Robert Hyde (Vic Country U18 Coach)

Coaching Future Stars

Thursday, June 02, 2011

By Jordan Laing

It is little wonder the impact a first-year draftee can have on a game of AFL given the calibre of coaches who are guiding players through the NAB AFL Under-18 Championships.

Essendon’s Dyson Heppell has made a seamless transition from Vic Country to Essendon and looked at ease amassing 25 possessions in front of 89,626 screaming fans on Anzac Day.

Likewise, Western Australia graduate and now Richmond rebounding-defender Reece Conca has been a consistent performer and a catalyst in the club’s revival this season accumulating 182 disposals.

With AFL High Performance coaches, including former Carlton vice captain Nick Stevens coaching NSW/ACT and former Collingwood best and fairest winner Robert Hyde taking charge of Vic Country, players are receiving the training, coaching and mentors to best prepare them for life as an AFL player.

Sydney Swans’ Michael O’Loughlin had no AFL Combine as a junior and nowhere near the level of guidance, but through hard work, went on to become the club’s games record holder.

The AIS-AFL Academy coach believes players now are able to make the switch from junior football to the elite competition more easily due to the coaching and resources available to them.

“These young players who are coming through are so lucky because they’ve got some really good teachers in their states – they’re very, very blessed,” O’Loughlin said.

“They are a lot more switched on nowadays than what we ever were at a young age and they’re a lot more professional and that’s due to all of the coaches and the support staff who do a hell of a lot for their states and their clubs.

“I think what I do is just an extension of what these guys teach them every week in their respective states and their respective teams.

“I’d love to be 16, 17 or 18 again under the tutelage of some of these players who are actually coaching and running programs.” 
Of the 149 players drafted last year, 59 have already debuted, five have been nominated for the NAB Rising Star award and a proportion are playing key roles in their team’s best-22.

National Talent Manager Kevin Sheehan said it is no surprise players are excelling once given their shot in the AFL given the people behind the scenes putting everything into their development. 

“There are very, very experienced and talented football coaches [at the championships] who are very capable of being at AFL club level but they’re running their own show, they’re running a bigger program to try and help kids,” Sheehan said.

“They [the players] are mainly all students who are part time footballers that are training two or three nights a week.

“They’re doing an amazing job that many of them can step straight into AFL.

“It’s a credit to the two groups who really nurture them which is their state league club and their state coach.”

The NAB AFL U18 Championships continue to evolve going from a long-weekend event as little as four years ago to a 7-week development program.

The NAB AFL Combine has also advanced with new tests implemented every year and more time, training methods and resources put into developing the future stars of the AFL.

“There’s always someone at the grassroots level who has put an enormous amount of work into these young kids and they take great pride in seeing them play at nationals and then progress through to play round one like Dyson Heppell did for Essendon. A kid who was the most valuable for Vic Country last year didn’t miss a beat and he hasn’t missed a game for the Bombers,” Sheehan said.

The NAB AFL Under-18 Championships continues this weekend with two games in Sydney on Saturday between Queensland and South Australia followed by NSW/ACT versus Vic Metro. In Tasmania, the home side will take on Vic Country on Sunday.


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