Dear 21 Year Old Me - life lessons from leaders

E1: Stuart Wenn

June 09, 2021 Jeremy Irvine Season 1 Episode 1
Dear 21 Year Old Me - life lessons from leaders
E1: Stuart Wenn
Show Notes Transcript

In this episode of Dear 21-Year-Old Me, with guest Stuart Wenn.

  • We go back in time to 1990, when our guest, Stuart Wenn, turned 21, and look at what was happening in the world, and closer to home back then.

  • Stuart talks about his career on and off-field, and what it took to be at top of his 'game' - an Australian Football League field umpire - and how a chat with his school coach was a sliding door moment that set him on the path for umpiring. 

  • The discipline, focus, and what a week was like for a professional umpire is covered; so too are Stuart's reflections on what it was like to walk off the MCG that last time after his final of 341 senior games

  • We ask Stuart what he'd say to his 21-year-old self, and what Stuart at 21 would say to Stuart now.

Suggested reading:
Wenny - a story of commitment, Stephen McBurney, AFL Umpires Association, 2014 

Mentioned in the show :
Australia Games 1985 - including the dance routine.

Connect with Dear 21 Year Old Me: Jeremy Irvine (host) and Darcy Milne (producer)
Links: Dear21 Year Old Me website | Dear 21 Year Old Me LinkedIn page

Darcy Milne:

Welcome to Dear 21 year old Me, where we ask our guests what they'd say to their 21 year old self and go back in time and discover how they celebrated their 21st birthday. He's your host, Jeremy Irvine.

Jeremy Irvine:

Hello and welcome. And thanks for listening. Imagine what it's like to perform week after week in front of tens of thousands of people in person and hundreds of thousands of people on TV. Imagine the dedication to do this all the while holding a full-time job and imagine your decisions being dissected by the media and the public poured over by TV panel shows, and also not knowing where you'll be spending your weekends until, but days before. Well , our guest today did this for many years as an AFL umpire. It's not something he necessarily planned on becoming, but as we'll hear once determined, he gave it everything. But before we meet our guest Stuart Wenn, let's go back in time to the year 1990 to find out what was happening that year when Stuart was turning 21, We were listening to John Farnham 's Chain Reaction, which held the ARIA number one album spot for five weeks. Other top selling albums were Jimmy Barnes , the 12th Man, and Madonna, and Milli Vanilli. In politics Margaret Thatcher is replaced as Conservative Party leader by John Major and in the US George HW Bush - that was the Dad - is US president. Back here in Australia John Cain resigns as premier of Victoria, and is replaced by the state's first female premier Joan Kirner. And in March, despite the loss of eight seats, Bob Hawke's Australian Labor Party is elected for a fourth term. In sport John McEnroe is thrown out of the Australian tennis open and the Victorian football league is renamed the Australian football league. Collingwood defeat Essendon in the grand final. It's the Pies' first flag since 1958; goodbye the collywobbles. And it's also the highest rating TV program on Australian TV that year. We were also watching Tonight Live with Steve Vizard, E-Street and Sale of the Century on TV, and The Dish at the movies. In the NRL, the Canberra Raiders defeat the Penrith Panthers in a season that saw Tina T urner's The Best used as the NRL's marketing campaign complete with mullets and oh, so long saxophone solos. And we turned on our T Vs, including CNN for the events in the Persian Gulf, where in August of 1990, the Iraqi army invades and occupies Kuwait Operation Desert Shield l asts from August 1990 to January 1991 and is then followed by Operation Desert Storm and Australia commits a mainly naval force. It is the year 1990. It's the year 1990 when our guests S tuart W enn turned 21. Welcome Stuart.

Stuart Wenn:

Thanks, Jeremy. Great to be here.

Jeremy Irvine:

You heard the introduction about when we stepped back into all those things that happening in 1990; what you remember about that year, what were some of the big events that impacted you and how were you feeling about life when you were turning 21?

Stuart Wenn:

Yeah, it was a really interesting year for me when I go back and reflect on it. I do remember Tonight Live with Steve Vizard. I used to love that show. It was kind of groundbreaking in Australia, even though it was a , obviously a spinoff of a US show, you know, the Letterman program in the US, but on the year itself for me was an interesting one. I was in the final year of a science degree having decided probably two years previously that I didn't want to have a career in science, which was an interesting time. But I'd been convinced by my mother in first year to just go through the process, get the degree, you've come this far and look, I stuck with it. And so I was in the final year of a science degree and wasn't really sure what I was going to do next. And I'd sort of been channeled into science and maths science at school because I was told to keep my options open and by doing a straight maths science program at school, the thinking at the time was, you know, if you do that, you can always go back and do humanities and other things. So it's probably something I'll talk a little bit more about later as something I reflected on as my life went through. But career wise , I wasn't really sure where I was going. I was working part time in the recreation industry. I've always had a love of sport. And so I was teaching swimming and doing pool lifeguarding and those sort of things. And that was putting petrol in the car and allowing me to live the uni lifestyle. And I was also umpiring senior football at that stage. So senior metropolitan football in the Eastern Suburban Churches Football Association, which is now part of Southern League. And I was what I sort of fondly recall being four years into a seven year plan. I had to make the AFL senior list, which, you know, again, I'll probably talk a little bit later as we go through a bit more about that, but I had this vision of a seven year plan. There was no science or rationale to it. It was just something I came up with and this happened to be year four of that plan. And I also remember back that in February of that year. I'd just come off a three peat with the Melbourne University water ski team. We'd won the InterVarsity championships in 88, 89 and 99. I was part of those those three winning teams. And we were, we were respected by the other unis, but everyone wanted to knock us off and had a lot of fun doing that. And I was actually the tournament director for the Australian university water ski championships that year in delinquent in February of that year. But I'm hearing the intro. It was interesting when you mentioned the Gulf war and , um, operation desert shield and then operation desert storm. And it might sound a bit strange today, but I do vividly recall that when Australia's involvement was announced in, I can remember having conversations immediately with my family about the possibility of being a 21 year old in Australia who had had , um , significant experience , um , in military cadets at school and had been an officer in that program and all those sort of things that , uh , you know, if this got serious , uh, people of my age with my experience might be called upon to , to get involved. And I suppose my memories of that time also was that, you know, the Vietnam war wasn't that , um, that much earlier , um, we were still sort of living through that , um, and the veterans experience and conscription and all the things that went with that. So it does sound a bit weird to talk about that in the context of today, but certainly 1990 when that , um, that operation started. And there was a lot of concerns about , um, conflict in the middle east. Um, I do remember having those conversations and , um, you know, being quite concerned and , um, I suppose frightened probably a bit strong, but had some serious concerns that , um, you know, it might escalate to , um, you know, potentially a bigger conflict than it ended up being.

