Feeling Hird, but looking Neeld

There’s a line Chris Cornell sings in a Soundgarden song that goes “I’m looking California, but feeling Minnesota.”

Well, right now, I am trying to look James Hird but I’m feeling more Mark Neeld.

My first year of junior football coaching has yielded an 0 and 9 start, and I fear the boys have forgotten the words to the club song.

Some context is needed at this point. My Under 12s progressed from level 5 to level 1 in two years under the previous coach, being minor premiers and Grand Finalists in 2010 and taking the flag in a thriller last year.

Having been promoted to level 1, (or Gold), we’ve all found the going hard, new coach and assistants as well.

Our club has an admirable policy of giving every kid three quarters each game as a minimum, and doesn’t grade their teams until Under 13 level. That though means that in every game, you’ll have to bench some of your better players. As we play with 24 some weeks, this means every kid will be off at least 1 quarter in some games, meaning a hell of a balancing act (do you start strong, or rest good players early, how do you spread your best players being off, can’t have your two best talls off at the one time, what if you only have one good full back?)  The grading policy means the Club’s best possible team is a combination of players in both our Under 12 sides. This contrasts with some larger clubs who aggressively grade their teams, effectively creating an A side in the Gold division.

So all in all, despite my flash magnetic whiteboard, AFL supplied book of coaching and training drills, head full of clichés and well-worn phrases and my excel spreadsheets of who is going to be where each quarter and who is off at what time, we are still to taste victory.

The boys have been stoic, although even at 12 years old, some tears are shed. Most are pleased to be playing at the top level, after having some games resemble playing against witches hats in previous years. As I said to them a few weeks ago, we could have played without a full back or a ruckman in some games last year and still romped home.

So, competition is good, and the year is about character building and growth.

But, some of them would probably be saying about now that they’ve had enough of character and just want a win.

This has been augmented by the fact that they have been used to winning, and so losing doesn’t come to them easily.

In reality, they relied on too few in the last two years, and those talented boys are now at the same level of their opponents, not far superior to them. The gap between the better and the developing halves of your side gets exposed when you play against well drilled graded sides.

There have been some bright moments. Holding the reigning premiers and clear 2012 favourite scoreless in the third quarter in shocking conditions while we kicked 3 goals 1, was cause for great celebration, as was our first half last week against the 2011 runners up.

We’ve had one kid rack up about 5 possessions for the year and one mark, which doesn’t sound much until you realise that’s more than he got in a full season including finals last year.

We’ve had boys go back and have to play full back against a rampaging opponent, when it just wasn’t fair for the regular one to keep having the ball come down upon him.

We’ve blooded a new full forward in recent weeks, with surprising results for someone of his size.

We’ve been in most games, leading 2 at three quarter time and been within a couple of kicks at the last break in most others, having only had two blowouts.

Last week, we finished with only 16 on the field, as we had 5 injuries, all down to fair clashes and accidents. At that stage, you remember it is just junior footy and there’s no point in sending sick kids back on.

And we’ve lost players to injuries caused by too much weekly sport commitments and bones growing at alarming rates for their age.

The boys have been surprised by some pretty aggressive barracking from some opposition supporters, however we’ve also seen players from both sides turn back and assist an opponent who has been hurt in a marking contest or hard tackle, and like older men, leave it on the field and seek out an opponent after a game to see if they are Ok, or hug a school classmate who was an opponent for the day.

At 12, they are all on the cusp of senior school, soon to be out of short pants and into more responsibility. This year of doing it tough and not having it go their own way will, I keep telling myself and them, help them next year and beyond.

They’ll learn to be accountable, get some maturity fast, and be a better team for it at some stage.

They’ll have to step up, experience defeat, and appreciate victory more.

This will build character and make them better kids and young men.

I understand what Neeld is talking about when he says it is going to take time but they are on track, and that they’ll be better for it and be patient.

I get all that.

I just really really hope the kids get a win soon.

About Sean Curtain

"He was born with a gift of laughter, and a sense that the world was mad". First line of 'Scaramouche' by Sabatini, always liked that.


  1. craig dodson says

    the one advantage of such a season is that when the boys do get up for a win it will be celebrated with grand final gusto, hang in there..

  2. Hang in there Sean. I’m sure that win is around the corner

    Great to hear about your teams fortunes again .

  3. pamela sherpa says

    Sean , I would do a Sheeds and forget about winning the big game, and instead concentrate on attaining small victories within a quarter. Skill development is more important than winning at that age . If the kids are supporting each other and toughing out the losses in a sporting manner they are winners despite what the scoreboard says.

  4. Thanks all.

    Playing the 2nd bottom side this Sunday, but our No. 1 ruckman still injured and our reigning B&F and 2010 league B&F has final state selection and is also u/a, so hard task.

    However, I will send them out with the instruction to just play, remember why the love footy, kick long, win the contested ball, and who knows. This is the best chance for the year so far and we are due.

    Pamela, good advice. Targets will be 3 spoils a Q in the backline, 3 marks inside our fwd 50. When we have gone out to win the last Q in games gone, we have excelled. We haven’t played 4 quarters yet, but had some dazzling 1 or 2 within a game.

    The morale is good, I suppose as they know from last yea’s flag they are good, just a big step up this year.

    I may do a match report next week.


  5. My advice, get them to celebrate the little things like they have just kicked the winning goal. A tackle, smother, unselfish handball should generate as much excitement as a big goal. This gets the team up and about and more often than not, puts the opposition on the back foot as they comprehend how to deal with a bunch of nutcases! At the very least, everyone will have fun.

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