Human on the Inside with AFLP4CA’s Tom Campbell & Jasper Pittard

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5 min read

Image: Jasper Pittard (left), Tom Campbell (right).

We’re big believers in the power of human skills. But don’t just take our word for it – the evidence for excellence powered by human (‘soft’) skills is everywhere! In this engaging, ever-enlightening series, we speak with industry leaders, innovators and game-changers to learn a little about their personal career journeys, and how human-led strategies, philosophies and cultures are proving a force for good in their working worlds …

Welcome Tom & Jasper, and thanks for stepping into the #SuccessIsHuman Spotlight! You’re the Founders of AFL Players for Climate Action (AFLP4CA) – an organisation you established to encourage AFL and AFLW players to be a part of meaningful change when it comes to climate action, at all levels of the game, and to share the AFLP4CA story with millions of footy fans across Australia. In 1 sentence (ok, we’ll give you 3), what do your particular roles entail? Jasper as Head of Engagement, & Tom, as Founder?

Jasper: Currently I spend most of my time engaging with our AFL and AFLW players across the competition; finding those passionate players who want to get involved in our group and want to start their own individual climate action journeys, but also collective journeys too. Identifying who these individuals are is essentially what I do most of the time. I also join Tom in setting and realising our Strategy – with such a small team we all have to do everything and anything – thinking of ideas is the fun part, often very ambitious, but that’s the super fun part we get to do a lot of.

Tom: As Co-Founder and still playing AFL full time, I have to fit in my AFL4CA work in my 1.5days off each week. During this time I’m working on a range of strategies across our different pillars from education and action to storytelling. There’s a lot on our plates so we share as much as we can.

Jasper, prior to establishing the AFLP4CA, you were a professional Australian Rules footballer; playing for the North Melbourne Football Club (31 games over two years), and the Port Adelaide Football Club (126 games over 7 years). You’re also studying a Bachelor of Communication Design. How does all this work speak to your personal purpose and what drives you as an individual?

Jasper: Study is on hold for now because of this becoming my full time job – which is great, but wasn’t necessarily the aim when we started out. Fortunately for us, that’s eventuated. I’ve done a range of study around design, but for now have deferred a course in Communications Design at Torrens Uni. The reason I went down the design path is that I’ve always been very passionate about design as a kid and always thought it was a very nice way to complement sport and footy. As a player I didn’t want my off-field study or passion to just be sport related as well – I wanted to do something different. Design was where I found another passion, and has become quite useful with the work we’re now doing as I look after our social/content side of things. At some stage we’re hoping to hand that over to another resource, but in the meantime hopefully I can bring some design ideas to how we want to look as a brand and the stories we want to tell. 

Tom, you’re still a professional Australian Rules footballer, currently playing for the St Kilda Football Club. Previously, you played for the Western Bulldogs (42 games over almost 7 years) and North Melbourne Football Clubs (12 games over almost 3yrs). Prior to your work with AFLP4CA you also worked part time with Healthily, a Healthily – an Australian health tech company specialising in patient education and engagement. How does all this work speak to your personal purpose and what drives you as an individual?

Tom: As an AFL player I’ve played for three different clubs over 11 years thus far. Study wise I’ve completed a Bachelor of Business Majoring in Management & Innovation at Victoria University, and after finishing that was keen to get some practical work experience rather than continue with further study. I had a role at Healthily – an exciting health tech that’s looking to support healthcare professionals to communicate more effectively with patients. 

I’ve also done some charity engagements with StandUp Events, a NFP tackling homophobia and gender discrimination in sport and the Les Twentyman Foundation which supports at risk youth in Melbourne in particular.

I think for me, I’m certainly keen to build out my experience and skills outside of the sporting context – I was really keen to do stuff that is purpose-driven. The health industry can have a really great impact on a lot of people and a large reach, but I really felt that when we started the AFLP4CA it was something I was really passionate about – something I felt I could have a big influence on and impact with. As an AFL player, being able to use the platform of the AFL player collective to reach footy fans right around the country is amazing.

Tell us a little about your personal education pathway/s – what led you to where you are now? How closely do your formal qualifications match your current career?

Jasper: On completing year 12 I was drafted within the month and headed straight to Adelaide for 9 years. For me, studying has always been difficult. I did ok at school but sitting down and putting in the hours has been a challenge. At the start of my AFL career I was pretty focused on footy and put all my eggs into that basket. My Dad is a secondary school teacher and thought I should study, particularly given the AFL would pay for it, but I really wasn’t ready. I did try and study in my second year and lasted about six weeks doing a human movement course. For me, I need to be really motivated to want to do something and be passionate about it. I find it very difficult to be proactive unless I have those things going on. 

I got to my fourth or fifth season and I thought – ok, I’m opening up and ready … I’ve played footy long enough now that I understand I can’t just focus on footy – I’ve gotta find something else. I wanted to go beyond sport and didn’t want to be too consumed with footy all the time. 