Jeremy Irvine:

The seven-year plan. Is this something that, you know, Dad and Mum sat down with you and went well, hang on, somebody's going to be doing with your life. I mean, you've got, or is it like, okay, this is a bit of a plan, you know, looking at the pokes a bit, maybe a bit older than me at uni here. Here's what I want to think about. Was it, you know, the footy how'd you get into the footy?

Stuart Wenn:

Yeah, look, it's interesting. I sort of said at the start that I wasn't really sure about what I wanted to do next, you know, back when I was 21, but one thing I was somewhat sure about was, you know, I did want to pursue a career in umpiring, but having said that 1990 was a really interesting year because I actually, I took a few weeks off umpiring. I actually pulled out of the competition for couple of weeks. I went to my coaches sort of middle of the year. So it would have been a little bit after I think it might've been actually just prior to my 21st birthday, which I'm sure we'll talk about later, but I'd sort of got to the point, you know, this four year and a seven year plan of a dream that I'd made up and an ambition and a goal that I had. And I thought to myself, you know, if I'm do I really want to do this? Am I doing it for the right reasons? Is it really something I want to pursue? Cause I knew that if it was going to be something I really wanted to pursue seriously, the sacrifices, the commitments and everything that went along with that were going to be quite significant. And I felt I needed to really be sure if I was going to invest that time. And so 1990 for me was a bit of a crossroads year. Cause you know, I was coming to the end of a degree and I had that moment. I took a few weeks off. I spoke to my coaches and said, that's what I wanted to do. And they were really supportive. And um, long story short, I, I came back and made the decision to pursue it. And it was quite interesting because in that year I, the AFL, the way it used to work all the VFL as it was then emerging into the AFL, used to send out talent Scouts and they used to watch you umpire games and they'd do critiques on you. And you know, they obviously went around the whole country doing that. And then a number of young emerging umpires would be invited to trial or come down to the state legal, the VSFL as it was back then. And the, the sub elite competition and then progressed to the AFL eventually. But if you, if you good enough, and I got invited down that year to have a conversation with the with the AFL and you know, they interviewed me and basically said, look, we like what we see. But we were, we did hear about the fact that you took some time off this year and we want you to be really sure. So they said, we're not gonna, we're not going to give you an opportunity to come down and, and work your way through the state league next year. We'd like you to go back and have another year. And if you continue to perform, let's see what happens. So you know, eventually you had a bit of a plan I'll look again, it didn't impact the seven year plan that I had. It was only four, but look at this. It was, I liked the honesty to be honest. And I, as a, as now, someone who's been involved in you know, in list management and in selection onto the AFL list in a role that I've had in the last couple of years I, I liked that conversation. It was the right conversation. I understood their rationale and, and I think they did the right thing. Cause I think, you know, I went back the next year I performed again and ultimately at the end of that season in 92 sorry, the in 91 I was invited to, to join the AFL talent squad in, in 1992. So the seven year plan to get back to your earlier question came about when so I've sort of fell into umpiring in a funny way. My dad was a leading umpire in the VFA in the 1970s, young, quite a number of grand finals and sadly took up umpiring very late in his playing career. He played a lot of country footy and local footy with Montmorency and things like that. And he had had an issue and that he had to give up playing. So he took up umpiring at 27 and the VFL as it was in the late seventies, looked at him, but said, he said that he was too old. And nowadays that seems amazing. Cause we've got guys obviously in their mid-forties umpiring, but year 12, I was in the, I had the lead role in the school play Oklahoma. So I was playing the role of curly and I remember I'd played footy right up until year 12. And the coach of the first eighteens came to me and sort of said, look, what are you going to do? Cause rehearsals were on the same night as first 18 training. And so I had this conflict and I sort of said to him, look, I don't know. And he said, well, look, I can give you a walk-up start in the second, but I can't give you a walk-up start in the seniors. If you're not going to train, it's not fair on the rest of the group. And I, again, I respected that and I said, well, look, I think I might sit out you know, there's a chance if I get injured, it'll put the whole play in jeopardy and the production in jeopardy. So, so I stood down from playing and you know, I was sitting around for a couple of weeks and dad was helping out the school at that time, just umpiring AGSV games on the weekend for the school. And obviously they liked having him given his experience. And he said to me, why don't you give umpiring a go? And I suppose as a, in primary school, I'd done game, the scratch matches at lunchtime. You know, kids knew that I was my dad was an umpire. They said, bring the whistle, you know, can you be the umpire today? So I'd done a little bit of that. So I'd grown up around it. And one of dad's friends who'd done a VFL grand final came and saw me very early that year when I first started and said, I reckon this kid's got a bit. And I think he sold me a bit of a story, but I believed it. And he said, I reckon you could make AFL in three years. And he was really just trying to encourage me and inspire me. I had no idea what it would take at that stage. And then I sort of set the seven year plan of two years in junior, 42 years in senior 43 years on the AFL development squads, you know, moving through the ranks through to the, to the AFL reserves and the VFA as it was then, and then ultimately on the AFL list and by chance that seventh, at the end of that seventh year, I was invited in 1995 to join the AFL senior list. Do you remember that call? I do remember that call. It was the March long weekend. It was the Monday night and I was standing in the kitchen at mum and dad's, and obviously we didn't have mobile phones back then. Or if we did, I don't remember having one. And maybe I did have one now it would've probably, but anyway, David Levins, the coach at the time rang the home phone cause I was living at home at that stage. And he said David had a very unique style and he sort of wouldn't say much, and then he'd pause. And he sort of said, oh, I'm just ringing to let you know, you're on the AFL list. And I must have reacted with some sort of emotional, you know, sort of expression. I don't think I said anything. I just must aside or said something or, you know, gasped. And he said, oh, you sound really surprised. And I said to him, well, to be honest, David, I am. And he said, well, why is that? Why are you surprised? And I said, well, I didn't umpire the AFL reserves grand final last year. So normally, you know, the guys that that did the grand final the previous year were, were a pretty good chance of being selected on the AFL list. And I, I am part of the preliminary final, but I didn't get the grand final. And he said, he said, well, that doesn't matter. And I said, oh, well, I would've thought, you know, cause I didn't do the grand final that they would've got on ahead of me. And he said, well, we look for different things at the AFL. And perhaps they do, you know, in the VFA and AFL reserves. And I went well, that makes sense. And so, you know, then I realised that you know, he felt I deserved to be there and I guess, you know, 20 years later I was still running around on AFL grounds.

