Life after sport is a slow burn, not an overnight success

Mike Pyke

“You are never going to find something that you’re as interested in as playing in front of 100,000 people on Saturday afternoon when the sun is shining. You are just not going to find that again.”

I’m talking to Mike Pyke on a sunny Friday afternoon in Sydney. Not too long ago, such an afternoon would have seen the former AFL premiership-winning player out in the field with his Sydney Swans team mates, preparing for a big game the next day.

But Mike, 33, hung up his boots for a final time in 2015. Now an investment banker at Moelis & Company, he joined us at the Crossing the Line Athlete Mental Health and Identity Summit – and spoke to me for Crossing the Line Radio – to share his experience of athlete transition and life after sport.

Life after sport

“One of the hardest things for athletes is not to expect overnight success,” Mike says. “You can’t go and have a really big three-month pre-season in banking and expect to be the best banker that year.

“As a second-year footy player you can have a massive pre-season and actually be recognised as one of the best football players in the competition. It’s just not going to happen in business. You need that time and experience built up behind you to actually achieve really great things.”

Mike says the key is to look for something that you find almost as interesting as sport. Something close. Then once you start getting better at that – building new skills – you will start enjoying it more.

“But it’s a slow burn,” he says “It just takes time … the same way it took time for a lot of athletes to become skilled in whatever sport they are playing.”

The early days

During his early years in Victoria, Canada, Mike played ice hockey, basketball and soccer at St Michael’s University School in British Columbia, before taking up rugby union. He made the Canadian national team as a winger or full-back, and played for Canada 20 times from 2004 to 2008, including at the 2007 Rugby World Cup in France. Mike was in Canada’s pool game against the All Blacks when he intercepted a pass from Dan Carter and ran the length of the field to score a try. He also played rugby in France’s premier league for US Montauban from 2006 to 2008. Then he switched to the AFL.

Mike played 110 games as a ruckman for the Swans. He was part of the John Longmire-coached 2012 AFL grand final winning side, becoming the first Canadian and professional rugby union player to play in an AFL title-winning team. In 2013, Mike played in every one of the Swans 25 games.

When Mike retired, he made the step with little fanfare – he simply Tweeted a picture of his football boots hanging on a locker door.

Education is “really important” 

“As a person you go through life and have these stories,” Mike says. “The more experiences you have the more you able to apply those experiences to other situations. No doubt the various transitions I made in sport have helped me since then.”

Mike also believes that the structures of training and playing sport have helped him to face the challenge of life after sport. “A lot of the disciplines I learned as an athlete are applicable to what I am doing now,” he says.

Mike is also adamant about the importance of getting an education as an athlete. While injured during the 2014 and 2015 seasons, he earned a Masters degree in Commerce (Finance) from Sydney University. In 2015, he was awarded the AFL Players Association’s Education and Training Excellence Award.

“Although I was always a good athlete it was still expected of me to go to university and get a degree,” he says. “That was a really important thing for me, and has helped me get to when I am today.”

Hear more from Mike on how he made the switch from AFL player to investment banker and his advice on life after sport on the Crossing the Line Radio podcast.