HAVING IT ALL, LOSING IT, FINDING IT
SCOTT DRAPER’S STORY HAS HAD IT ALL – A RISE AND FALL WORTHY OF HOLLYWOOD SCREENS, AND NOW A FAMILY LIFE HE VALUES MUCH MORE DEARLY
There was a time when Hollywood toyed with telling the story of Scott Draper, the Aussie sportsman whose archetypal hero’s journey had it all. The pitch would have gone something like this: a kid with steely self-discipline grabs the sporting world’s attention as a junior Wimbledon winner, a natural earmarked for great things on the world tennis tour. Only he’s crippled by a secret debilitating mental health condition driven by his own quest for perfection which he later cures himself through sheer will. He goes on to make his mark on the elite tennis circuit as the health of his young wife falters. When he’s just 25, she loses her battle for life, plunging him into a deep depression that strangles his career. He finds solace in another sport, golf, and uses that to help him through his grief. On one made-for-Hollywood day, he plays 18 holes in his first pro golf tournament in the morning before hot-footing it to a packed international arena where he wins a grand slam tennis title (the 2005 Australian Open mixed doubles with Sam Stosur) in the afternoon. But wait, that’s just intermission. Injury forces him to retire from tennis but he turns a hand to coaching a young gun by the name of Lleyton Hewitt. After the 2007 Australian Tennis Open, he turns down Hewitt’s offer of a permanent coaching role because golf is still calling his name. Just weeks later, he wins his first professional golf title, with pundits speculating he has what it takes to cut it on the US tour. You can almost picture the closing shot: hero clutching a trophy with invincible set of jaw and wet eyes, gallery cheering, before the music winds up for the credits. But the movie never did quite make it to production. Draper isn’t too fussed either way. He’s not your Hollywood type of bloke and, besides, he’s gone on to score other points. In fact, it’s all about the sequel these days, more made for Netflix perhaps, but still a topical tale for our times: a career athlete who’s known nothing else sets his unwavering sights on reinventing himself for the real world. “It’s a very difficult transition,” Draper says during the 35-minute cab ride he’s scheduled for our chat, clearly still making use of the Type A personality tics that drove his teenage struggle with obsessive compulsive disorder yet arguably served him well in his sporting careers. “I don’t like to be associated as a past athlete these days. You’ve got to move beyond and past that. It comes down to knowing who you are, not as an athlete, but who you really are as a person. You have to do that work.” These days Scott Draper, at 44, after two sporting careers, is a consultant in leadership and performance enhancement for KPMG, one of the big four global professional services outfits no less. While he may be a natural fit for it, it’s not something he just dropped into with his recognisable name. Anyone who understands the lean and mean corporate sector of the new millennia will know business is hardly so charitable these days. Like much of Draper’s life to date, it was a long and hard path to get to where he is now. After what may have been the closing scene of the forgotten screenplay – winning the New South Wales PGA championship in 2007 – what followed was not your Hollywood ending. Draper finished his promising pro-golfing career the next year plagued by ongoing back injuries. At the time he was part of the Fox Sports commentary team for the Australian and US Open Tennis but knew that wasn’t a career pathway he wanted to pursue. He’d been offered coaching gigs on the pro tennis tour but, by this time, had started a family with his second wife, Jessica, and didn’t want to live the itinerant lifestyle. He was thrown a short-term challenge from an old mate who offered him a threemonth gig in high performance coaching at the National Academy of Tennis in Brisbane. “I absolutely loved what I was doing there,” Draper says. “I loved the coaching, studying behaviour, helping others to be their best.” It led to a national coaching position, then the job of head coach of Tennis Australia’s national academies based in Melbourne and there he was, back in the thick of tennis again. “This time I was in the development side of tennis,” he says. “I knew player management and tactics, but I had no experience in the business side of sport. “I had to manage people and put in place the developmental building blocks for the next 10 years and beyond. It taught me a lot.” During his final year with Tennis Australia in 2014, he felt he was armed with a whole new skill set but was still not entirely clear on how it could be applied to the real world outside of sport. “When a lot of elite athletes finish their careers, they often don’t have an education to fall back on,” Draper says. “I felt like I had some skills that could transfer from sport to business but it’s like your CV doesn’t let you make that leap in terms of your pay and your seniority.” For a man who’d faced a few challenges in his time, this