I loved art during school and looked at what opportunities were available in that space. I was offered a Next Goal Work Placement through the AFL and basically figured out that Graphic Design was something I could get into, so I worked at an Ad Agency for 18 months which was great. Some parts of it I loved and others made me realise advertising wasn’t for me, but the creative side was great. Off the back of that I started a study pathway by way of a Cert IV and then enrolled into a Degree in Adelaide. I’ve made things hard for myself – as I usually do – by chopping and changing courses. To be fair it was forced on me a little as I had to relocate back to Melbourne, but I really should have a Degree by now! Instead I’m half way through two Degrees, but have completed a Cert IV.

Tom: I was really fortunate to go to a great school – Wesley College in Melbourne and when I finished school took a year off study. I missed out on being drafted at that point, and at the time felt I’d missed my big goal of having the opportunity to play AFL. Maybe similar to Jasper, I felt I’d put a lot of eggs in that basket so wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to study. I knew I would at some stage, so took a couple of years off to think it all through while still working at my goal of playing football. After two years I made the AFL and actually recommenced my study at the same time. I started an Exercise Science Degree which I quickly discovered wasn’t right for me and switched to a Bachelor of Business (Management & Innovation). This immediately felt right – I felt connected with the major units in Innovation in particular and was really interested to see that in a business context – seeing how people could come up with creative ways to solve different problems, particularly around sustainability. 

Alongside my AFL career I continued studying for seven years before I finished that Degree. I think the discipline of playing and studying simultaneously taught me some great skills. On graduating, it was then about practical experience – working with Healthily was a great opportunity, but also sensing the opportunity to work with Jasper to build our own NFP to connect with footy players and Australia, and with fans too – it’s all something I’m hugely excited and passionate about.

If you could share one piece of career advice to your 21 year old self it would be…

Jasper: Footy has taught me that if you’re passionate about something you’re going to be more invested. If you can somehow arrange your career and life around something you’re passionate about, it makes a lot of sense. There are a lot of people who end up doing work that doesn’t resonate with their passion – they get stuck in the grind and I really don’t want that. That’s why I went down the design path – I was passionate about it, and the environmental side of things has also become a passion. Somehow I’ve been able to work it into a career opportunity, and it’s such an important issue we all face. Footy and my education pathways have taught me that if I’m passionate about something I’m definitely more motivated about it from a career perspective.

Tom: I think 21 year old Tom thought everything had to happen right now. I used to worry that I wasn’t achieving all the goals straight away. I think since that time I’ve had lots of great experiences and built some great skills and networks. I’d tell myself to continue to work on my professional and personal development in lots of different avenues and not rush – I think I needed to hear that when I was 21!

Maximising the potential of individuals, communities and businesses through the power of human skills is the reason Maxme exists. Can you tell us a little about the role and / or value of human skills in your workplace right now?

Tom: I think for AFL players there’s an inevitable end to your career that comes up much faster than lots of other careers. There aren’t many AFL players that play to their mid-30s – I think the average span is about  four years. So for us as players, we work in a really intense team environment and develop some really great skills from an early age around communication, leadership and teamwork. I think a lot of players worry about leaving the game and their potential lack of practical work skills, but I think we have some fantastic soft skills that are well developed. To complement those, it’s probably about honing in on some ‘hard/technical’ skills or potentially how to get through a 9-5 day at a desk, but for us it’s also about trying plan what a transition out of the game looks like – finding things that we’re passionate about in a similar fashion to our passion for the game of AFL.

Self Awareness sets the critical foundation for all Maxme learning experiences. With that said … what’s your strongest trait / personal super power?

Jasper: I think one thing I’ve learned through footy that’s really transferable to the work I’m doing now, is the power of people skills. Being relatable, listening well and being compassionate are qualities I learnt through footy and those really intense team environments – caring and being a good support for your mates or colleagues is super important. One of the reasons Tom and I have been able to connect so well with each other and with players around climate action, is due to our ability to have really authentic conversations. This has meant we can connect well with people of similar ages or younger in a way that resonates. Being able to really have a great conversation is a skill I’ve only now reflected on as being so important. Just being genuine I guess – it’s not something you’d write on a CV, but if you were to interview for a job, your capacity to just be yourself really shines through. Over time, I’ve really come to back myself in this area – being able to hold a genuine conversation, particularly when talking about something you’re passionate about, trying to affect change or influence others. 

You learn to be pretty professional in football too – taking that into your next career is pretty powerful. Something as simple as punctuality or setting an agenda for a meeting – that kind of professionalism goes a long way.  

Tom: I think for me and perhaps Jasper too in terms of our work with AFLP4CA – there are a lot of gaps in our skills and even our knowledge as far as climate and sustainability, but I think our strength has been in creating a community and space for listening, and being able to bring people along on the journey with us. We’ve connected with so many fantastic people who’ve been willing to help us, but we’ve also been willing to reach out and ask for that help too. We’ve been reasonably self aware of where our gaps lie, and have willingly asked for help from those who offer it. Football has given us great professionalism and discipline, but our ability to also create a community has been huge.

