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  1. ALEX Rance describes it as a war, the constant battle he plays with his mind. Richmond’s enigmatic champion is a study of contradictions, a 27-year-old with a million competing philosophies screaming to get out. A man in a hurry who wants to slow down and smell the roses. A deep thinker about religion and morals who still laughs it up at Footy Show agent provocateur Sam Newman on a weekly basis. A star footballer who wants an abiding legacy in AFL - but believes hanging around might get in the way of ambitious plans to overhaul Victorian education’s teaching methods. As he tells the Sunday Herald Sun, next year could be the last of his glittering career or he could be just getting started. So the question for Rance is where to direct those manic energies: footy, friends, travel, religion or education. Richmond star Alex Rance has many interests away from footy. Picture: Alex Coppel Or just maybe do what he is attempting to right now — keep all those balls up in the air at the same time. “My mind doesn’t work very logically,” Rance says with a laugh during a spare moment this week when asked about his decision to re-commit to Richmond in late 2015. “There has never been a moment where I think — this is 100 per cent the best decision of my life. “I constantly float between the different spheres of my life. “I want to be with my family, I want to travel the world, I want to be a better spiritual man, all these different things that compete with my life. “I want to be a better footballer and leave a legacy, so there are these spheres I continually float through and it depends on which days of the week or month one is pulling me that way. “There are times in my life when I am like, ‘I am so glad I re-signed, I have got security, I am spending more time with my mates, the timetable is great. Oh hang on, my body is still a little sore, maybe I shouldn’t have played on.’ It goes in circles.” Rance rivals Patrick Dangerfield as the busiest media presence with The Footy Show and Postcards and admits he needs time to attend to his family and religious life. So what does the busiest player in footy do? He starts a school. THE ACADEMY Rance’s The Academy is a Year 11 and 12 school in Essendon that combines an AFL-related focus with the Victorian Certificate of Applied Learning. He hopes it will eventually become a greater legacy than his time in football. “It was mainly when I was seriously thinking about leaving the game and finishing up and the things I didn’t like about life at that stage and my footy life,” Rance says. “When it came to the crux of it I had to think about what I would miss about the footy club and if I could live without it. “The things I would mis were being a leader with the young fellas coming to me for help and using creative licence to teach people. “Footy are clubs are ‘see something, do something’. I like that about them. “Some guys are in the fog of life when they finish school and have no understanding of what they want to do. “So after six months of thinking about that theory, it was, ‘Why don’t I start a school, what could I tell myself if I was 16 again?’ Alex Rance has started an academy for Year 11 and 12 students. Picture: Michael Klein The Academy is Rance’s dream realised, this year with a dozen students but hopefully soon 25 boys and girls at both Year 11 and 12 level. After checking in for physical and mental wellbeing assessments in the morning, students complete a slab of theory in the morning. Then the middle chunk of their day is filled with football and sports skills, strength and conditioning, yoga and rehab until another afternoon session of theory. Rance attended a non-denominational arts and music-based school until Year 10, his sporting outlet not satisfied despite competing in every swimming and athletics event possible. “To be smashed in every sporting thing did my head in,” he says. It was only when he moved to a school with elite sporting programs - “These are my boys,” Rance immediately realised - did he flourish. “They got me. All of a sudden I was connecting with teachers, I had the outlet to train with the school team, I thought this is how the music and arts kids felt at my old school. “Education needs to be contextualised with your passion. If we can have arts schools, music schools, sports schools, you will get 100 per cent buy in. “I would love to change the whole education space. It’s obviously one step at a time but it’s what education looked like for me and what my future vision is.” To kick-start next year’s enrolments The Academy is offering one student a full two-year scholarship worth $18,000. To win that scholarship applicants must make a short video making their pitch to Rance at www.theacademy.com.au. SLIDING DOORS Before Rance was the AFL’s best defender he was a wildly talented athletic beast going nowhere. Games were full of glimpses of brilliance ruined by Alex Rance moments - horrific turnovers, inexplicable brain fades. Rance confirms how seriously both sides considered a trade around the end of 2010, with Damien Hardwick often joking he was nearly traded for a six-pack of Coronas. Thankfully the club that brought