- Sep 7, 2007
- AFL Club
- Brisbane Lions
- Other Teams
- Chelsea, Boston Red Sox
My Calling: Crowell (Josie Fielding)
Andrew Crowell has a distinct memory as a young man walking around Adelaide airport aimlessly. He was 26 years old and recently delisted after playing 44 games for the Adelaide Crows in four seasons. “I’d flown a fair bit when I was playing but never had to book a flight or check in for myself. When I finished playing AFL I had to catch a flight. I had no idea how to book a ticket and when I got to the airport I didn’t know where to go,” he said.
It’s a stark contrast to the man he is now. Each day he is helping young men navigate their life in his role as Head of Personal Excellence and Wellbeing at the Brisbane Lions. “What we’re trying to do is build really strong, independent young men,” he said.
Four years and 44 AFL games and it was over. “I think for me the initial emotion was relief. I felt like now I could be ‘normal,’” Crowell explained.
“But looking back it took me a long time to feel normal again.” Like the young man in the airport, he was lost. “You grow up wanting to do something…so then I achieved my goal and by the time I’ve turned 25 I’ve set out to do something and I’ve achieved it and then it’s over,” he said.
With no plan in place, somehow he ended up working at a panel beaters. He went from being a professional athlete to sweeping floors, sanding trucks and polishing truck rims. But he says it was exactly what he needed at the time. “It was therapeutic in a way because no one there was interested in AFL,” he said.
But he wasn’t done with Club land just yet. A year later, in 2004, the phone rang for a third time. Phil Harper offered him a job at the Crows as Junior Development Coordinator. Just like that he was back in the football bubble and loved it. Over three years his jobs at the Crows ranged from ground announcing to working with sponsors.
But his life really changed in 2008 when he accepted a job offer from Mark Bolton for the AFL Player Association’s new program called Ladder. “The gods were shining down on me at that time,” Crowell said. “Ladder was an unbelievable turning point for me because it was sort of where I found my niche in the world.”
Fast forward to 2018 and Crowell is at the Lions. He was lured north for the job by former Crows colleague David Noble in late 2016. When the players have finished training, many of them sneak off to his desk afterwards for a guitar sing-along and a chat. If ‘Crowelly’, as they all call him, is not furiously typing away on his computer, he is belting out a song on his guitar.
They come in and for twenty minutes the players have forgotten about the game on the weekend or if they’ll be up for selection or if they’ll ever recover from their injury and just relax. Regulars at his desk include Matt Eagles, Charlie Cameron and Cedric Cox. Music is his stress reliever and Crowell says it’s important for the players to discover what theirs is. “Knowing what it is that takes your mind away from football,” he said. “We’re just a speck on your life I suppose to what your career is like.”
His mindset for the players is all about empowerment. “The transition for a player starts when they get drafted. So, players by the time they finish their careers, they should be prepared for what’s next,” he said. With his team, they are keen on helping the players sign up for university courses, getting involved in community events or work experience.
This year the Club had four players graduate from a real estate course, Claye Beams finished his plumbing apprenticeship, and many have started a business certificate. “The reality is that every single player leaves,” he said. “Every player whether you play fifteen years or two years is going to leave the system and you’re going to have to step into something else.”
Not only does his department assist players with their careers away from football, but also what’s happening in their personal lives from a wellbeing point of view. “Mental health is an area we focus heavily on in our department. We provide a number of avenues for players, their partners and family members to access professional support when needed. In addition to this we provide ongoing mental health programs aimed to equip players with the tools they need to deal with issues when they arise”.
Recently Crowell was part of the exit interviews after six players were delisted, which he can relate to. This time he saw it from another perspective.
“I’ve always been on the player’s end of the delistings, whether it’s been through my personal experience or my role with the AFL Players Association” he said.
“Sitting down with Chris Fagan and David Noble at the end of last year. At the end of the day when we delisted our players they were gone. They were mentally shot.” As brilliant and exhilarating as the industry can be, he knows it’s equally as tough. “For us it’s about having good systems in place,” he said.
His team work directly with 46 players, as well as their parents, managers and partners and track every piece of communication. Every week he sits down with Noble to discuss every players' wellbeing and how they are progressing in aspects of their life off the field. It’s a demanding job, with a 24/7 nature but Crowell would not have it any other way.
“I love coming to work every day. It’s a demanding job but the people I work with are fantastic. Our players are driven, dedicated and eager to develop on and off the field and having mentors like David Noble and Chris Fagan have allowed me to develop and grow personally and professionally. It’s a privilege to be a part of what we’re building here at the Lions,” he said.
He hopes the Lions can foster an environment where the players enjoy their time, as it can be over all too soon. “You do have to make the most of it and enjoy it and appreciate what’s in front of you,” he said.