By Ben Pollard
South Melbourne has experienced a lot of success over its century in existence.
With the SMJFL finals beginning this week, it is no surprise several Districts junior teams are well placed for a potential premiership run, but those at the club aren’t resting on their laurels.
Even as South Melbourne celebrates its 100-year anniversary, innovative changes are ensuring junior success will continue into the future.
President Tony Pilimon says the commencement of a $1 million renovation of the club’s Albert Park base will give their juniors some of the SMJFL’s best facilities.
“We think with the room redevelopment that’s going on – we’re creating a female change room – we’ll probably have our first girls’ Under 10 side next year,” he says.
“It’ll also mean an education room, so we’ll probably see more instructional videos and those types of sessions being run by specialist coaches for the kids.”
You can’t say the current batch of juniors don’t have coaches worth listening to, either: Peter Bedford, 1970 Brownlow medallist for South Melbourne in the VFL, is the club’s coaching director.
Bedford assists juniors across all age groups, offering wisdom gained in a nine-year career at football’s highest level.
“He’s just amazing with how much effort he puts into the kids, and a lot of them do appreciate it; they’re going to be better footballers for it in time,” Tony Pilimon says.
“It’s the first time we’ve gone to the extent of getting someone like that. We’ve always had a coaching coordinator, but not someone who’s a walking encyclopaedia.”
Juniors vice-president David Guston credits the calibre of the club’s junior coaches with some of South Melbourne’s on-field success in 2012.
“With the older teams, what’s really worked well for us is that we’ve been able to recruit non-parent coaches; guys that have played footy at a reasonably high level and have resonated fantastically well with the kids,” he says.
Indeed, South Melbourne’s more senior Under 14 Division 2 and Under 17 Division 2 teams are well placed heading into the finals, as are the younger Radiant Under 11 Blue and Under 12 South teams.
David himself is co-coach of the Under 13 Division 2 team, which will not feature in this Sunday’s first round of finals for Under 11s, 12s and 13s.
However, he says South Melbourne doesn’t focus primarily on junior success, as the club doesn’t grade teams based on their collective skill level.
“At this level, it’s really about the development side of things… The focus is on trying to get the best out of the kids,” David says.
“We do accept that kids are going to develop at different rates, but what we don’t accept is that every kid can’t make a contribution.”
David points to two of his players, Oliver Marks and Harrison Murrihy, as contributors emerging from humble beginnings due to the focus on player development.
“They’ve been terrific. They’ve really learnt the game and they’ve got more confidence in themselves and their football ability. I think they’re going to be very good footballers for our club,” he says.
David says Under 15 interleague representatives Harry Witts and Jamie Sackville, and 2011 division best-and-fairest winners James Vergos (now Under 12) and Isabel Huntington (now Under 13) are other examples of home-grown success stories.
South Melbourne’s approach to junior football even extends to an eight-week off-season training program called ‘Young Bloods’, another modern initiative for a club already with 100 years of rich history.
They may even develop someone ‘up there’ with the most famous Blood, Roy Cazaly.