By Ben Pollard
Paul Dimattina played 131 games with Footscray (later the Western Bulldogs) as a midfielder between 1995 and 2003. He now coaches at the St Kilda City JFC and has shared some of his tips for younger juniors aspiring to become AFL footballers.
The most valuable advice he received as a junior:
Just to enjoy the game and practise as much as you can.
I was pretty lucky – from a young age, I was dedicated and disciplined, and enjoyed the game. In my head, I thought I was always going to be an AFL footballer and I did everything I could to make sure I achieved that goal.
The most common messages he has for his players:
The biggest key factor is that they enjoy what they’re doing.
I try as much as I can to keep things upbeat and positive, and just ensure that they want to be playing football and training, and it’s not a chore or a drag for them. I make sure that’s my duty.
(Also,) playing as a team – making sure they share the ball around and they don’t just kick it to their mates.
What he looks for in potential future AFL players:
There are some juniors that are naturally more talented, but you can really tell the ones who are striving to improve their game all the time. They’re the ones who are having an extra kick after training, having an extra kick before training, practising their goalkicking from all angles and always have a ball in their hands.
What he thinks younger juniors aspiring to become AFL players should be working on:
I’m always at them to make sure they practise (skills) on both sides of their body.
There are probably times when I’m harping on about their vision and awareness of where people are on the ground too.
I encourage them to watch as much AFL football as they can, just to see what the guys at the elite level are doing. They’re (the kids’) role models and they’ve got to see what (AFL players) are doing to know what to do to get to the highest level.
What he thinks younger juniors aspiring to become AFL players should be doing at training:
At this stage, all the fitness work I do with them is involved in drills.
With a few of the drills, I make sure there’s a running component in there, but a lot of it is always (about their) awareness – drills that have a little bit of pressure involved so you’re not just running along at half pace and kicking a ball to your mate. We try to do things at a reasonable speed and with a little bit of pressure on.