Jeremy Irvine:

That's a good list management pick .

Stuart Wenn:

Well, I'd like to think so.

Jeremy Irvine:

I haven't seen your father in about 40 years, so I suspect you would have picked, put the phone down. What did you turn around and mum and dad, guess what day?

Stuart Wenn:

I think they've got a sense of what was going on because I could overhear the phone call, you know, the call was in the kitchen and so they could tell from the conversation, you know, I could see the smiles on the dials and you know, they were obviously really excited. I think dad was really, really pleased, obviously would have loved to have had that opportunity himself. But was, was really wrapped to see that I was given that opportunity.

Jeremy Irvine:

Tell us about your 21st birthday celebrations on the night, the weekend, what you did, where was it, who went, what were you doing on the weekend? You know, were you getting ready for the party at Mum and Dad's, what was Stu Wenn doing?

Stuart Wenn:

Yeah, well, I remember I was fortunate that my birthday, my actual 21st birthday fell on a Saturday, so that made it easy in terms of having my 21st birthday party on the actual day of my birthday being a Saturday night. And I actually umpired a game that day in the Eastern suburban churches footie association. And I can actually remember, I can remember being at the game and back in those days it was a tradition to, for the umpires to go into the rooms after the game and, and have a beer or lemonade or whatever with both teams just to build that rapport and, and that was sort of expected and part of the role. And I remember going in and doing that and fulfilling that obligation and then sort of had to say to everyone, look, excuse me, I've actually got to go to my 21st. And they all thought that was quite funny at the time. And look, it wasn't a big affair. I think there was there was about 60 to 80 people there. I do remember there was a bit of 21st fatigue at that stage cause everyone was sort of 20, 21 at the same time. And we held it at Eltham Little Theatre, which was a small amateur theatre out in northeast Melbourne bout 25km out of the city in a nice leafy part of Melbourne for those of you that are listening from other, other parts of Australia. But and it was actually interestingly enough, Eltham Little Theatre was very familiar to me because, you know, as, as a young kid I'd done a lot of amateur theatre there. So it was a kind of a nice way to sort of spend the 21st in the, on the board. So to speak of where I'd sort of been as a, in theatre as a child. And I remember hiring a disco robo, went to this hire place and hired this sort of disco robo. We didn't have a DJ. I decided to be the DJ or recorded all the music. So all the music was my favourite stuff and, you know, recorded on a cassette tape for all of those that remember what they were. And I just listened to that. It is a little bit in technology and I just press play and let it all, let it all happen. I, I do remember mum sat telling me to turn it down at one stage, she thought it was getting a bit loud.

Jeremy Irvine:

So, speeches, because the Wenn boys and, you know, can I, shout out to both of your brothers all very, very fine performers on stage in, in different ways. Did you do speeches? Was there like, what was the go, did Dad get up?

Stuart Wenn:

Look, there were, there were speeches, but I couldn't tell you who did them. I can't even remember what was said. And that's not because I couldn't remember what happened on the night. I can remember what worked, don't worry I was in a good state, but I just I just don't remember it to be honest. I'm not sure. I can't even remember who even sort of got up and did the traditional 21st sledge, but yeah, they, there were speeches, but I can't recall them.

Jeremy Irvine:

And in terms of the people that are there was it, you said, I think 60 odd people, family, friends, you went to a school. I think that you mentioned that, you know, you had a lot of time for it. Do you keep in touch with some of the guys that were at the 20 or people that were your 21st in border ways and where some of your umpiring fraternity, you know, part of the standing to be part of that kind of.

Stuart Wenn:

Yeah, look, it's, it's interesting and absolutely, but I look back now, and you know, most of the people that ran my 21st apart from, as you said, family, or, you know, long-term family, friends, I probably don't see a lot of those people anymore. And I was reflecting on that when I was thinking about who was there, you know, earlier today, but ahead of coming on today. And I sort of the reflection around that for me was I feel you pick people up in your life and, you know, they shape who you are. And I was still really value their friendship that I had at the time. And I really value the memories that we shared together and, you know, and what I learned from them as friends, and I still do think about a lot of those people. And I guess, you know, we all like to have more time to, to reach out and reconnect, but life changes direction and you move in different directions. And so, I don't sort of look back on with any regret about any of those relationships or friendships. In fact, they've shaped who I am today and I've, and I've got bits of my interactions with all of them in who I am today, and I take them with me. So yeah.

Jeremy Irvine:

I heard about the night, obviously you love your theatre. I mean, was there any, I know I say this with tongue somewhat in check. Was there any breaking out of a musical theater and a bit of Oklahoma between the three of you guys, you would have got some decent harmonies because neither of your brothers, my memory goes back all those years when they on the Australia Games, something like thirty-five years, Cameron and Rohan.

Stuart Wenn:

Both my brothers were we're obviously very talented in, in many different ways. And you know, Cameron's obviously in the UK and it's working as a theatre director and, you know, Rohan's had a significant career in the media and television and over the years as well. And they were both really talented young singers, and they sang at the opening ceremony, as you mentioned, the Australia Games. And they were both selected at random. They wanted to two boys, two young boys to sing a song called One Voice to open the games. And it just by chance, they picked them both independently, didn't realise our brothers and then it wasn't until they asked them to fill out a form with their names on them. They realised they were brothers, but which was kind of an interesting story at the time. And it featured in the Herald Sun, cause it was quite you know, an interesting story that these two kids have being picked at random and they just happened to be brothers and they don't really look better like but yeah, so no, we didn't break out into any song or music. It was a pretty low key, I think, as I said, I think it was, I was I was probably one of the last in my friendship group to turn 21, I think everyone was over 21sts by that stage.

Jeremy Irvine:

You had your seven-year plan. Do you recall at that time, you know, in your early twenties going okay. So was there a light on the hill moment for you AFL umpiring, you know, your fantastic business career did you have an idea about how you might or envisage how life might go because 21 is like that kind of jump off spot in some ways, but it seems like you kind of had a pretty good idea of where to from here you're on your way in, in some ways.

