Participants of St Kilda’s Next Generation Academy (NGA) were visited by St Kilda Football Club players at training sessions over the last week.
The NGA players, the majority of which are South Metro Junior Football League (SMJFL) players, are currently hard at work preparing for the upcoming 2020 season and Interleague selection.
Saints Key Defender Jonathon Marsh and Forward Nick Hind attended the NGA Under 15 Girls squad’s Monday night training at Moorleigh Reserve.
The NGA players were coached and mentored by the Saints stars throughout their training session.
Jonathon Marsh said the NGA program provides invaluable experience in advancing young players’ skills.
“These programs started coming up after I went through the system,” said Marsh.
“[We’re both] from small-country towns. Its actually a bummer that we didn’t have this experience,” he said.
“Its fantastic to get interaction with AFL players. You get top-quality coaches, you come down here and you get a decent amount of time to work on your skills,” said Marsh.
“Its fantastic that these programs exist now.”
Nick Hind said the NGA program “fast-tracks” the players towards an elite level of football.
“For these sort of programs, they learn the elite skills at a young age,” said Hind. “It fast-tracks them to be able to become AFL players if that’s what they want to do.”
Hind said the NGA program can be rewarding for all involved in the program.
“The coaches are very inclusive, you get exposure to AFL players [and] we get to learn a lot as well about coaching if that’s something we want to step into,” said Hind.
“Its really good for everyone involved.”
Marsh said the NGA program immerses the players in an elite sporting environment.
“We look at it as a junior St Kilda team. What we want and what the academy wants is to feed into the AFL and AFL Womens’ team,” said Marsh.
“[The NGA players] train at our club, they have access to our facilities and that really opens their eyes about what an elite environment is,” said Marsh.
“Any time you can get exposure into an elite environment, you’ll be better off for it.”
NGA Under 15 Girls Head Coach Lache Walker said the pathway between junior football and elite football should be valued and utilised by young players.
“Its really fantastic that the SMJFL and St Kilda Football Club are working together,” said Walker.
“Its a really strong relationship,” he said. “These girls now have a pathway through junior football right up to an elite level.”
Walker said the goal of the NGA program is to foster the talent of young players in an “inclusive and diverse environment”.
“They leave the program not only better players but, more importantly, better people.”