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Sport After retirement from elite sport, athletes receive a helping hand managing the game of life

13:08  13 june  2018
13:08  13 june  2018 Source:   abc.net.au

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And come out on top.

In his two decades as a professional goalkeeper, he's won the Asian Champions League (and been named the most valuable player of the tournament in the process), been to a World Cup, secured an A-League title and had a starring stint in Sweden.

But now, at 43, he must tackle the most daunting challenge of all. Something experienced by most at half his age.

Entering the traditional workforce for the first time in his life.

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Greater emphasis should be directed towards the psychological, social and physical transitions experienced by elite athletes prior to and after retirement to ensure a positive adaptation into post- sports life .

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"It's been difficult," he admits.

"You don't really understand what it is until you leave the game and realise [what] you don't have any more and not knowing where to go, what to do, what's available or what drives you other than football," he said.

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Since retiring from the A-League in 2016, Covic has remained involved with the game, playing semi-professionally in the National Premier Leagues NSW, and coaching at schools.

"But there is also a time where you start thinking … what else is there?"

Matildas striker Michelle Heyman can empathise.

"I've been struggling for maybe five years thinking about what my career path's going to be next after football," Heyman says.

"I think the amount of stress that I put on myself and the anxiety I got from it of just thinking about what's next for me, it did put a lot of heartache on myself."

The 29-year-old has found her answer by helping others prepare for the inevitable, and problematic, transition from full-time sport to the "real world".

She is the athlete program manager for WithYouWithMe, a company which was originally established to assist military veterans to find jobs and is now expanding to include elite sportspeople.

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We strive together and are united in the camaraderie it creates. Does our training help or hinder us in preparation for life after sport ? For most elite athletes , our passion for our sport and the confidence we gained from our abilities developed naturally.

"For me I want to be able to share to other athletes that you should be thinking about your next career as soon as you jump into your chosen sport," she said.

"My whole goal is to get out there and just educate a little bit more on what life is like after your sport and how difficult it can be.

"But there are certain steps that you can take to help make your transition a lot easier."

WithYouWithMe has partnered with Professional Footballers Australia in a pilot program featuring ten participants.

Their training involves aptitude testing, short courses, interview preparation, and work placements.

For Covic, gone are the gloves and the steely glare in defiance of a tearaway striker running full pelt towards him, replaced by a smart suit and briefcase, and the more intimidating sight of facing a panel of potential employers.

"I've been in the role where I've gone to interviews and you feel lost because my resume's full of football," the former Jets, Victory, Wanderers and Glory shot-stopper said.

"But you need that somebody to maybe open your eyes to see that you're not just a football player. You can offer a lot more that maybe the regular people (that) have been in the industry for a long time can't.

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"There's the drive, the winning mentality, the discipline, the teamwork."

Covic's skills and personality have seen him matched as a facilities manager, while other participants are being placed with leading companies in roles including software engineering, project management, human resources and sales.

Heyman says some male athletes have had a more difficult time navigating the next phase than their female peers, ironically because of the financial support they've received during their playing careers.

"They didn't really have to think about life after football until they actually retire," she says.

"So for them I think the transition is a lot harder than what the women have already faced, because for us we're not professional financially, so we've been training hard and working on the side as well."

And that resonates with Covic.

"When I grew up with football, that wasn't even discussed. You were a football player, there was no pathway, there was no talk to you about having an education," he says.

"And I got into that mentality where I played my whole career and focused on football.

"I look back and I wish I had a plan B. I wish I had somebody or something in place to make me aware of what I can do."

Heyman and WithYouWithMe are granting that wish. Covic of all people is able to recognise a safe pair of hands when he sees them.

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