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Nathan Buckley's story

Betting on each other

Story by Lisa Clausen

In his 25 years as a champion AFL player, captain and coach, Nathan Buckley has notched up plenty of wins. But Collingwood’s senior coach says his definition of success goes beyond the weekly scoreboard. Just as crucial, he says, is the club’s commitment to nurturing each individual.

‘I would love everyone who walks into Collingwood as a player, as a staff member or as an administrator, to walk out of the Collingwood Football Club – because everyone has their time – I’d love them to walk away from the Collingwood experience as a better person than they were when they came in. I think that’s what success is,’ Nathan says.

‘When I sit back and analyse my impact and my leadership and my contribution, it’s not just on wins and losses – it’s on the feedback of our people; how much they feel valued and whether we’re seeing them develop as people.’

That reliance on a network of supportive relationships is a powerful weapon against harms, including those caused by problem gambling, says the AFL veteran.

‘We know that our guys when they sit down and watch a competitive game, they like to have some skin in the game. If it’s five dollars here or 10 dollars there, that’s not going to hurt anyone necessarily,’ he says.

‘But it’s the prospect of that going to different levels and getting out of control that is something that we are continuing to educate against.’

As betting opportunities on sport have exploded in Australia in recent years, Nathan says club efforts to raise awareness of the risks involved have also increased dramatically.

‘People can hide their struggles and hide their ills pretty well – we get a lot of practise at that. To actually get the individual themselves to say, “Hey, I need some help here,” can save a lot of misinterpretation or a lot of trauma to the person themselves, their loved ones and their colleagues.’

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Photo supplied by Collingwood Football Club

Those values, which are at the heart of Collingwood’s culture, have been vital during the COVID-19 lockdown, which has seen the 2020 AFL season suspended and players in limbo.

‘[Looking out for each other] remotely makes it a little more difficult but we have focused on it heavily and we’re definitely looking to support each other as much as we possibly can in this reality. We do that just by checking in on one another as consistently as we possibly can,’ continues Nathan, who’s also passionate about the benefits of keeping to a routine and staying active.

‘Getting your day started is important so we have encouraged all of our people to exercise, whether it’s getting up to do a yoga session or to go and do your training, to go for a run,’ he says.

‘If you set something for yourself in the morning it gives you a reason to get to bed at a certain time, so we’re not sitting up all night twiddling our thumbs or finding things to make us feel good now that don’t actually help you in the long run.’

Without the normal structure of competition and achievement, players were also asked to pursue a new skill during lockdown.

For some, that’s meant embarking on extra study. Others have chosen to learn a musical instrument or another language. The common thread, says Nathan, has been the value of staying engaged.

‘Feeling like you’re moving forward and testing yourself and keeping yourself active both mentally and physically is an important part of being able to look after your wellbeing in a holistic sense.’

That focus on connectedness and self-esteem gives players the confidence to ask for help when they need it – whatever challenge they’re facing.

‘Through those strong [club] relationships we have the capacity to assist others and find some strategies to be able to help them out of behaviours that are not contributing to their wellbeing – that are putting themselves and their loved ones at risk both now and in the future,’ he says.

‘It comes back to being able to connect with each other and check in to make sure you can nip things in the bud before they become an issue.’

With the season restarting and an associated avalanche of betting opportunities kicking off this month, Nathan urges fans experiencing gambling harm to do the same.

‘If you’re worried about your own gambling habits or those of someone close to you, you can get help now,’ he says.

For free, confidential advice and support, Gambler’s Help is available 24/7 on 1800 858 858.

Collingwood is proud to be a partner of the Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation’s Love the Game program. Love the Game helps reduce young people’s exposure to sports betting advertising. It also raises awareness of the risks of gambling harm for young people growing up in an environment where gambling seems normal.

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Photo supplied by Collingwood Football Club