impact.’’
Naish says he is proud of what AFL SportsReady can achieve, adding that he’s proof of what a little opportunity and determination can accomplish.
‘‘Knowing that after a day’s work you’ve made a difference to a young person’s life and you’ve given them an opportunity is great,’’ he says. ‘‘We’ve seen many great success stories of people being given an opportunity and now they’re in respectable positions in the community.’’
Details: visit aflsportsready.com.au.