There are many sad stories of sports stars squandering their big pay packets and failing to transition from sport to the real world. But this was not the case for Brad Symes, who finished his AFL career on a pathway to success as a financial advisor and a bag full of life lessons.

Brad played 80 AFL games with Port Power and the Adelaide Crows, and won two premierships and a prestigious Magarey Medal with Central District in the local SANFL competition.

But unlike many AFL footballers, Brad was always thinking about life after sport, through both his strategic mindset and circumstances.

Playing in Australia’s top football competition, Brad was always fighting for his spot in the team so was never allowed to get comfortable in his career.

Then there were the injuries. The worst was breaking both arms at the same time in a freak accident. Yet it came with an unexpected benefit – the development of skills that would see Brad elevated to the Adelaide Crows leadership group.

“It was two of the worst months of my life … then I thought well, let’s control the controllables, right?” Brad told Bushy Martin on the Get Invested podcast. “What can I actually do, rather than sitting around sulking? And the one thing, even with two broken arms, you can do is get around to others, help them out, work on your leadership, watch guys that are training, give them feedback, that kind of thing.

“So we had a really good leadership group at that period of time. ‘Goody’ (Simon Goodwin) was the Captain and had four or five guys under him that were really good. And then ‘Craigy’ (coach Neil Craig) always really pushed home the point that they’re not the ones that are going to win you the game or a flag (premiership), it’s going to be that next tier of players that, if we can have 10 to 12 guys under them that are all doing their job, that all show leadership qualities, that play for the team, all that kind of stuff. That backbone is where you win the Flags. So I thought ‘well, why don’t I try and head that part up?’. And so I took a leadership role in that group, and then just through my work there, the following year, players obviously recognised it and voted me in in the leadership group.”

Brad also sustained 13 serious concussions while playing football, which would ultimately end his sporting career prematurely.

“In my last year of footy, I had three pretty horrific (head injuries), each time woke up 15 minutes later in the ambulance on the way to the hospital, spent the night in hospital on the drip, that kind of thing,”he said.

“So it’s probably harder for those around you than yourself, my Mum watching them the whole way through, my wife watching the last 10 years or so, (then) especially when your kids come in to play.

“So two of the three games my first born (son) has seen (me play), he’s following me to hospital half way through the game. It’s probably not a trend that I wanted to continue.”

Yet when Brad hung up the boots, he didn’t leave the game empty handed. He had a Bachelor of Finance to his name (and would go on to complete Masters qualifications) and a career pathway with Morgan Stanley, through a relationship that began an Adelaide Crows mentoring program.

“I don’t think I’ve said this to Dave (Leon from Morgan Stanley) before, and I hope he’s not listening so he doesn’t hear me say it, but I think I’ll look back in 20, 30 years and say ‘the best thing about my (football) career was the fact that I got introduced to Dave’, because the direction I’ve followed, the business model that he has, the business model that we have now together, really I couldn’t see myself doing anything else and I really love what I do. Which I don’t think 100 percent of ex AFL players would hand on heart say they still love what they do, so I’m pretty happy I fall into that category.

Now enjoying great success as an advisor with Morgan Stanley in Adelaide, Brad has become a case study for athlete transition and development, learning not only about investing financially, but also personally.

“When you’re younger … invest your time and money and effort in yourself,” he said. “When I came out of footy, I think my Masters (degree) cost me $25,000. Now, I could’ve invested that in a property and equity portfolio, and if I did a really stellar job, double that money in five years. Now that’s an amazing return, to double your money in five years. 25k goes to 50k, well it’s not going to change my life. It’s not going move the dial at all. For 25 grand to invest in a Masters to get me a job, into a role that I, A, really enjoy and, B, the income’s exponential, I mean from a financial point of view, that makes a lot more sense and that’s going to be a lot more profitable for me in the long term.

“So when you’re young, think about the long game, don’t think about what’s going to make you five grand next year, think about what’s going make you a million bucks in 20 years time. And that’s my philosophy.”

Having lived in world of high performance in sport and business, where goals become a driving force and source of motivation, Brad has also learned to stop and smell the roses.

“In the footy example, when I’m in high school, I want play an SANFL game,” he said. “When I play SANFL, I want to get drafted. When I get drafted, I want to play my first game, then I’ll be successful.

When I’ve played that one game, well, to be any good you’d have to play 50, you get your 50 games, you get a little spoon or trophy or whatever the club gives you, and you go ‘well, anyone can play 50 games, 100 games would really make me a good AFL player’. And every time you get near this bloody goal that you think is going to make you happy and feel successful, you just never get there because you push the goal further up. So, if the one thing in life you can guarantee is the destination will not make you happy, why not try and enjoy the bloody journey along the way?”

Listen to the full interview here.

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