Stuart Wenn:

Yeah, look, I, I didn't, I mean, I had the seven-year plan, but it was, as I said, it was, it was more a vision than a plan to be honest. You know, I just, I came up with that idea as a motivating factor to sort of give me some sort of a goal. And yeah, sure. I put actions around achieving that, but in terms of where I thought my life would end up and where I work and who I would meet and the experiences I would have, I had, I really had no idea. I mean, umpiring was probably the only thing that was the, gave me a little bit of a north star. That was probably one goal. I was really, we were really keen on achieving better. Again, I, I gotta be honest. I wasn't that confident that I would make it you know I suppose a lot of athletes struggle with confidence. A lot of the time in their careers and, you know, you're always challenging yourself around whether you're deserving and whether you're good enough. And because of that athlete mindset of always wanting to be better and never being satisfied that what you've just delivered is good enough. And so, you know, that's probably part of who I am and it's something I've taken into my business career as well. And you know, that it's something I've got to manage around you know, being satisfied and you know, not being too hard on yourself because I think, and a lot of athletes and people I've mixed with in the AFL and football and some of the, you know, the highest profile players that you would think of, they all wrestle with that same mindset at different points in their, in their journey.

Jeremy Irvine:

And that was how do you balance that as a, as a professional athlete and, you know, you're doing for those potentially people outside. So the AFL states, Victoria, what did training? So, you're on the AFL list. Yep. What did training, what was a week for you looking at it? Because what we see on the forties, you know, the umpires want to walk onto the ground. You know, the ball gets bounced off. They go at halftime, whatever, and, you know, thanks very much, but what really happens in a lead up to it? What, what did a typical day of footy look like for you? And my second part of the question is before you got on the list and we might actually ask this, firstly how did you balance the discipline of having to be so focused on doing your best, but not knowing like a lot of this was out of your control. You could only turn up and do your best, you know, umpiring if at every week, I guess, compared with the whole, hang on, I'm not sure this is going to last forever. Am I going to get tapped on the shoulder? It must've been quite a real challenge at times. I would have thought to have balanced, having to give it everything every time that you put your foot on to the ground, but in training or the match itself compared to, you know, there's a whole bunch of other people doing this potentially better than I am. And I don't know where this is going to end.

Stuart Wenn:

Yeah, and it's probably one of the things that I, you know, talk to young umpires that I've coached over the last few years about it's that it's, that self-belief, it's that breaking it down into things that you can control as an athlete. And you touched on selection. I mean, selection is subjective. Yeah. There's criteria around why people are selected, but at the end of the day, someone's making a judgment. And, you know, we know that there's a lot of gray and footie, so, you know, all I can do is control what I can control and you know, listen to feedback, take on board, you know, coaches, feedback, peer feedback, and all that sort of stuff. But ultimately, I'm responsible and accountable for my own development and my own decisions. And, you know, self-belief in life, not just elite sport is, is really, really critical. And some people find it really easy. Others find it a challenge. And so the way I sort of dealt with the darker times which you get, you know, in life and you're getting sport is, is getting back to those basics around, you know, what am I good at? What have I done, you know, going back and sort of keeping track of the wins and trying to balance those up with the losses and sort of say, well, look on balance. You know, if I'm in the top 32 umpires in Australia, I must be doing something right. You know, if I've been here 10 years or 15 years or 20 years, I must be doing something right. And just, you know, reflecting on, on I guess those sort of achievements so that you can get it back into perspective and you don't let that paradigm of always wanting to improve and be better and not being, be all encompassing and take over your mindset and ultimately you know, potentially be destructive to your ability to perform.

Jeremy Irvine:

So how did, how did you, how did you juggle? Yeah. Well, when you first degree and you know.

Stuart Wenn:

Yeah, well I went back and did a second degree and then I moved into to banking and finance and, you know, had a really good career in very diverse career in banking and finance and various roles. I mean that industry, and, you know, throughout my umpiring career, I worked full time and and umpired part-time. So, you know, you said, well, what does a day look like? And what does a week look like? I used to talk about the seven-day cycle. And it really wasn't, it really was a seven day cycle where it sort of have the game and then you'd, you'd deep, you'd debrief immediately after the game with your coaches and then you'd go away and the next day you'd rehab and then you'd review the game on video and then you'd do a review of yourself and then they do a review of you and they'd watch the game back on video. And then the two reviews would come together and then you'd have a coaching session. And then you'd obviously be training, you know, five or six days a week, generally I'd train five days a week and then have a have the day of prior to the game off physically and mentally, and then just do the game. And then the cycle would start again. And obviously with the way football emerged over that period, you know, there were games Thursday, Sundays, Mondays, you know, all over the place. So, you know, you'd have five-day break, six day break, seven day breaks. And unlike the players, we didn't know until a Monday night what we were doing that week. So, you know, you might find out on a Monday night that you got a Friday night game in Perth, so you've got to leave work Thursday, fly over Thursday night. So it was quite disruptive and challenging to manage all that. So you needed a really good employer that was really supportive which I was fortunate to have. I worked for the NAB for, you know, all of my umpiring career. And, you know, it turned out in the end, our major sponsor, which helped, but they were really supportive amazing, amazing people, leaders or bosses as well, who, you know, understood what I'm pouring did for me as a person, but they also understood what I brought because of that experience back to my corporate roles.

Jeremy Irvine:

How were you able to switch off at work and not think about football, but bringing as you just rightly noted the best of the kind of people management skills and the discipline and the, you know, the intense focus, I guess, that you've got to have throughout two hours of a football game into work. How, how do you manage that mentally every week?

