Michael Thwaite has put together a stellar footballing resume.
The 35 year old centre-back was part of an A-League championship and premiership winning squad with his short stint at Melbourne Victory before going on to captain Gold Coast and Perth Glory, winning three player of the year awards between the two clubs. From there he earned a spot in the PFA 13/14 team of the season, and made 13 appearances for the Socceroos.
While life as an athlete may seem rewarding and glamorous, there is a little more to professional sport than meets the eye, and Thwaite is making it his goal to mentor young athletes to help them adapt to the harsher realities of the industry.
Thwaite’s new venture into mentoring is an initiative that sees him speak to and coach athletes to help equip them with the tools to survive in sport.
“That’s Football is a mentoring company that I’ve started. It focuses on athletes in transition, I want to help athletes who are transferring into and out of professional sport. I want to help prepare athletes for what it takes to be professional, and I want to change the perception that playing professional sport is about earning as much as you can and playing for as long as you can,” Thwaite said.
“In our field we’re told you have to play until your body shuts down, and we’re told to take the biggest contract for yourself, but that’s not necessarily the best option. You have to balance family life and friends, there’s so much more to it than earning as much as you can.
“I’ve always thought a little bit differently, and everyone I’ve talked to has had some sort of mentor in their career, be it a parent or a coach or someone else. I think it’s so important for young players to hear the truth about what happens in Europe, in Asia, and in Australia professionally.
“I can tell them what’s happened to me over a 16 year period. In that sense I can give back and help people overcome their hurdles.”
One of the many difficulties that Thwaite mentions as part of being a professional athlete is the large amounts of time spent away from family. His career first took him overseas as just a 21 year old, and saw him living in Romania, Poland, Norway, and most recently in China. Even within Australia, Thwaite’s career has seen him move far and wide chasing career goals, with stints at Perth Glory, Melbourne Victory, Western Sydney and Gold Coast United taking him across the country.
“In the last couple of years, playing football has seen me living away from my wife and my two young daughters. It’s been very hard on us, and it created a really bad environment. I had been living away in China before moving to Western Sydney last year, and it made family life really hard. It doesn’t help moving around across Australia and it causes a lot of stress and anxiety. That’s something I really want to teach about through That’s Football,” Thwaite said.
In addition to helping young athletes understand and come to terms with the difficult parts of stepping into professional sport, Thwaite’s program also aims to help athletes coming into the tail end of their career make the transition into the world outside of sport.
“One of the things that happens as an athlete is that everything is looked after for you. I want to help people who are coming down from their careers, like myself. When you finish your occupation there’s not a lot of contact that happens after, so I want to help people coming out on the other side of their careers,” he said.
Since starting the company, Thwaite has seen himself in schools and sports clubs to help spread his message to eager players.
“My first talk was at Sydney University. They brought me down and that’s when I started talking about my brand. There I was able to talk about the concept of That’s Football, which pretty much means ‘that’s life’. Those talks were all about filling in the grey areas of sport. That’s when I started talking about my own battles with anxiety and the struggles of living alone away from your family,” he said.
“I’ve also done some work at my kids’ local school. They’ve got a wellbeing program and that’s been more about getting kids active. I did a talk with them off the field and that’s what I’m aiming for. I’d love to get around to as many schools as I can in the Gold Coast and see where it goes from there.”
After a hectic career travelling, Thwaite is settled on the Gold Coast with his family. He has signed to play with Gold Coast United for the 2019 NPL season, a return to the club he once captained.
“It’s a tough decision to make, but because I’ve the last two years away from home I don’t want to create that environment again. If anything came up professionally it might have to be a short term deal. I’ve got some opportunities here on the Gold Coast too, that could take me into coaching as well,” he said.
Thwaite will be balancing his playing commitments with his work on That’s Football, and will also be working to raise money for the You are my Sunshine charity.
“We’re giving 5 percent to the You are my Sunshine charity, which helps with childhood neuroblastoma. It’s really good to get about a great cause like that,” he said.
You are my Sunshine is a not-for-profit organisation funding research into the aggressive form of childhood cancer.
More information about That’s Football can be found at thatsfootball.com.au.