Pat Flatley's 14 years in the NHL couldn't prepare him for life after hockey. But a new program at Ryerson University's Ted Rogers School of Management is aiming to do just that.
"When their whole life is hockey and all of a sudden they get injured or they retire ... there are high incidences of divorce and financial issues," said Marla Spergel, a marketing professor at Ryerson and one of the program's original architects.
The program, called BreakAway, is being funded through the NHL's alumni association and offers current and former players the opportunity to take four Internet and app-based courses, accessible from anywhere on a flexible schedule, to help them prepare for their eventual transition out of the NHL.
The four courses include personal finance, personal branding, leadership skills and transitioning to a new career.
For instance, the personal finance course includes financial planning and risk management, and the marketing course includes identifying consumer segments and developing positioning.
"The idea is that we educate the players as they come in," said Ms. Spergel. "Financially, a lot of these people come into the stream, they make a lot of money, a lot of people take advantage of them and they really don't have the education to understand … the implications of a bad decision and being caught on social media - like [Michael]Phelps did when he was caught with the bong."
While Mr. Flatley's transition wasn't mired in some of the issues that plague professional athletes new to retirement, he still feels strongly about supporting fellow alumni through post-game life.
"Through this whole process, it's almost too late to transition once you're retired so the decision was made to begin helping players understand that their careers are finite," said Mr. Flatley, who will be working as a liaison between the program and the league and players.
"There's one thing for sure, along with death and taxes, everyone's going to be an alumnus one day and if we can prepare them for the 30 to 40 to 50 years hopefully afterwards, which is really the meaningful part of their lives, that's really what the goal is."
When the former New York Islanders captain finally hung up his skates in 1997, the current support system for post-NHL life wasn't available to him. While he got a job working for the league and was involved in some businesses on the side, he describes that time in his life as empty.
"[Hockey executive]Brian Burke called me and said, 'We need to start an alumni program.' I remember saying to him, 'I can't believe you're calling me because I'm sitting here thinking I feel like I just fell off a cliff,'" said Mr. Flatley. "I played for 14 years and I'm sitting by myself at the kitchen table and nobody's phoning and there's nowhere to go."
Applications to the new program will be accepted starting in January, and players will have six months to complete a course once they've begun. The players will also be advised on career direction, including further education options.
The main goal now is promoting the program across the league and to the players themselves in order for the program to be successful longterm, said Mr. Flatley.
"We've got to make them come," said Ms. Spergel. "It's convincing the hockey players that, based on historical information gathered by psychologists, this is what they need."
Both have high hopes for the longevity and possible expansion of the program.
"We see this as a long-term commitment from [Ryerson]" said Ms. Spergel. "There are always going to be new hockey players coming on board."
"I'd be happy with the program sustaining itself and hopefully seeing it grow into more," said Mr. Flatley. "It's just opening the door to education."
Special to The Globe and Mail