one was relatively easy. He enrolled in the inaugural intake of a Leadership, Innovation and Strategy program through the Melbourne Business School. By Draper’s own admission, he was no scholar during his school years, focused as he was on his sport. When he handed over the reins at Tennis Australia, he was offered some consulting and facilitation work in the business sector but with the focus of an elite athlete, Draper went after more. He hit the books again, this time taking on a Master of Business Administration through the University of Canberra, an immersive program with the focus on real world learning. He worked on projects with some big players: National Australia Bank, Price Waterhouse Coopers and KPMG. “They were our clients and we made recommendations to them, just as if we were their consultants,” he says. “It really allowed me to build my network in that world, which was fantastic.” He graduated the co-dux of his intake, a feat he perhaps surprisingly rates as his greatest achievement. His bridge to the business sector came in the form of KPMG’s Performance Clinic, a program designed for senior business leaders taking in all the areas Draper was more than
familiar with: psychology, physiology, stress management, high performance and productivity enhancement. It led to a permanent gig with KPMG in Sydney before he was transferred back to his old hometown of Brisbane. These days, Draper is all about business. He trots out buzzwords like he used to talk sport in his other life. “Leadership capacity is all about being resilient, adaptive and building trust,” he says. “These days in the contemporary market, we’re in an era of great change and disruption. We talk about VUCA, a US military term – volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous. “It’s becoming more and more normal. You have to have the adaptability to navigate it.” For a man who’s overcome his fair share of VUCA in his day, Draper applies the zeal and intensity he had for his sport to his new playing field. It’s a post-sport success story in a landscape where the tales are not always so rosy. “I’ve done a bit of talking to people in this space,” he says. “When you’re an athlete, so much of your identity is wrapped up in being an athlete. “When you stop being an athlete, you need to find who you are at the core, what’s important to you, how you’re going to get enjoyment and fulfilment outside of sport. “The transition is difficult. You go from being one of the best to being an also ran, then back to being a novice starting all over again at something else. “On a personal level, athletes have to make an identity shift and let go of something that’s been their life, sometimes since they’ve been from three to five years of age.” Draper admits he was self-absorbed for 15 to 20 years when he was playing elite sport – athletes have to be selfish, he says. Now he’s happy to be putting everyone else first. “I’m a father (he now has three children, Jayden, 11, Jaimee, 10, and Jett, 8), husband, brother, son,” he says. “What I know about myself is that I like helping people. It’s all about others now, my family and my clients and customers. It’s been a huge shift for me.” His story never did make it to Hollywood but a version of it attracted a widespread response when Draper appeared on the ABC’s Australian Story in 2005. He spoke about his grief after the death of his first wife Kellie from cystic fibrosis in 1999 when he was ranked 42 on the World Tennis Tour, having recorded the fastest rise to the top 100 the tour had then seen. But it was his candid discussion about his self-treated OCD, a condition he’d never heard of, that people still contact him about to this day. “Over the years I’ve probably helped maybe 10 to 15 people get over their OCD – kids, teenagers, adults,” he says. “A lot of people contacted me after that program and I did what I could to help.” More recently, there’s been another wave after he appeared on SBS’s Insight panel discussion program on the disorder. It was the first time he’d ever been among other OCD sufferers and he revealed he still manages his condition, the essence of which, he says, will never really leave him. “I firmly believe that one way to help manage OCD behaviour is through effectively demonstrating greater self-compassion,” he says. “If I were to treat people like I’ve treated myself at times, I wouldn’t be very popular.” To this day, pundits still describe Draper’s tennis grand slam and golf PGA double as one of the great Australian sporting feats although that’s not how he’d like to be remembered. “I’d hope I could be thought of as someone who was a role model, values driven, generous, humble, a family man,” he says. “One day when I die, I’d like people to say Scotty made a difference to my life. He did what he could for other people.”
YOU GO FROM BEING ONE OF THE BEST TO BEING AN ALSO RAN, THEN BACK TO BEING A NOVICE STARTING ALL OVER AGAIN AT SOMETHING ELSE.
ABOVE: Todd Woodbridge (left) and Scott Draper at training before the Australian Hardcourt Championship in Adelaide in 1995.RIGHT: Scott Draper with the Australian Open trophies at Southbank.