Education vital to balance out footy: Ballin
Long-serving Manly hooker Matt Ballin has demonstrated huge commitment by taking on a full-time university degree over the course of an impressive NRL career that reaches 200 games this weekend.
In terms of time management, personal growth and something to focus on away from the "bubble" of the NRL, university study has proved invaluable to the 31-year-old, who says the benefits extend beyond the degree itself.
Ballin, who has just a handful of units left to complete in his Bachelor in Secondary Education (majoring in Personal Development, Health and Physical Education), is also an education ambassador for the NRL and sees it as his responsibility to provide guidance to younger players about the value of achieving things away from the footy field.
"My message to younger players would be definitely to study – at that age it's a very hard thing to focus on because you're thinking about rugby league and what's going to happen with your career and if you're going to play first grade," Ballin told NRL.com.
"But first grade will only last for a certain amount of years and then you've got to do something else with your life so I just encourage them to get out there and study.
"For me, rugby league turned into a career but it's going to last 10 years and then I'm going to have to do something else. Just be prepared for life after footy – it gives you a good balance while you're doing football as well."
Part of Ballin's role as an NRL education ambassador is to speak with up-and-coming players about their options.
"I speak to the young guys at Manly and encourage them to do something away from footy, whether it be work, education, a degree, a TAFE certificate or diploma, just so they have an option.
"I'm trying to encourage other players to get involved in it at a young age and get well on their way before commitments become too much in rugby league."
Ballin started his degree at Brisbane's Queensland University of Technology (QUT) 12 years ago when he was a Broncos junior, with no idea if he'd even make it as an NRL player.
He managed to complete part of the degree in three years doing three-quarters of a fulltime load, and has been doing one or two subjects per semester since at the Australian College of Physical Education at Homebush following his move from Brisbane to the Sea Eagles.
"I'm nearly there, it's been a long slog but it's going well – I'm enjoying it," he said.
He added that he is glad to be doing something that will give him other career options after his playing career, and admitted that when he first commenced the degree it was more of a first-choice than back-up plan until his on-field career took off.
"When I first started I was just a junior, I wasn't even in a first grade squad or anything. I was contracted to the Broncos but I wasn't sure if there was going to be a career path for me in footy so I wanted to do education and have an option straight after footy if it wasn't going to be a long term career for me," he said.
"I was really lucky I did those three years doing 75 per cent of a [full time] workload because I knocked a lot of it over. I've just got to gradually do it now and the time frame's going to work out pretty well finishing the degree and finishing my rugby league career and hopefully transition into it."
Ballin also welcomed the assistance the clubs and the NRL provide to players in terms of off-field study.
"When I first started, the Broncos gave me assistance financially to do it, then when I came to Manly the NRL kicked in – I think it was half of the fees which was really supportive – and now I'm an education ambassador for the NRL," he said.
In addition to the qualification the course will give him heading into a post-football career, Ballin said his degree has provided a major lesson in time management while also providing balance to his on-field commitments.
"There's a lot of footy commitments involved [as a first grade player], a lot more than people would probably be aware of, so you have to be on top of things," he said.
"But it's good for time management and it's good to balance out your life, take you out of that football bubble I guess, which can take over at some points.
"It gets me away from the footy and uses my brain in a different way, interacting with other types of people. The long term goal is to have a career after footy and be educated and pass on knowledge – firstly to my kids I guess but also to other students and other rugby league players, whatever I can do, that's my basic goal."