you the Aaron Fiora-Matthew Pavlich deal and many others stopped short of trading away potentially the game’s greatest full back. “He says it was Coronas now, but at the time it was Emu Export, something really cheap,” jokes Rance. Rance is considered the league’s best defender. Picture: Michael Klein North Melbourne were interested through his father’s links there, as Rance and manager Tom Petroro assessed outside interest. “We had a good look around with Tommy,” Rance says. “I wasn’t doing well here and I am sure the club was shopping me around, what can we get for this athletic horrible ball user? “We were both within our rights to do it and it was good for me to realise I did have a bit more currency than I thought I did. “It was the clubs you said, the WA clubs back home, there was Hawthorn, a few clubs were interested but none I pursued wholeheartedly. “Then the club stretched out their hands again. You see players in limbo who have a look around and they are suddenly empowered. “They say, ‘Maybe I can be a great player (after realising their currency)’. Or it can take a move to realise their talent.” Has he considered how many flags he might have won at Hawthorn? “Yeah, I have thought about it a couple of times. If I went home I might not have met my wife (Georgia). She is from Perth anyway, but there are all those Sliding Doors, what-if moments. “But I wouldn’t take my time back. You think about the reasons you play the game, you love the football but it’s the people you play it with. I am so glad I have built relationships here with the boys because they are friends for life.” RIVALRY WITH JACK Richmond enjoyed a summer of catharsis, as the coaches freed up the game plan and the leaders poured out their souls in an effort to better connect with the group. Trent Cotchin’s admission of vulnerability is well documented but Rance did something similar in front of the playing group. He also became much closer with fellow vice-captain Jack Riewoldt, a player who he admits he previously judged harshly for some of his leadership in previous years. “I think it was that (Jack and I) are more like brothers than you realise,” Rance says. “You get to the point with your siblings that you realise you can both be cool without it being to the detriment of the other. “And it was a maturing moment for both of us to know we weren’t stepping on each other’s toes. “I understand his leadership style more and thought, ‘Hang on, it does look a lot like my leadership style.’ “We connected more on a personal level and it was nice to put the guard down and we find out we are very similar beasts in a lot of ways. “Now we are very close mates and I am almost disappointed I wasted all those years. There wasn’t an intervention, (the tension) naturally just dissolved over time.” Alex Rance and Jack Riewoldt take on Lance Franklin together. Picture: Getty Images Rance believes Cotchin could be the AFL’s best captain. “You look at Trent and Jack, maligned for so long and for them to maintain the people they are through that scrutiny, I respect them even more for that.” Rance is the club’s resident practical joker and has few onfield weaknesses, but his honesty with his teammates opened new doors. “As men you don’t tend to embrace vulnerability as much as we should,’’ he says. “We all opened up on why we are who we are, and it’s nice to share that with the boys. It changes their perspective of you.” FUTURE AT RICHMOND Ask Rance about the tag as one of the AFL’s greats after a trio of All-Australian nods and he laughs sheepishly. As he says, he wants his teammates to respect his contribution rather than boast about his achievements through “some Wikipedia entry”. But he remains conflicted between leaving the legacy for the Tigers and pouring himself full-time into education. “Two years is a long time. I have got two years left, it makes me 29. I am still loving it and my body is going OK and I think my form warrants me to keep going,’’ he says. “But I don’t know. I really couldn’t say what I am going to do in two years time, I probably can’t say what I am doing in a year. “I am really loving what I am doing with my school and after a year I could say I want to immerse myself full time in that. “I really couldn’t say what I want to do.” Put to Rance that he might have just scared the heck out of the Richmond faithful and he agrees he has unfinished business. “It was the hard part of what I could potentially leave behind, the hole within the football club I could leave. “I leave football, I let my mates down, I stay in football and I potentially might not be able to give enough to my family and myself. “So that was the constant warring within myself.” Alex Rance doesn’t know what the future holds for him. Picture: Sarah Reed Rance grew up a Jehovah’s Witness, still strong with his faith but perplexed by the mixed feelings religion causes in Australian society. “It’s just a part of who I am. I don’t want to stand up and be a poster boy for Jehovah’s Witnesses,” he says. “My faith has given me and my family some great values and it is something I believe is the truth. “It’s strange in Australia that it’s almost offensive to talk about one’s faith. “You go to the (United) States and they are always praising God. Jesus this, and God that. “Bachar and I, we have great conversations about our beliefs. It’s more about opening conversations rather than shutting the doors.” “I am more than happy to talk about my faith but I am not going to bash you over the head with a Bible because it’s about a relationship at the end of the day.” WINNING IT ALL Ask Rance what it would finally mean to win a final after a trio of elimination final losses and he admits he is fiercely ambitious “I want to go the whole way. To win one final would be great but once you have done that you are like, ‘What’s next?’