Stuart Wenn:

I'm not sure that, that of the tactic I used specifically, but I sort of have these little mantras, I suppose, that I use for myself. And one of the mantras that I used around that concept you're talking about was when I'm at work, I'm at work when I'm at home and I'm at home when I'm at training, I'm at training and when I'm at 40, I'm at 40 and you know, I've encouraged you know, again young umpires that I've been working with to do the same thing and to, to really focus on, you know, what you're working on in that moment, but family time, you know, work time, training time so that you can bring your best self to that particular moment in that particular task. And look that seem to just work pretty well for me, just having that kind of mantra and, and focusing that way. And I guess the way I used to remove distractions is, you know, often with family they'd want to start talking about the game and I just sort of shut it down, you know, politely and say, look, this is family time for me. I understand you want to talk about it. I really don't want to talk about it right now. And same at work, you know, Monday morning you'd go to work, and everyone had grabbed around the kitchen coffee machine and want to debrief everything they'd seen on the weekend, across all nine games. And, you know people that got to know me realize that that probably I was actually at work to work, and I didn't really want to necessarily that wasn't the time and the place. And so people were quite respectful after a while. And in fact, I'd worked with people at at NAB for five years, who one day came up to me and said, oh my God, I never realised you were an AFL umpire. Which, you know, cause it wasn't something, I necessarily, it wasn't that I was trying to hide it. It was just that when I was at work, I was at work. And, and I didn't really talk 40 or, or you know, publicise the fact that that's what I did.

Jeremy Irvine:

Were you a football fan throughout your career?

Stuart Wenn:

I love the game. I still love the game. And I guess, yeah, that's what I say to a lot of young kids when I've, when I was doing development work for the AFL going around the country, promoting the game you know, I'd often say to kids, there's no better seat in the house. I mean then at them being an umpire you know, not all of us can play the game, but you know, all of us have an opportunity to umpire the game and you know, it was just a great opportunity, and I loved every minute of it and it was my way to, to be an athlete as well. And be involved in sport on the actual field in the cut and thrust of all of that. You know, that was my way of being,

Jeremy Irvine:

So when you're on the field, you're there to do the job. You're there to, you know, you want to, when you were on point with the three field umpires, so, all right, did you ever have that moment? You go, oh gee, you know, you just saw, I don't know who was playing at the top, their game. I don't know, Abbott Jr. You know, I dunno you would've, you would have umpired some fantastic teams, be they Geelong, Hawthorn, whoever - you know, Hawthorn probably in their prime. Did you ever catch yourself inadvertently going, you know, you might be daily other in the ground and watching it from a, from a purely objective perspective going, wow, that was just a delight to see. Absolutely. Did you always have, you know, umpire, umpire brain on?

Stuart Wenn:

Nah, look, look, you were obviously concentrating, but there were certainly where, you know, you went, wow. You know, that's amazing. And, and you, you know, you, they, those sort of moments with generally when you were in what I call flow, when you're just in the zone, everything's just happening around you, you know, you're umpiring really well and you know, everything's easy and everything feels easy. And then you can kind of just really appreciate what's going on. And, and obviously those spectacular moments and, you know, I was privileged to umpire Gary Ablett, senior and Gary Ablett Jr. Over the course of my career. And that's when I knew I'd been in the game a long time. When, when you start putting, well, there was probably a number of players whose sons were, were playing in the end of my career. And I went, gee, I've been here a while. But you know, players like that and there's plenty of others and I won't name them because I don't want to leave, you know, out of respect for the ones I'll obviously leave out. But absolutely. And, and that's why I said, it's the best seat in the house. I mean, what better place to view the stars of our game perform.

Jeremy Irvine:

The flip side to that is the scrutiny. This is probably pre-Twitter has been around for 10 years now. And how did you deal with the scrutiny? You know, what were the empires, you know, there's 90,000 people at the mcg chilling you, how to do your job and in no uncertain terms, I would've thought sometimes. So how did you deal with the scrutiny and when you're on the ground at the MCG for example, how do you block out the noise or do you embrace it?

Stuart Wenn:

I sort of embraced it to be honest. I used to love big crowds. I mean, you know, the adrenaline rush of performing in front of a big crowd, just again, it's that pressure of wanting to perform and to lift and, you know, that's what players play for. That's what I'm pies umpire for. It's because that adrenaline rush in that pressure, you just can't, you can't get it any, any other way. And I've never been at a replace that you know, post, post my career. So I used to embrace it and I used to enjoy it. In terms of the scrutiny. Absolutely. I mean, you know, there's, there's often a narrative that's thrown about that umpires aren't accountable. They are highly accountable, you know, they get dropped, they get dropped, they don't get paid. I mean, they, they, it, it hurts them in the hip pocket because they're remunerated and were remunerated.. Yes, we had a base salary, but we had match fees. And if you didn't umpire, we didn't get that match fee. So there was a lot of pressure to perform, but that financial piece aside, it's the, it's the wanting to perform and, and not let your mates down your peers down or the game down, or the players down, to be honest, you want to do the best job as you can for the players that have respect for them and the clubs and your fans of the fans, I should say. So, you know, the scrutiny at times was tough, but I, I never took it personally and realize that footy is a passionate game and people will have opinions. And, you know, I can remember one example where, you know, we, there was a game in Perth, Freo, Dockers versus West Coast, you know, the Western Darby or Derby and someone's call it and and Freo had lost by a point. And we were standing outside Subiaco Oval long after everyone had left waiting for a taxi and no taxis came. And we saw these three Docker supporters and they were yelling at us and we thought, oh, hello, here we go here. And I sort of jokingly said to the couple of guys, I was with you take the two on the left and I've got the one on the right. And they actually approached us and we just sort of kept pretty cool. And, and they said, oh, what's happening guys. And we expected because they'd had such a close loss, they were going to really get into us. And we said, oh, we're just struggling to get a lift. And they said, oh, we're, we're in the G squad. And we got a bus. Do you wanna come with us? So we got on the phone, we got on the Freo Docker's cheer squad bus. They drove us back to there. Our hotel pulled up in the driveway of this hotel with a bus full of Freo Dockers fans, and three AFL umpires, or four AFL umpires. And the whole way back, one of the guys grabbed the microphone and they did a bit of a what's your decision segment. And they were asking about the game, and it became almost like a live a live interview session on radio. It was a, it was, I got off the bus at the hotel. I said to guys how good is that, you know, here we are a one-point loss, the parochial supporters you'll, you know, they are absolutely the Freo Dockers. And how good is that? And that's, that's it 10 minutes after the game, everyone sort of takes a breath and goes back to normal and it's not personal. So, I never, I never took that scrutiny in that that feedback has, shall we say personally.

Jeremy Irvine:

That's fantastic. There was a mention of, you've mentioned a couple of times Dad; any conversations over your, throughout your career about different styles of umpiring, or did he give you any advice on the way through, or is it once you're on your way? It's like good luck, buddy. Well played, we're proud of you.

