Inside The Bunker – Coaching Victoria’s Kickstart Indigenous Team

Peter Dye, coach of the Victorian team at the 2017 Kickstart Championships, has a skilled team around him. Apart from his assistant coach Dylan Harvey, and team manager Jack Henty, he is also surrounded by some seriously experienced firepower. Former AFL players in Aaron Davey (Melbourne), Chris Johnston (Brisbane, Fitzroy) and David Rodan (Richmond, Port Adelaide, Melbourne) bring many hundreds of game’s experience to the coaching bench.

The two coaching components come together – the formal and the additional – to prepare the Victorians for their next match: a clash with the NSW/ ACT team. It soon becomes apparent that these boys cannot have too many coaches and too much advice. They are fortunate, and they will respond by bringing every coach’s wishes or instructions to life.

Pre-game and the coach re-addresses the pillars around which the team’s game plans will hinge. Effort is broken down into clearer, more measureable pieces. Work rate, tackling, communication and being first to the ball are the themes that will galvanise these boys once the siren blows. Focus is also placed on the one percenters – the small actions on which great success grows.

The coach also reiterates the message that the most important factors that will influence the game will be attitude and effort – the skills will look after themselves. He stresses other themes in between warmups – talk to each other, back each other up, be aware of the match situation, get the matchups right and when facing into the wind they have to be in front for the ball that drops short. None of this is rocket science, and have been heard many times before. But they are the messages that need to be refreshed and brought back to the forefront of a player’s thinking.

One last message is to impact the ball – punch, don’t tap. Then the talking is done and it’s match time…the team heads down the race and onto the field.

The match has started and the bench is generally quiet. The occasional mutterings of “c’mon, c’mon” can be heard, but most of the time is spent watching the game itself unfold. Inside a minute and Victoria snag their first goal. From the next bounce the coaches start to become increasingly more involved. “Good mark!”, “Man up, Vics!”and other advice is yelled spasmodically from the bench.

On the sideline, Aaron sees some errors. He turns to those on the interchange bench and coaches on the run by explaining to those boys what went wrong and how they can avoid that pitfall when they return to the action. It is good coaching. As players come off, one or the other of the mentoring team give quiet, reassuring instructions about positioning, options and anything else that might make the player even more effective. All throughout the game the one percenters are mentioned and applauded – time and time again.

Chris sees things from the sideline and calls out “play the percentages”. He mentions this to the other coaches also – shared information. The pre-determined team instructions about best options, angles, spaces and lines are those percentages. Inside the final minute of the half and the coaches, via the runner, nearby players and loud voices combine to get one more message – “Don’t let them score.”

Coach Peter uses the half time break to reinforce positive messages. His messages are not talent related. They all reaffirm the themes of effort and attitude. He suggests that it is a good feeling to go in at half time a couple of goals in front. He reminds the team that they did well into the wind and now have to remain disciplined and follow the game plan.

David prowls the boundary and bench, reminding players to stay warm and moving ready to go back onto the field. Before long the clock ticks into the final few minutes and the team enjoys a five goal lead. Time to manage players – some can rest now as they have done their jobs. Others get another chance to get amongst the action. The coaching team make mention of the second and third efforts. The bench goes quiet now inside the final minute.

The siren sounds and the Victorian boys have won convincingly 8.3 51 to NSW/ACT 3.1 19. It was a very good team effort and the coaches get to every player and congratulate or reassure them.

A team photo and a powerful rendition of the team song and then it’s back to the rooms to have the rest they have earned and think about the next match.

And the coaching team can take a deep, collective breath and look ahead to their next challenge.

About Wesley Hull

Passionate lover of Australian Rules football. Have played and coached the game and now spend my time writing about the game I love and introducing young people to the game through school coaching. Will try and give back to the game what it has given me for more that 40 years.

Leave a Comment