Part time professionals: Win-Win-Win (Another Day Meanders By)

“He had one child left. There’d been four, but three of them were up and running, more or less their own men. They were all boys, teenagers. But they weren’t his any more. Except for the youngest. That was Peter. Peter still held Donal’s hand. Except when there were people coming towards them, boys or girls his own age or older. Then he’d let go, until they were around the corner.”

– Roddy Doyle, Bullfighting


Was footy better back in the day? Are players at bush footy clubs closer than those at AFL footy clubs? Are professional sportspeople missing out on the advantages of a varied life?


Histories of footy, tennis, cricket, most sports now turned professional, are littered with rosy stories of the amateur era. Players catching the tram from work on the morning of the Grand Final. Employers giving employees months of leave to assist in their passage to England and subsequent tour.


Economic theory suggests that professional athletes would be better than amateur ones, given that they are paid to play. This frees up time to train, be coached, etc etc. (The same theory suggests that all of us should work more; i.e. be more “productive”).


You’ve been working all your life.

All weekend and overtime

You’ve been trying to unwind

But you can’t relate to the leisured life

– Powerfinger, Already Gone


But economic theory falls over when considering externalities, such as people’s roles in a community. Roles of parent, child, neighbour, friend, volunteer or lover. They’re important. So why do we have such things as weekdays? What is a normal working life? Is normal something to aspire to anyway?


Part-time workers offer much to society. A caveat here is that I’ve worked part time since the year that Buddy Yum was born (2007). I’m lucky enough to have been able to make that choice, but then, I’ve sacrificed a fair bit in making it, too. No one asked me to. It’s been my decision. And just now, I’ve reduced my hours for the next 5 months from 4 days to 3 days/week to support N.cunninghammii in her desire to have a crack at full time work.


Part-timers offer unique perspectives to a workplace, be that an office, a school or a footy club. They bring with them associations from ‘outside’ the bubble. Their varied interactions with people from a wide social soup allow scope for empathy and thought. (Much like reading decent literature will provide).


Footballers of yore had this. As part time club-people, part time members of their local communities, they cumulatively brought interests, ideas and knowledge from across the social spectrum.


Contrast this rich tapestry with the full time professional of today. If you’re on the Collingwood list, you’re presently in Queenstown, New Zealand, on a pre-season training camp with players and support staff. If you’re a Bulldog, you’re in South East Queensland. If you’re a navy blue you’ve run about in the Victorian High Country lately. You’re doing all this with others whom you cannot choose and with whom you may not even get along.


The full time professional sportsperson is a prime candidate for Groupthink, in which he/she hears nothing but the dominant message of the group, in turn coming to spout it themselves. The fulltime professional sportsperson probably has more muscle bulk and more aerobic fitness than part timers of previous days, but does this make them better at their sport, or, more pointedly, does it make watching their sport any more attractive?


I’d argue not.

I’d argue that a part-time philosophy is a grand one for sportspeople, and for life in general. The World Health Organisation (WHO) nominates part time work as a helpful initiative in combating mental health problems. A representative of WHO talking on ABC local radio last year also suggested that rather than nominating a retirement age for our workforce, we should be encouraging everybody to work part time from the start of our career until we drop. This, he argued, would allow families of young children to stay together, reduce demand for the pension, and assist connectedness of local communities. Win-win-win.


From a sportsperson’s perspective, part-time life would give the chance to immerse in another sphere of endeavour. For the sports clubs, it would broaden the topics of conversation heard within their walls. And for the spectator, it would add context to each player’s and club’s profile. Who is that player? Ahh,


“And Donal knew. One day soon he’d open his hand for Peter’s, and it would stay empty. And when that happened he’d die; he’d lie down on the ground. That was how he felt. After twenty years. Independence, time to himself – he didn’t want it.

– You’ll have your own life, someone had told him.

– I have my own life, he’d said back. – I fuckin’ like it.”


– Roddy Doyle, Bullfighting (Full short story published in the New Yorker in 2008)



About David Wilson

David Wilson is a writer, editor, flood forecaster and former school teacher. He writes under the name “E.regnans” at The Footy Almanac and has stories in several books. One of his stories was judged as a finalist in the Tasmanian Writers’ Prize 2021. He shares the care of two daughters and a dog, Pip. He finds playing the guitar a little tricky, but seems to have found a kindred instrument with the ukulele. Favourite tree: Eucalyptus regnans.


  1. Phillip Dimitriadis says

    Thought-provoking stuff as always ER. I reckon Aussie rules players kicked better on the opposite side when semi-pros. Cue ‘Daicos’. Their identity didn’t depend on their sport alone. I only discovered that Glass Blowing was a profession after watching Darryl Cowie from St Kilda demonstrate the art on the Junior Supporters Club in 1982.

    In terms of part-time work I sometimes, not often, envy my older siblings who have been in the same job for over 30 years. Maybe I could have that extra house or flash car had I been more dedicated and less prone to boredom with routine. Then I think about the line that stayed with me from the day I first saw Ferris Bueller’s Day Off:
    “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”
    Love your work ER.

  2. Gary Ablett senior was part time. And he was the best of all time. Interesting argument ER.

  3. ER- interesting as always. Hope your new work/family arrangement goes well. I’d love to work three days and have one for family stuff and one for me.

    Footballers were formerly urged to study or work or have interests outside of football, but with increased professionalism and the attendant demands upon their time, I wonder if this still occurs. Surely, they, like the rest of us, need work/life balance.

  4. G’day Phil, Dips, Mickey.
    Thanks for your posts.
    Who knows what’s going on around here, and what’s best? No one. There probably IS no best.
    Always worth thinking through the options, though.
    There’s a link to Roddy Doyle’s short story there after the closing quote (where it says New Yorker).
    Cheers e.r.

  5. Dave Brown says

    Yep, I’m a great fan of expecting footy players to engage in other employment / education. The reality is the majority of them will not be able to retire on their footy earnings (the average AFL career being 2-3 years). Would love footy clubs to spend more time helping the man to make himself. Think they might be too far distant from the rest of the world to be any good at it however.

  6. Malcolm Ashwood says

    Yep big fan of working and maintaining actual work and life balance and in the so called professional full time era has the most important thing in footy , kicking for goal improved anyway ?

  7. Grand argument ER. Don’t hold your breath waiting for it to happen.
    A lot of life is about the trade offs we accept between the short term and the long term, but either way we always pay in the end. The only difference is who the invoice is sent to.
    Footy clubs spend an inordinate time on the short term tactical advantage that will be quickly copied by others anyway and lose all advantage (Essendon: Collingwood are using performance enhancing drugs – we need better performance enhancing drugs to get in front of them – doh!)
    If you don’t you are doomed to mediocrity. If you do, you sign up as a rat on the ever accelerating treadmill.
    Congrats on your early life-consumables choice. I work 4 days and the extra day off means I am more motivated and productive in the days I do work – but don’t expect the pointy heads that run most businesses to understand that. Only trouble was it took me 50+ years to stop chasing my tail – better late than never.

  8. G’day Dave, OBP, PB
    Thanks v much.
    It’s probably worth stopping in life (and footy) to ask “what do we want?” The long view, as you say PB.
    Maybe it’s goal kicking ability, OBP.
    Maybe it’s a life skill that will be useful after age 26, Dave.
    Taking that time and that view, though, could be helpful.

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