Stuart Wenn:

You know, he certainly had opinions, like most people of his generation about the way the game has evolved and the way the game should be played. And, you know, he's, he's often his line with me would be, don't listen to me, you've got to listen to what your coaches and what the AFL want, but he certainly was you know, would share his opinions. And so, you know, we had a good relationship in that sense where he just sort of really left it up to me and, and knew that you know, my best chance of success was listening to those that matter, which has, was obviously the AFL and in my AFL coaches at the time.

Jeremy Irvine:

So how did you go from being and deal with being at the top of your game in a job that you clearly loved? And I would never call the job vocation that you, you loved it, that, that you spent so much time giving yourself both physically and mentally with the family being completely supportive too. That's it? Thanks very much, you know, eventually footballers and umpires, I guess. You know, it's full time and, and congratulations on a fantastic career Umpire Wenn.

Stuart Wenn:

Yeah. Yeah. Well, I mean, none of us like giving up something we love and love doing in this case. And you know, I've heard a lot of ex-players and a lot of athletes from other sports talk about, they wake up one morning and they just know they've had enough and it's time to retire or give the game away whatever game or sport they're playing; that never happened for me. I made a calculated decision probably a year out where I flagged with the AFL, my intention to do one more year. And you know, I probably changed my mind towards the end of it. And they were keen for me to continue with that decision, but, you know, I wasn't ready to leave the game. And the reason for that is because I just loved it. I just really enjoyed the challenge. And the challenge for me was a performance challenge. And you know, the mcg was a bit like a stage. And I don't mean when I talk about a performance as in, you know, it's about us or it's about me and I'm performing in front of a crowd. That's not what I'm talking about. What I'm talking about when I mean performance is it's the adrenaline rush and the pressure and the scrutiny that's on you to perform and not make mistakes is, is something that drives you and something, I got an adrenaline rush out of. Now, some people get adrenaline rushes jumping out of planes and, you know, abseiling off cliffs. Mine was walking out onto that ground. And knowing if I make a mistake, there's no greater public display of that mistake than being on national television or in front of 90,000 people. And that drove me and that was an adrenaline rush. And, and so I think, I think you'd often end games with a sense of relief. It’s relief either that or that or not. So good performance was over or relief that you'd achieved a really good performance. And you, and you knew that now the public wouldn't necessarily see the difference, but you knew that you'd, you know, delivered as close to what you were aspiring to deliver. And so that's the satisfying, and I guess I mentioned earlier in our conversation about athletes never being satisfied, you know, as umpires, you aspire to deliver the perfect game. And I don't think there's been an unborn history that's ever delivered the perfect game. There's always been a mistake or a skill era, or a communication with a player that could have been better or, you know, whatever it is, right. But it's that drive to try and deliver the perfect game like it is for a player to deliver that perfect performance in that, that winning outcome that drives you. And so the performance thing for me, I really do miss cause I haven't been able to find anything, you know, since I've retired that gets anywhere close to the adrenaline, that you'd feel when you're out there for that, you know, that couple of hours on a weekend.

Jeremy Irvine:

And how have you dealt with that? And when you're doing a lot of running, I know that, you know, you've got the family of the kids and, you know, there's all the different intellectual pursuits, you and your fantastic career. And there's a whole bunch of other stuff going on outside of work, but, you know…

Stuart Wenn:

Well I guess you goes searching for other things, Jeremy, to be honest. And you know, I've had a passion for coaching and I have a real interest in people. I find them fascinating. And so I pivoted pretty quickly, I was asked by the AFL to take up a coaching role in development. And you know, I've been doing that since I retired and yeah, we've been having a lot of fun, really changing the way talent development is approached in that space. And, and I've, I've got a lot of satisfaction from, you know, in some small way helping others achieve the dream that I had, which was to make it onto an AFL list and umpure and I felt game. And so I find that really satisfying. And when you're a coach and you see the light go on for someone, when you're having a coaching conversation and the penny drops and they suddenly come up with a strategy to improve and then they go and execute that and it makes a big difference to their performance. That's incredibly satisfying. You know, when you see that outcome for that individual, now I don't get any personally out of that, but the satisfaction for me is, is seeing that. So it's a different, it's not an adrenaline rush, but it's a satisfaction rush. So, you know, you find other things in your life. But as I said, I haven't found anything that goes close, but I've, I've found other things to, you know, have a fulfilling, fulfilling life and feel like I'm adding value to others.

Jeremy Irvine:

Just like to close the chat about the AFL, you know, in a reflective question. Um, do you remember coming off the ground for the last time?

Stuart Wenn:

Yeah, I do actually,

Jeremy Irvine:

Walk us through that.

Stuart Wenn:

Well, it was interesting because probably after I'd had in my mind that you know, as I said, I made the call a year out that I was probably going to be my last year and trying to look incredibly hard that preseason ultimately caused an injury for myself, sort of in the early in that season as a result of probably load and all that sort of stuff. But I remember walking off the ground a number of times in that sort of year or two previously saying, guys look around, you know, none of us know if we're back here next week, let's suck it in, really enjoy it. And it was really just, and I'll probably talk about it a little bit later when we close, but, you know, I don't think any of us in our life really stop and smell the roses too often. And I guess that was my way of saying to the younger guys that I was mentoring and, and I'm powering is it's a privilege to be here, you know, just take a breath every now and then, and take it all in, especially when you're walking off and the game's over and you don't have to really function enjoy the privilege, enjoy the moment. And so I do remember I sort of people would read me a little bit subsequently some of my peers around they reckon I was the last one off the ground. That day was shaking hands with everyone and, and just didn't really want to leave. But I do remember it.

Jeremy Irvine:

Yeah. What was going through your mind? Where were you?

Stuart Wenn:

I was at the MCG. It was a funny story about that. It was, it was Carlton-Essendon, it was round 22 or 23, whatever the last round was in 2014 and I came off the ground. It was a draw. And I came off the ground and I happened to say to a guy who was sort of the honourary statistician of the AFL. I said, I can't believe it, 341 games and I've only umpired one draw. And it happens to me my last game. Isn't that incredible. Anyway, he shot me an email on the Monday and go mate, you umpired three draws over your career. What are you talking about? And here they are. And I'd forgotten. I didn't know. I don't even remember the two other drawers. So, you know, that was, that was kind of weird.

