In 2015 Alex Rance was coming into his eighth year of football having just experienced a breakout season where he was named All Australian for the first time. He was 25 years old – yet, amazingly, he was considering retirement.
Rance has always loved the game, but he was worried about how his dedication to being an AFL player was affecting his life outside of football. He needed to find greater balance in his life and wasn’t sure he could do it as a full-time footballer.
“We started playing football when we were younger because we enjoyed it, we were having a laugh with our friends or kicking a footy out the back with our dads, and over time it became a job and a chore,” says Rance.
“It was about work-life balance. I wanted to make sure that energy in and energy out was going in the right place. My personality is one that if I do something I’m going to commit completely to it.
“When I went to football training it would take so much energy from me, when I would come home I’d just be so sapped of energy. I thought I might need to readjust that balance in my life.”
There was plenty of chatter amongst the media during season 2015 about what Rance would do at the end of the year and while retirement and Richmond were two of the leading options, talk also went around that he could receive offers from other clubs.
The Fremantle Dockers under Ross Lyon were said to be one of the main sides in the hunt for his services, hoping to lure him back home to Western Australia, and Rance admits the idea of returning home did have its appeals.
“I grew up in Perth so that would’ve been an opportunity to be closer to some family, and slow life down a bit because Melbourne can be a little hustle bustle and footy-focused sometimes.
“Other clubs certainly were in the picture, but it was a fleeting thought. It would’ve just been a bandaid.”
In June that year Rance made his decision. He signed a four-year contract with Richmond that will see him remain an AFL player until the end of 2019. He’s not sure what will happen after that.
It couldn’t simply be a decision to continue life as it was though, and Rance has since strived to live a life more balanced.
“It was a maturing process, going through all the reasons I should stay or leave. I really wanted to have a hand in the development of younger players, younger people.
“I had to realise that as soon as football’s done at the end of the day I come home and give just as much energy back to my family.
“If I had a good game of football I’d have a good week, if I trained well that night was going to be a good one, but I don’t really give myself a pass or fail mark on football anymore.
“I get far more enjoyment out of making people laugh and being a good role model now, being a good husband, being a good brother, being a good son and uncle now than I do racking up possessions or winning games of football.
“The sooner people realise that football isn’t everything in their lives, the more mentally stable and happier they’re going to be.”
The season that followed Rance’s decision to remain in the game, 2016, was one of the hardest to endure for fans and the club in the history of Richmond.
After playing in finals for three consecutive years, the Tigers had eight wins for the year and finished 13th.
“It feels like miles away that year – hard to say exactly what went wrong. Sometimes as a player over the course of your career you try to tinker with things that don’t need to be tinkered with, it needs to be more a principle-based approach.”
The club ended the season in a state of uncertainty. 243-game veteran Tiger Brett Deledio took a trade to GWS, while three new players – Dion Prestia, Josh Caddy and Toby Nankervis – arrived at Richmond in October.
Coach Damien Hardwick’s position was regularly talked about, and while an outside challenge to Richmond’s board in September that year failed, it made plenty of headlines.
Fast forward 12 months later and Richmond were celebrating the club’s eleventh premiership on grand final day 2017.
How did they do it? Like Rance himself, the club chose to simplify and act with purpose. The results were unbelievable.
“When I first came to the club you had to watch your game again by yourself on your laptop, what you did right and what you did wrong, you had all of these action plans about what you had to do this week to get better for the next game.
“It became so all-consuming – now it’s so more about finding where you put football to bed, once you’ve done your work on football you go home.
“A lot of it was about just enjoying our time on field, our time off field, and really being in the moment. A simplifying process.
“When you get drafted you know how to play football. So much of the game is mental these days – everyone is as fit as everyone else, everyone can kick the ball, everyone can mark the ball, but it’s a matter of what you do in the moment and whether your mind’s clear enough to execute.
“It just seemed like this big, fun snowball – Dusty won the Brownlow, a couple of us got in the All Australian side, it seemed like the more fun we had the more success we got.
“It was that way around – it wasn’t as if success came first and then we were happy. Even when we lost those four close games in the middle of the year, it wasn’t as if we ever lost that sense of fun and enjoyment.
“It never really felt like we could lose – it was so amazing and definitely an addictive feeling. I can see how successful players and sides want to keep holding on and on to keep feeling that success.”
I asked Rance if winning the premiership had changed the way he lives his life at all. His answer was a simple and honest one: no.
“It was great, I had a great month and a few weeks after that, but I’m not someone to overhype something.
“I would give up my medal and the title just to be able to experience that joy with my mates again. It was more about the moments and memories that I’ll always cherish and be able to reflect on with my mates.”
The desire to experience success and joy in life is universal, one all of us can relate to. I was sure to ask Rance what advice he would give to others.
His assertion that enjoyment comes before success is something that has stuck with me since talking to him – so often in life we picture it to be the other way around.
We make ourselves miserable and strive towards large-scale goals because we think they will make us happy, instead of realising that being happy in the everyday is what will help us catch what we are chasing.
Finding peace, balance and joy in your everyday life will fill you with energy and the positive momentum that you need to do the things you always dreamed of.
I talked with Rance a lot about this and I have talked with many others about it too. There is no trick or loophole – but the philosophy of the good life is a simple one, because simplicity itself is the philosophy.
“The important part is just to strip everything back and not have too many distractions in your life.
“It’s about reflecting, working out what you enjoy, and trying to incorporate as much of that into your life as possible.”
Alex Rance is an ambassador for Wolf Blass, who are giving away a prize of two tickets for every AFL grand final until 2030. Find out more here.