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How an Eagle found inner peace
Beau Waters. Pic: Lincoln Baker.

Beau Waters is 26, 113 games into an AFL career and heading into his 10th season in the elite league.

He seems older and wiser than that.

Waters will tell you that the AFL forces people to change and adapt. He has done it better than most, not just in his football but also in his life.

Waters arrived at West Coast at the end of 2003 with what he describes as a "masters degree in street smarts". He enters this season halfway through a masters degree in business administration, as Eagles vice-captain and the newest addition to the game's rules committee.

He is as likely as anyone at the club to succeed Darren Glass if and when Glass and the club decide it is time to pass the captain's baton.

He is not so much a changed man, because you suspect Waters was always made of good stuff. Rather, he is a man who has thrived by embracing change.

Even serious injury was viewed as an opportunity to make big changes in his game and life, without having to worry about the weekly business of playing well.

Waters was the product of an upbringing in South Australia and Queensland which he describes as "pretty rough" but "by no means hard in comparison to what a lot of young Australians go through".

"I did a masters degree in street smarts before I finished schools and I saw some really interesting things," he said.

Waters came with a strong spirit, but also a personality that needed some smoothing out.

"I had quite a manic personality," Waters said.

"I had really high highs and really low lows. I have always been really driven and I wanted to succeed in what I was doing.

"But I couldn't find a balance.

"I had to work out how I could find middle ground, not only for my sport but also for my life to find a bit of inner peace."

Waters did so overtime. He says he was surrounded by good mentors and strong surrogate families. He also met wife Hannah, an Albury girl who he jokes he met in Melbourne and married in Broome to live in Perth with rellies all over the country.

He describes her as a "really good sounding board, a best friend and my No. 1 companion".

Waters suffered a career-threatening elbow injury and missed the best part of two years. Rather than fretting over his misfortune, he used the time to accelerate his transition as a footballer and person.

"I have always been a firm believer that an injury lay-off gives you a great opportunity to work on weaknesses," he said.

"When you are up and going, your focus is on a week-to-week basis, just trying to improve. With an extended lay-off like I had, I could work on big areas, macro areas that I could hopefully make vast changes in. My body shape was one. The balance in life I have spoken about earlier, nutrition.

"I did a lot of work on my aerobic capacity. I would hope I have been a better player every time I have come back from injury rather than being set back 12 months or 18 months.

"I got quite philosophical about the elbows. I decided that the incident was out of my control and then the recurrence was out of my control, so the only thing I could really control was the shape I was in when I came back, how clear my mind was and I never really looked much further past one to two weeks in advance.

"I never really had the chance to ask myself is this it, because I had all of these small goals and objectives along the way.

"If I didn't reach those it wasn't a catastrophe. It was just a one-week proposition."

Waters has already captained West Coast several times - in 2010 when Glass was missing with groin problems and last year too.

But the possibility of future captaincy is not something he thinks about. Everyone at West Coast is required to show some form of leadership, he says, and the qualities you get with that are accrued over time rather than handed to you all at once.

"I don't think you ever genuinely feel like you are a leader," Waters said.

"People often feel like they are intruding and everyone has an element of self doubt. The natural evolution of a player is that you are in the system longer and you play more, you acquire more habits that are perceived as good habits on and off the field.

"I started to think the habits that I was portraying were positive habits and hopefully ones that set an example for the group.

"Whether that makes me a leader or not, I am not sure."

Waters heads into 2013 coming off hip surgery and a late-season foot injury. He is still in the club's training rehab group but expects to play in the NAB Cup. He also expects further improvement from himself and the team.

"I know our team's best footy is in front of us and often playing in a good team helps the form and confidence of players," he said.

"I can't imagine myself not improving before I retire."

The transition in Waters the player has very much mirrored the changes in his life.

He was brave but reckless early, a "bash and crash" player who hardly seemed likely to ever end up on a rules committee.

He is now one of the game's best intercept and rebound defenders.

"I reckon every player in the AFL has to change their game in some way, shape or form," Waters said.

"For me, increasing my aerobic capacity was a big part of that to be seen as more than just bash and crash, a big body, to a player that covers more ground, can play on players that are dangerous in the forward line and to try to use the ball.

"The resources that clubs have at their fingertips have enabled them to not only change players, but change the way teams play within seasons.

"As a player, unless you want to be a victim of the attrition you have to work out what is needed for that season, that game, that role. With that comes natural evolution."

Waters has been blessed, he says, to have played under one coach, John Worsfold, who he rates without hesitation the biggest influence on his career, and to have basically played his entire life as a defender.

Even when asked to pinch-hit forward, he was just a back man playing forward, "doing what every forward you played on did".

Waters may have been a defender all his football life, but he sees himself as multifaceted in life now.

"I have a lot of interests. I love football, I love the people I am surrounded by," he said.

"I enjoy study. I have some great hobbies like fishing and cooking.

"I would like to see myself as well rounded."