Jeremy Irvine:

Did you stop look around, oh wait. It is the ultimate sporting coliseum of Victoria, Australia, arguably, isn’t it, do you pinch yourself and go right, not too bad, you know, you've come a long way from running around the I'm not being disrespectful in the Eastern suburban churches league at twenty not much.

Stuart Wenn:

Yeah, look, I look, absolutely. I took it in, and I still visit the ground and obviously go and watch a spectator now be it cricket or football and still sort of look around in or around, you know, that used to be my workplace. That used to be my home. And as I said, it's a, it's a privilege and I still pinch myself today. I mean, I don't think everyone sees this, but you don't think you're going to do one game, let alone, you know, over 300 and, and, and, you know, be involved at the elite level for 20 years.

Jeremy Irvine:

How many umpires have umpired as many or more games than you and I should have checked up a few stats before today.

Stuart Wenn:

When I, when I finished, I was number 10 on the all-time list, but I think now there's been a number go past me. I think I'm about 17 or 18 now. So, there's been a number catching me in the last sort of six or seven years. But yeah, I mean, you know, if you had asked, when I started, would you do 300 games, you'd go, you're dreaming.

Jeremy Irvine:

And a lot of that's got to do with your decision. It has, has that a lot of that got to do with your decision and the conversation incidental as it may have been back in the mid, late eighties with dad and going well, hang on, I want to have a go. I want to have a crack at this theater show at school. And your coach potentially saying to you, you know.

Stuart Wenn:

Well, when you think about sliding door moments you know, I wanted to play football was never going to make it as a play at the AFL. I didn't really have a burning ambition to umpire. And it was just that, that conversation with the first 18 coach at Ivanhoe Grammar that meant that I didn't play. And then the subsequent conversation that second sliding door moment where dad said, why don't you come and earn a few bucks on pouring at school and the school supported it. And then, you know, the rest is history. I had people around me that encouraged me and supported me and had some terrific coaches coming through the system.

Jeremy Irvine:

If that coach hadn't been, so team focused, a lot of other coaches, I suspect AGSV or AGS level, whatever, doesn't matter. What, what school, right? Or what, what level of footy were playing, I guess we'd have gone well, hang on. You're, you know, I'll look, I won't, I won't worry about it, buddy. You know, we need you on the, on the ground. So he's made a values call. Yep. Which 30 years later has to an extent kind of opened that door for you. And then the conversation with your dad about, you know, and, and the musical ability, which clearly has gone through the family. It's just struck me listening to your story going well, I like talk about monumental pivots that had had it had the conversation, neither not happened or gone a different way. And I tell ya, you know, you've been up, I don't do that again. Hold on. You know, how many teenage boys would have turned around to their fathers and going, well, I don't want to be anything like you. Well, it's funny what you outlined that I'm looking forward to my, not hopefully doing that one.

Stuart Wenn:

Well, I do remember saying as a kid, or, you know, around that time, you know, when kids grow up, they say dad's a fireman and I want to be a fireman or, you know, mum’s a nurse, I want to be a nurse or dad’s an umpire, I want to be an empire. I mean, it wasn't, as you said, it wasn't a conscious decision. It was really a sliding door moment where an opportunity opened up itself and was interesting. I've been reading a book recently called the Power Within, by John Newcombe and Michael Duff, John Newcombe, obviously the famous Australian multiple grand slam winner tennis player. And there's a quote in the book where Michael Duff talks about exploring the tributaries because you can always go back to the river. And I, I think that's probably a really key learning where, you know, you go through life and opportunities, present themselves, and none of us know when they'll happen and what they'll be, but being open-minded to those opportunities and take a chance, take a risk, explore them. Cause you can always come back to the main plan and be at the river. And I just, it was something that sort of really resonated me and it's something, you know, I've chatted to my kids about in the last couple of weeks about when, you know, some of them are starting to get some pretty awesome, amazing opportunities presented to them and I'm going well, what do you got to lose? You know, take a risk. You can always come back to what your plan was, but explore the tributaries along the way and see where they take you.

Jeremy Irvine:

And I think that's a great segue into some of the last questions. So what would a 21 year olds say to Stuart thirty- something years later?

Stuart Wenn:

Yeah, it's an interesting one. I'm not really sure what 21-year-old Stu would say to Stu now, but cause I'm not really sure I can exactly remember my mindset at that moment, but probably something like it's not over yet. Keep going. I'd like to think so. I'm a firm believer in you know, again, a little mantra that I often use is none of us are finished products and you know, we've always got more to learn and more to experience. So, you know, I hopefully I'm walking this earth for a little bit longer and I get to experience, you know, different tributaries in the years ahead as well.

Jeremy Irvine:

Coming back to 21-year-old, do you, do you ever think, geez, you're going to have to be doing a lot of, a lot of running would have been such a discipline. It never crossed my mind. How many 20-year-olds, 21 year olds would have actually had the discipline to do what you did even get on the, you know, Eastern, suburban churches league back then to not only do it, but then to do it well and go, well, that's not enough. And then I want to learn more, and I want to push myself more and there's no guarantees all the way through it. What I've been hearing about you tonight and the conversations. And again, I mean, I've been getting, we've been getting a masterclass, I've been getting a masterclass from you the last couple of months about discipline and leadership. And the thing that strikes me about you, and I know that, you know, you and I haven't seen each other since we were, you know, not even teenagers back in, in the, in the, in the, in the doom dark eighties was what struck me about you is you hadn't really changed that there, here was a guy that just got on with it and did it was humble. And it's struck me as not a surprise when I used to watch in the footy guy. I remember that guy, you know, and then you're doing this and you're, you're doing that. And then you're on the AFL website talking about what it's like to be an AFL umpire. And then I looked on LinkedIn, geez. You know, you, haven't kind of just, you know, sat on your bum for the last 30 years and done nothing. So how did you get that discipline every time to go out and go, you know, it's like the swimmers, they just have this kind of black line mentality of, you know, like here, Shannon Jack recently saying I've been found guilty of four years and now, but the only thing she wanted to do was get back in that plastic pool. So where did that motivation come from? That's a great cause it served you well.

