Ahead of Nikolai Topor-Stanley’s 350th appearance in the A-League Men’s competition, the PFA Executive Member and Western United defender shares some of his keys to longevity in the professional game.

By Nikolai Topor-Stanley

Embrace Uncertainty

I was talking to my teammate Benny Garuccio this week about the fact that when you’re a younger player, there’s no way to know what your football career will look like, how it will pan out or even what defines a good, successful career. 

It’s impossible to speculate on how things may play out in your own career. Whether it’s an unexpected injury, poor form, missing out on a contract or a coach liking or not liking you, you can’t control those uncertainties.

What’s important is that you need to be prepared in that moment and work out how you will get through it.

Build Resilience 

To counter the uncertainty, you need to be resilient. 

There has certainly been a few bumps and hiccups along the way in my career, but no more than what the average person goes through in their lifetime, so it’s absolutely manageable if you have the right approach and mindset. 

During challenges you must hang in there and keep that level-headedness and something will come your way. If you let your frustrations get the better of you, you will make poor decisions.

It’s obviously much easier said than done. As a younger player, you want everything at your fingertips and if it doesn’t come immediately, it’s easy to get frustrated and side-tracked.

Stay Strong 

I didn’t have a dream start to a professional career. I was knocked back quite a few times by clubs when players around me were getting offers. It can be very disheartening because you expect a certain level of success and trajectory to go your way. 

It took me until I was 21 to make my debut and I guess as a footballer that is relatively late. I had to find my own way and hang in there to prove to the doubters that I was capable. I couldn’t have done that without being positive.

Even this past off season, I was left without a club. The important thing was not dwelling on the situation or letting it get in the way of what I was doing.

Essentially, you have to accept negative and positive emotions as transient, and you just have to keep moving, build good habits and hang in there when your back is up against the wall.

Be Ready to Sacrifice

If you’re involved in the sport, sacrifice is just the norm. Whether it’s weekends, weddings, birthdays, milestones, Christmas, eating certain foods, drinking, or socialising, you must be comfortable with missing things.

One Christmas morning I had to wake my kids up early to make sure they had enough time to open presents before I told them I had to go straight to training!

It’s not quite normal, but it’s the life we have chosen and it’s a privilege to be a footballer and you really have to sacrifice many things if you want to stay in the game. 

Create Balance

By the same token, your sacrifices don’t have to be at the expense of everything.

I don’t believe in an ‘all or nothing’ approach. In fact, that can be really unhealthy.

If you isolate yourself from the world, focus purely on football, sacrifice that square of chocolate or kill yourself mentally and physically to make it, it does more harm than good.

You need to find what works for you that puts you in the best frame of mind to be the best version of yourself you can be.

Set Goals

If you’re not setting yourself a target or objective, you shoot yourself in the foot before you’ve even started.

I currently have goals to influence games, impact my teammates and ultimately win trophies.  While that’s important, my main aim that is within my control is to keep fit, physically and mentally.

That means I need to get the right amount of sleep and do the right things in terms of physical preparation and nutrition. That’s everything down to staying in the ice baths for the full 10 minutes – not just six!

I know if I hadn’t kept those goals simple, I wouldn’t have played 349 games… and counting.

Don’t take your career for granted

It’s easy to take a career in Australian football for granted.

But the conditions that we have as Australian footballers are up there with the best in the world.

It’s easy to forget the shit that past generations had to go through to get basic conditions. The amount of work, phone calls, hours and lobbying required to actually achieve a desirable outcome for the wider playing group, is insane.

Having been involved with it on the PFA Executive, I know what it takes.

The world class conditions we have aren’t through luck or charity. 

No one is going out of our way to put these conditions and standards in place, aside from the players and the people at the PFA who are advocating on our behalf.

So make sure you enjoy it while you can.