In a recent meeting that underscored the importance of fostering strong connections between academia and professional sports, Vice-Chancellor & President Professor Attila Brungs, Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Education & Student Experience), Professor Sarah Maddison and Tom Harley, the CEO of the Sydney Swans, came together at the Sydney Swans headquarters to chart a path for the future of our fruitful partnership. This dynamic collaboration centers on supporting high-performance athletes who are simultaneously pursuing higher education and preparing for a career after their sporting days are over. Among the key highlights of this meeting were the 13 AFL and AFLW players who are currently studying at UNSW, the support provided through UNSW's Elite Athlete Program, enhanced mental health services for players, and strategies to boost student engagement at Swans games during the 2024 season.

At the heart of this partnership between UNSW and the Sydney Swans are the 13 talented AFL & AFLW individuals who are juggling the demands of both their academic pursuits and professional sports careers. Professor Brungs highlighted the importance of providing these student-athletes with an environment that allows them to excel in both domains. "These student-athletes are not only exceptional on the field, but they are also dedicated students who bring a unique perspective to our university community," Professor Brungs remarked. "It's our responsibility to provide them with the resources and support they need to succeed academically while nurturing their sporting ambitions."

Vice-Chancellor & President Professor Atilla Brungs with Sydney Swans CEO, Tom Harley.

One of the central goals of this partnership is to ensure that high-performance athletes have access to the education and resources they need to prepare for life after their athletic careers. Tom Harley, a former AFL player himself, understands the importance of this holistic approach to athlete development. "Sporting careers are inherently uncertain, and it's crucial that we support our athletes in planning for their future beyond the game," said Harley. "Education is a powerful tool in achieving that goal, and UNSW has been instrumental in providing our players with a solid academic foundation."
UNSW's commitment to helping athletes succeed in their post-sporting careers is exemplified through programs that facilitate internships, career counseling, and networking opportunities. The university's emphasis on personal and professional growth aligns perfectly with the Swans' vision for their players' development.

Key to the success of this partnership is the UNSW Elite Athlete Program, which offers a tailored support system designed to help student-athletes balance their academic and sporting commitments. The Elite Athlete Program offers flexible study options, personalized timetables, and access to academic mentors who understand the demands of a professional sporting career. "We're proud of the success of our Elite Athlete Program," Professor Brungs stated. "It's a testament to our commitment to providing athletes with a world-class education and the necessary tools to succeed in their sporting endeavors."

In an era where the welfare of athletes is of paramount importance, UNSW and the Sydney Swans are doubling down on their efforts to support the mental well-being of their players. The partnership is committed to prioritizing mental health services. Athletes often experience high levels of stress and pressure, and the Sydney Swans are dedicated to ensuring that their players have access to the resources they need to maintain their mental well-being. UNSW's counseling services, coupled with the Swans' sports psychologists, provide a comprehensive support network for players facing these challenges.

Vice-Chancellor & President Professor Atilla Brungs with Sydney Swans AFLW player & UNSW Elite Athlete Montana Ham

Looking ahead to the 2024 season, one of the primary objectives of this partnership is to boost student engagement at Swans games. To achieve this, a series of initiatives are being planned, including exclusive student events, game-day promotions, and opportunities for UNSW students to interact with the Swans players. Professor Brungs emphasized that these efforts are not just about supporting the players but also about fostering a sense of community and pride among UNSW students. "We want our students to feel a strong connection to the Sydney Swans and take pride in the achievements of their fellow students who are representing the Swans on the field," he noted.

With this partnership looking to be extended well past 2023, having Professor Attila Brungs and Tom Harley meeting for the first time marks an exciting chapter in the partnership between academia and professional sports. With a strong focus on getting more players to think about their life after sport, mental health services, and enhanced student engagement with the Sydney Swans, this partnership looks to be stronger than ever. As we continue to work together, we are setting a stellar example of how education and sport can truly complement each other. We’re looking forward to another big year for the Swans heading into 2024!