For some players, footy is life. Playing in the big leagues is the ultimate goal and young players will work extremely hard to reach it.
Every week throughout 2015, the SMJFL has run the South Metro Stats competition featuring former SMJFL junior players who have made it to the big league.
But it’s not an easy path to the AFL draft. Having the first-class football skills is only the start of a player’s long journey to the senior list of an AFL club.
SMJFL has taken the time to speak to three SMJFL clubs who currently have former players in the AFL about how their club encourages their players who want to move towards the AFL draft and the mindset players need to have to push forward into AFL.
President of Beaumaris FC, Graeme Scott argues that footy is “first and foremost” enjoying the game.
“Certainly as the boys approach the mid-age group, under 12, under-13 and beyond, then there’s an awareness of the pathways such as through the interleague and the Sandringham Dragons program.”
“That if they aspire to play AFL, or perhaps they want a longer career in footy, we’re looking for them to pursue opportunities available to them.”
In terms of what kinds of characteristics a player needs to have, President Scott believes that is passion, “above all else”.
“You would need to want desperately to play footy,” Scott said.
“I think the next characteristic is setting a very strong work ethic.
“Because clearly it’s a very competitive sport and there are very few boys who have the opportunity to progress through to the AFL ranks so they need to understand that they need to work very hard in order to achieve that.”
However Scott said the club offers an opportunity to achieve a career path in the club for the players who aren’t aspiring to the big leagues or have the capabilities needed.
“The club, I believe has a unique one club culture, where there’s a fusion between the juniors and the seniors,” Scott said.
“By establishing a really strong club culture and by fusing the junior and seniors so that we have this genuine single club… There’s this understanding that there’s a career path from the juniors into the seniors.
“We certainly inform the kids about the opportunities available to them, but particularly those that are keen, they just find out, they just know.”
“We’re more about providing opportunities for them to play footy and we certainly encourage those who want to progress… But it’s not what we’re about.”
East Sandringham JFC
Tony Hurd, Head of Football at East Sandringham, shares similar views that junior players need to love playing football and have passion more than anything else.
“We encourage our players by encouraging them to play as much football as possible,” President Hurd said.
“Giving them every opportunity and endeavour to play.”
Of course, Hurd believes any players considering a career in AFL has to have “skills, fitness, determination and desire.”
“A real determination, more so than anything else,” President Hurd said.
“Skills are obviously the critical part, but skills you can develop.”
“You need to work on the skills continuously.
“I see a lot of kids who are getting up to that senior level who are very, very fit.
“They make sure they do a lot of training other than the football skills.”
Caulfield Bears JFC
Caulfield Bears’ President Andrew Clarke believes all junior players need to focus on the way they approach the game if they want to succeed along the pathway to the AFL.
“We’re really looking for kids who have got the right character,” President Clarke said.
“My experience, as a sports journalist, tells me that you can have all the skills in the world. But if you’ve got the wrong character, the wrong drive and the wrong motivation you won’t get anywhere.”
“We spend a lot of time looking after that culture aspect and the attitude.”
While working with former Essendon player Matthew Lloyd on his autobiography, Clarke learned the champion put in countless hours of analysing his performance, shooting goals after training and his attack at the ball.
“…Talent alone will not make a champion…” Clarke said.
Caulfield is actively watching that players are involving their teammates, not losing their cool at umpires and taking initiative.
“The only way to get the ball is to get the ball,” Clarke said.
“Not to wait around for someone else to give it to you.”
In terms of any last bit of advice, President Clarke has a great tip for the young Bears wanting to strive further in their footy.
“To take on the challenges of our game front-on, and to understand that there are many great people in this club that are there to help you.”
If you’re interested in pursuing a career in senior football, remember to approach your club who are willing to help their players play more footy and pursue more opportunities for their players to excel and help you in improving your football skills and fitness.
There are also plenty of opportunities, including holiday and training camps run by groups including your own club, the Sandringham Dragons and other TAC clubs, AFL Victoria and more for players to learn more skills to help you move forward in your AFL career.
Corrected version: An earlier version of this story listed Tony Hurd as the President of East Sandringham JFC. Tony Hurd is the Head of Football at East Sandringham JFC.