Date posted: 20/01/2021 8 min read

Playing the long game for your career

BDO’s William Tuffley CA is on a mission to help athletes build rewarding careers beyond the final whistle.

In Brief

  • William Tuffley CA is on a mission to get athletes to focus less on short-term financial gains and more on deep networks and community links.
  • Because professional sports careers tend to be short, athletes believe they need to milk it before they retire.
  • To build a healthy network and community, athletes need to “understand where they came from”, he says.

An ongoing injury, struggle to find work and five-year legal battle with Cricket Australia for medical negligence left cricketer Nathan Bracken dealing with depression. Likewise, Australia’s international basketball star Lauren Jackson suffered depression once she retired from the game; she has talked openly about beating a painkiller addiction. Former Socceroos goalkeeper Ante Covic, too, has spoken about his deep struggle to adapt to life after sport.

It appears that when the clock, the whistle and the adulation finally stop, many athletes are left grappling with deep depression, profound loss and an inability to secure a sustainable and satisfying post-sport career.

William Tuffley CA, associate director of business services at BDO Australia’s Brisbane office, believes it shouldn’t have to be this way.

Tuffley, who has a leadership role in BDO’s sports advisory practice, is on a mission to get athletes to focus less on short-term financial gains and more on assets such as deep networks and community links that drive sustainable success.

“My goal is to have athletes coming out of sport positive rather than depressed,” says Tuffley, who spends 50% of his time on sports advisory but aims to build that to 100% as it grows. “I want to help athletes make the most of their sporting careers so it propels them into life after sport.”

William Tuffley CAPicture: William Tuffley CA.

“I want to help athletes make the most of their sporting careers so it propels them into life after sport.”
William Tuffley CA

Defeat the short-term mindset

The role has given Tuffley an intimate view of athletes’ challenges. He believes a number of factors are driving the short-termism that is at the root of athletes’ post-career crises. Because professional sports careers tend to be short, athletes believe they need to milk it before they retire. “They say ‘sport is my life’, but it’s not their life,” he says. “It’s just the first part of their life.”

Sports administrators who are judged on recent performance have also adopted an aggressive short-term mindset.

But perhaps the biggest influence on athletes is managers trying to maximise their commissions.

“They encourage athletes to chop and change and get an extra $5000,” Tuffley says. “It might give the client [athlete] the most financial benefit in the short term, but potentially not in the long term.”

Meanwhile, athletes are failing to build career skills and assets. Yet Tuffley believes the network and deep community links that different sports offer can be a powerful launch pad for an athlete’s post-sports career. He cites former teammate and Waratahs rugby union player David McDuling who secured a job at KPMG via the network at the Sydney University Football Club.

“You never know when an association is going to be beneficial to you,” Tuffley says.

The game changer

Tuffley himself excelled at sport. Along with his two brothers, he played every game he could: soccer, cricket, rugby league, tennis and golf. They played all day; at dusk they would take the competition into the house.

After he graduated from Brisbane’s Church of England Grammar School, where he boarded as a kid from Gympie, Tuffley studied a Bachelor of Business, majoring in accounting, at Queensland University of Technology (QUT).

But he followed in the footsteps of his father to play sport for the University of Queensland (UQ), juggling rugby union and cricket. (After his first Premier grade rugby game, Tuffley had to tell former Wallaby and then UQ coach, Nick Stiles, that he needed to run off to finish playing a 3rd grade cricket match.)

It was a highly successful era for sport at UQ. In cricket, Tuffley was part of six grand finals in a decade; and in rugby he was part of the Queensland Premier Rugby-winning team in 2010, 2012 and 2014.

Tuffley joined Hall Chadwick in Brisbane after he finished uni, and qualified as a CA in July 2012. He had a stint playing semi-pro rugby in Hong Kong in 2012-13 (which a mate at UQ Rugby helped facilitate), but then returned to Hall Chadwick.

Across more than a decade at the firm, Tuffley combined his passion for sport with accounting and began to build its sports wealth advisory business ATG (Ahead of The Game), which advised current and former athletes across retirement, tax, business services and career management. He joined BDO in February 2020.

Cultivate existing connections

Tuffley says athletes need to “understand where they came from” if they want to build a healthy network and community. He says each step of their life and career has provided connections that can be cultivated.

Growing up in Gympie, a two-hour drive north of Brisbane, Tuffley’s own network stretches back to Queensland, his old schools and sporting clubs – even Noosa where his parents live now.

“Sport has had such a positive impact on my life, and I have had so much joy in playing with some great teams of which a lot of players have become lifelong friends.”

The same networking advice could be applied to CAs who may have been laid off – or their clients who are mourning the loss of a business – as a result of the global pandemic.

“It’s extremely important for all CAs to be constantly keeping in touch with their clients and network during this time,” says Tuffley.

“There is so much industry information out there around COVID-19, which in itself is a continual moving beast. Keeping your clients and network informed when there are so many unknowns is invaluable.”

Focus on the long game

Mental health has been front of mind for governments and businesses during COVID, and Tuffley is similarly big on building and maintaining a community of people to talk to.

“Having a large and healthy network around you to lean on and guide you during tough times is only going to make your next business, or even life decision, less stressful,” he says. “On your own, those decisions can be daunting, but with the guidance of your network it gives you confidence in your decision-making ability.”

As for sports, Tuffley is a big believer in athletes continuing to put back into the community even after they retire. “Keep connected in some shape or form,” he says, though he adds that contributing to the community should be “because you want to do it; not because someone will give you a leg up”.

It has become common for some athletes to find themselves in teams where the stars are earning 10 times more than the rest of the players. But Tuffley says pay rates are irrelevant if the athlete is focusing on the longer game.

The low earner could well go on to build a great career, rich community connections, and a deep network that leaves their star teammate in the dust. When the final whistle is blown, they will have won the race.

Read more:

Taking the Work Out of Networking: An introvert’s guide to making connections that count

Teaches introverts how to embrace their quiet side and nurture a vibrant circle of reliable contacts without pushing themselves into unpleasant experiences.

Download the audiobook from CA Library