. “It’s about having pride in the process and framework. “Even this year, we have lost games but been proud of the brand we played. “Even in a final if we played a cracking brand and the other guys got a couple of lucky bounces or it was a great clash and we lost, we could take some solace out of that. “But it would be nice to win a couple and get the Tiger faithful really roaring. “The Port Adelaide (final) especially, my frustration boiled over a couple of times. “I don’t think supporters want to see that, they don’t want to see blowouts in finals. They want to be on the edge of their seats. “That’s the type of footy we want to bring.” http://www.heraldsun.com.au/sport/afl/teams/richmond/richmond-star-alex-rance-is-the-busiest-player-in-the-afl/news-story/c8333fe855ebe8c82c382dc8a98d8fd3
  2. Alex Rance has begun to confide thoughts of retirement to teammates. Photo: Getty Images Jehovah's Witnesses do play professional sport, but body contact and ruthless competitiveness are questionable, according to a senior elder. Alex Rance's devotion to the Jehovah's Witness faith has been cited as a reason – though not the only one – why the Richmond defender is considering his football future at the age of just 25. The Age on Wednesday reported that while he is considered unlikely to walk away from the game, he was feeling drawn to a different life. There was no indication he wanted to take up religious service full-time. Graeme Martin, a senior elder at Jehovah's Witnesses headquarters in Australia, said it was up to the individual to consider how their sport fitted in with what they read in the bible. He said the organisation was not against all competition, but it discouraged competition that stirred up negative feelings such as vanity, greed and violence. "The competitiveness, win-at-all-costs no matter what the consequence for other players is questionable, but we don't dictate what a person chooses to do," Martin said. There was no clear line on whether a sport was too violent or competitive, he said, so it was impossible to say whether AFL was acceptable. "We're not going to make these arbitrary rules," Martin said. "[When] adults are making career choices, it's really up to them." There are examples of practising Jehovah's Witnesses making a huge impression in the world of sport. Tennis champions Serena and Venus Williams were raised Jehovah's Witnesses and remain active in the faith – their mother Oracene converted in 1984, just as her daughters began to play. The pair had even been spreading the word since they became famous, according to sister Isha, in a New York Times story in 2012. In Billy Bragg's God's Footballer, the folk singer told the true story of promising British soccer player Peter Knowles, who in 1969 gave away the game to devote his time to his Jehovah's Witness faith. Martin said the priorities of promising Jehovah's Witness sportspeople sometimes changed as their faith deepened, and that prompted them to take a different path. Many adherents to the faith, particularly single people or couples without children, devoted themselves to missionary service full-time, then pursued part-time paid work to make ends meet. "A lot are fully leading towards a sporting or professional career, then they study the bible and it changes their viewpoint on what the future holds," he said. The type of person who had been previously fully committed to one thing – the sport of their choice – was unlikely to then pursue religious service in a piecemeal way. A number of Australians have stepped back from professional sport in recent years in favour of religious service. Will Hopoate took two years out from his promising rugby league career to complete a mission for the Mormon faith, returning to join the Parramatta Eels last year. Fellow NRL player Lagi Setu spent his two-year Mormon mission in England, and now plays for the Sydney Roosters. Richmond half-back Bachar Houli, a practising Muslim, makes some small adjustments to make sure he can fulfil his religious duties. He alters his work-out program slightly during Ramadan, training with the team for the main session then squeezing the extra sessions into a shorter timeframe, forgoing a break. Houli says his form sometimes improved during the holy month. Alex Rance Alex Rance Wikipedia As Australian Rules star defender Alex Rance ponders his sporting future, David Saunders looks at why some elite athletes walk away from professional sport in their prime. Worilds gives up football for faith Jason Worilds Wikipedia

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