Stuart Wenn:

Yeah, look, it's a great question. And I don't really know because I was never pushed. Yeah. I was absolutely supported, but I was never pushed. And I mean that from a family perspective, from a coaching perspective you know, people often and I guess it came from within and I think for a lot of people that just comes with within, and it's not always there. I mean, we all have moments right. As I said earlier but I have been driven. And you know, I used to love preseasons and most guys that I've, I know people y'all know you laughed, right. Because most of the guys that I trained with hated preseason, I used to love pre-season because I loved pushing myself as hard as I could to see what I could achieve, you know, personally how, how hard can my body absorb this punishment? You know, it's a little…

Jeremy Irvine:

Rush.

Stuart Wenn:

Yeah. I think it is. It's part of the challenge in life. Life's challenge, right? With, we've seen that with the pandemic you know, we've all had to adapt. Life's a challenge it's not easy. And, and I guess athletes try and find ways to continue to push and improve and, and not accept the status quo. And I guess that's a little bit of my makeup and I don't know where it's come from, but it just is what it is.

Jeremy Irvine:

Brilliant. I was going to ask the next question, but I think you've kind of already answered it in some way. And that is if you had your time over again, what key learnings would you share?

Stuart Wenn:

Yeah, probably one that I've realised later in life. And as I mentioned, my opponent career just kind of happened by, you know, sliding doors moments that, that kicked it off. But if I had my time over again, I would say, you know, follow my passion, or follow your passion would be my advice to myself. And my advice to anyone is, you know, take the advice of others, but be true to you and what you want to be, not what others expect you to be or expect you to do. And I guess my rationale for saying that was because, you know, I grew up with people that had really good intentions that sort of encouraged me to, you know, as I mentioned at the start of the show following math science background, because I was, you know, pretty good at it and they felt it would keep my options open, but probably my passion was other things. And you know, I probably haven't realised that until a bit later in life. Now I don't regret having that knowledge and that experience and, and, you know, doing the science degree or, you know, whatever it is. But I just, you know, and I say it to my own kids now, and I say it to, you know, young people that I associate with is, you know, if you have a passion pursue, it doesn't matter if it doesn't make you a lot of money for, to what makes you happy and what you enjoy. And it adds, it makes a difference to the world and it adds value to others, go out at a hundred percent. You can always do what others want you to do whenever that, whenever that happens, it's plenty of time for that. Absolutely.

Jeremy Irvine:

So last question in a couple of sentences and to finish off and again, I cannot thank you enough for your time, both in the lead up to this chat tonight, and I'm fortunate, what would the Stuart of 2021 say to 21 year old Stuart?

Stuart Wenn:

It's a great question. And I think I'd say Stu, it'll turn out okay. Because I think there is a lot of pressure on young people to, you know, come up with a plan. What do you want to do in your career? You know, so my advice would be it'll turn out okay. You know, as I mentioned earlier take some time to explore the tributaries. You can always come back to the river, you know, life doesn't have to be a linear journey. So you know, it'll turn out, ok. I think the other thing I'd say is remain curious and open-minded to opportunities and stop to smell the roses along the way. You know, when I reflect over the last 30 years, I probably didn't do that enough. And, and, you know, that's the athlete mindset. That's the driven mindset that, you know, you hear a lot of high-performance sport. People talk about the fact that they probably didn't enjoy their career when they were having it. They kind of enjoyed it more afterward when they reflected and you know, your work and what you do is not who you are. It's just something that you'd do at that time, at that particular time in your life. So, you know, for me, it's the positive impact you have on others that's most important. So, you know, I'd probably say that to myself as well, instead of thinking about, you know, I've got to be a CEO or I've got to do this, or I've got to achieve that. And then probably the last thing I'd say, because I mentioned earlier, I'm really fascinated with people and I really enjoy conversations like this because every conversation is a chance to add value to someone, but also to learn something new. And, you know, you mentioned you've got something out of this conversation tonight. Well, you know, I have too, you know, just talking to you and I really encourage, you know, imagine if we had more conversations happening in the world, more dialogue I think it would contribute to a much better society and a much better place to live.

Jeremy Irvine:

Very cool. I'm going to thank you for your infinite time and ask one last question, which is not what we've talked about, are we going to see you on stage again? An Eltham Players' production, you know ...

Stuart Wenn:

If, if you do, it'll be, it'll be off-Broadway somewhere in a backblock, maybe with a couple of blokes in a small band. And people might be, people might be charged to getting in.

Jeremy Irvine:

But in all seriousness, in a parallel universe, is that something you would have liked to have done? I mean, you know, I keep coming back to that chat with your dad. It just strikes me as being such a pivotal conversation. How would you, you probably didn't realise at the time.

Stuart Wenn:

Probably, yeah, look long story short. If you said crystal ball, if you could go back in time and what would you love to have done be a rock star. Absolutely love singing love, performing. And you know, I did actually, funnily enough, I had that opportunity with a group of AFL players for an AFL promotion in the mid 2000a where we put a band together and we sang with Brian Mannix and sing some aided songs for an, for an eighties round. So I did get to live that moment albeit briefly in my adult career. But it was a lot of fun.

Jeremy Irvine:

That's very cool. I used to it. Thank you very, very much for joining us on Dear 21 Year old Me. Well, thanks Stu for your insights and reflections and being so open. I really got a lot for listening to Stu and I hope that you did too. For me, there are lots of sliding door moments and also lots of takeouts about being focused, disciplined, and about being honest with yourself. Now, with tongue firmly planted in cheek, we spoke a little about the Australia Games, which are held way back in 1985. And while I couldn't find a clip of Stu's brothers, Cameron, and Rohan singing at the opening of the Australia Games, I did come across the one and only Tony Bartuccio Dancers and the clip for anyone who wants to mullet it out 80s style is in the show notes. Don't say you weren't warned. Thanks for joining us on this episode. If you liked the show, please do leave a review. Wherever you get your podcasts, you can check out the show at dear21yearoldme .com . And while you're there read about a charity that I'm proud to support that helps kids who have lost their parents through bereavement, it's called Feel the Magic. They are an amazing bunch of people. Thanks also to the team here, Darcy Milne for his voice and music, and Kirst, kids and the pooch, and a shout out as well to Brendan Wood and Mel Tate for their ideas and input. Don't forget, you can follow me on Twitter at @jeremy_irvine. And that's it for this episode of Dear 21 Year Old Me. Thanks again to Stuart Wenn and thank you for listening as well. Till next time, take care, go well, bye for now.

Darcy Milne:

Thanks for joining us today for more episodes and links visit Dear 21 Year Me.com. And if you enjoyed the show, don't forget to rate and review us wherever you get your podcasts.