For the past four years, the NFL and the NFL Players Association have worked together to build a comprehensive wellness program that would help retired football players better transition into a life without football, both financially and emotionally.

The Trust, which officially launched in 2013, is an extensive financial wellness program that includes education, lifestyle, health and career services, says Bahati VanPelt, executive director of The Trust. The organization projected it would help 500 players the first year the program was operational. Instead, it enrolled 1,000 and  is on track to enroll another 1,000 this year.

Also see: NFLPA’s Dana Hammons wins 2014 Benny Award for Leadership in Retirement Planning

Players enroll in the program and are assigned to a case manager who identifies the key issues they are facing. Once those are identified, The Trust and its service partners devise a customized “game plan” that will give the player a sense of where he is financially, where he should be and how to get there.

What makes the program work so well is that The Trust has built a community for these retired players where they share their personal stories with each other and mentor others who are in need of assistance.

Liz Davidson, executive director of Financial Finesse, the service-partner organization that advises players on financial topics, says that what most people don’t realize when they see a professional athlete (and how much they earn in a year) is that most of them are young when they are recruited and most don’t have a financial background.

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The average professional football player is in the league for three to four years, and the biggest questions they have when they retire are: What do I do next, and how do I make my money stretch after I’m not playing football anymore?

The most popular financial topics addressed through the program so far have been estate planning, how to set up college funds for kids, how to start a business and how to invest.

Many former players are “trying to understand what modifications they need to make post-career from a lifestyle standpoint so they can sustain long-term financial health,” says VanPelt. “Financial Finesse has great understanding of the players’ benefits — 401(k), annuity, pension, disability payments — from the league. Not only do they understand the overall landscape of financial planning, but they speak the players’ language by speaking about their benefits.”

The Trust offers not only financial help, but advice on health, fitness, relationships, mental health, new careers, and going back to school.

Also see:What’s the right 401(k) contribution rate?

VanPelt says that many players who retire from professional football, sometimes earlier than expected due to injuries, have to deal with mental health issues. They build up a vision of who they are based on their participation in the NFL, but when the job ends, they can be left feeling bereft and uncertain about what comes next. And, for most players, the NFL is their first experience with having to manage money.

“Even with the best intentions, they can choose the wrong adviser and get themselves in trouble when they are doing everything else right,” Davidson says.

If the player’s top problem is financial, his case manager will refer him to Financial Finesse. The player will set up an appointment with one of Financial Finesse’s financial planners to progressively tackle the issues. “They are working with one planner on an ongoing basis instead of just calling the help line when they have an issue,” Davidson says.

Paula Aven Gladych is a freelance writer based in Denver.

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