International Recruits

Thursday, August 10, 2017

By Mark Nicoski

Every year AFL clubs are searching for new ways to evolve, expand, and innovate. Exploration into areas where an edge can be gained form a big part of Clubs today. Cue the desire for overseas investigation into those individuals that have the necessary athletic attributes that may be transferrable to our great game. 

Also taken into consideration by recruiters is the fact the player is an International rookie and their contract is held outside the salary cap, they have previously displayed strong character and is the best at what they do back in their home country. With that in mind, Why Not? We have all heard the success stories - Jim Stynes, Tadgh Kennelly, Mike Pike, Pearce Hanley and Zac Tuohy. But what was the formula to their successful transformation/evolution into the code of Australian Football?

Of highest importance is the relationship that needs to be formed between the International recruit and their mentor/coach/new environment/teammates. We will visit the personnel aspect of this later but for now lets add a little process to what it is we are trying to achieve with the athlete and our desired outcome.

Lets look at what might make up our philosophy – Where do we start and what are we hoping to accomplish? The player obviously needs to develop their technical skill; after all it’s a new shaped ball (which has its own mind at times of bounce). Excessive exposure to the football is vital (using it as your new cuddle toy at rest time recommended!). 

They will need to grasp the team’s style of play and also the new rules that will challenge how the recruit has gone about their ‘football’ for the years before AFL. Not as important early on, and be prepared for some interesting interpretations of the rules as your athlete ‘innovates’!

Mental and Physical growth – tapping into and teaching them the skills internally to face times of self-doubt and concern about their decision to switch codes (remember they were the best of the best back where they came from). Coupled with the mental challenges is the physical program – they may need extra muscle to protect their bodies or they may need stripping back.

Finally at the heart of this philosophy lies the most human aspect of the program, and that’s the relationship connection between athlete and coach. This will determine how you face the adverse times together and how much learning will be absorbed and at what speed. In regards to the challenging times; Homesickness is/has/and always will be something AFL clubs and their welfare team will have to deal with when drafting an interstate player. Now add to the mix the fact that this particular player’s family may be on another continent and you have the need for a well devised and thought out program to minimize this issue impacting the young individual you have in your care.  

Care. Your International recruit/player needs to know you care. But not the superficial type of care - the type that’s genuine. The type that will allow them to understand that your in this with them and your prepared to go the extra mile to aid their career. There is obviously a line of compromise in this aspect of your relationship. As I was once educated, it's important not to get on the emotional rollercoaster with them but to be there to guide their understanding that success is very rarely a linear progression, and that there will be peaks and troughs. Remind them to trust the program, be patient and recognize that resilience and hard work will give them the best chance at falling under the banner of names mentioned at the start of the article.

If we were to devise the perfect formula to create a superstar out of an international recruit I think it would look something like: 

International Recruit: Talent + Character + Resilience + Grit/Hard work = Our best chance at Success! 

As we all know there is no perfect formula but both you and your athlete will be able to sleep at night knowing you gave it everything.

* Mark Nicoski is currently a Development Coach at the West Coast Eagles.

This article was written as part of the requirements of the AFL High Performance Coach Accreditation

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