And on the flip side, what’s one human / ‘soft’ skill you’ve had to really work on improving over the course of your career?

Tom: For me, managing stress and my own expectations of myself and the work that we’re doing has been something I’ve had to work on, and something I’ve had a lot of support from the rest of the team to do. I feel really fortunate for our strengths in community-building, and that supports me in the stuff I’m not so good at like worrying about what could happen or might happen, rather than focusing on all the great things that we’re doing and sticking to that plan. 

Jasper: Pretty similar – that self doubt. I think it’s something AFL players wrangle at some stage in their career and as recently as this year – getting back into the work, feeling a bit overwhelmed at times, that self doubt around not having a Degree or the ‘hard/technical’ skills others might. Sometimes also feeling like I’m doing a whole lot of things just ‘ok’, and with that comes self doubt, but as Tom said, it’s so important to surround yourself with great people you can trust and lean on, and knowing when to ask for help. Being a footballer teaches you that because you’re constantly around a team and forced to lean on other people. I think that for us in particular – this group we’ve formed, we don’t want it to become two people making decisions and asking for people to follow them – we’re creating a community for everyone to have input into. From our small team to the broader players who get involved. So learning to trust others and bringing people along – not being a ‘controller’ is a really important quality at this point in our journey.

If you could share one piece of career advice with recent secondary or tertiary graduates, or other individuals keen to work in a trade, what would it be?

Tom: Reach out to like-minded people. Jasper reached out to ask if I’d go to a climate action webinar with him, and that was the start of our journey. It was collaborative from the outset – something we were doing together. We talked very early on about building momentum, and that when I was done with something I’d send it to Jasper and his job was to send it back, then mine to send it back again. Community and momentum have been core to getting us to where we are today.

Jasper: As mentioned before – try and follow your passion. It’s a really exciting age we’re living in – there’s real potential to build a career from what you’re interested in and care about. Things used to be far more linear, but now I think we’re moving past that – if you’re passionate about a social issue, for instance, there’s opportunities to project yourself into it in your own way. It’s great – we’re breaking the mould of being funnelled into a factory line where we have to build a certain career. For me, after 10 years of footy I was happy and ready to move away from it – I felt I’d stopped developing as an individual, and maybe in 10 years it will be similar. Be open minded, but follow your actual interests.

You’ve been granted approval to add one University graduate to your team, but have 100 applicants, all with outstanding academic results. How do you find your perfect candidate – what are you looking for?

Jasper: For me, it’s always going to be a question of whether this person will fit into the culture and team environment of what we’re building. Not only ‘fit in’, but will they add to it. I want to walk away from an interview or chat with a deep interest in working with that person – for me that goes so much further than what’s on a resume. You can learn a lot of skills on the job, but having someone who’ll help you build a great culture and grow the business – working with people like that is what I’d be looking for.

Tom: As we grow we’re going to be hiring people for their passion, energy and commitment to the issues that we care about as an organisation first of all. Certainly everyone’s backgrounds and skills will play some role, but we’re a small team and want to work with people who share a similar vision and passion. So to anyone who will hopefully join our organisation – it’s about your passion and how you can add/help to grow our team from here on in.

In the words of John Dewey, “education is not preparation for life, education is life itself.”
What’s next on your #learning agenda?

Jasper: That’s a great quote – education is one of our three pillars and was our gateway into joining the climate journey. I think in terms of what’s next – always for us as Co Founders is not only staying up to date with the insights we need to, but ensuring our main goals is providing education to our player network and our fans through storytelling in authentic, powerful ways. We’re always looking for these kinds of opportunities to connect with experts, great people in the climate space and bringing our fans into that tent so they can learn. We’re also looking forward to taking a bunch of our community into places where we can immerse ourselves in amazing environments – the Great Barrier Reef for instance – ecosystems and places in nature to learn in the flesh. For me – it’s a constant learning of how to grow a NFP and get more business savvy – that’s a daily challenge!

Tom: Part of my learning journey is getting hands-on, real-world experience. Starting AFLP4CA has been amazing with Jasper – we’re so fortunate to have access to so many great leaders in the climate and action space acting as mentors and I think mentors are a great way to continue your learning journey. I wouldn’t rule out some extra formal education too – there will certainly become a time where our organisation grows and the scope/scale of what we’re doing continues to grow and it might be time to continue with some formal education so not ruling that out. Community building, leaning on the experts and people who’ve been doing this for a long time are incredibly generous and supportive so they’ll help us on our education journeys too.

More on AFLP4CA, and how to get involved:

For too long sport has sat on the sidelines on climate. We’re not experts but we listen to scientists and experts. They’re telling us the time to act is now. That’s why we’re taking part in the solutions in our own lives and industry and we’re passionate about telling the story. 

We hope we can bring you, and millions of other Australians, on the journey with us. 

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