Kids4: Empty Nights


Kids 4. Empty Nights.

Coaching juniors at my old club, we went from having no kids training on a Tuesday, to doubling the senior numbers. But, over the years there was always a night or two, school holidays, whatever, where the numbers were down.
I’d say, time and again, “Self motivation is the best skill you have. What happens if you’re out there playing and half the team is flat? Do you say – Stuff it, I won’t try either, or go harder? You can turn up to training and still stoop to their level, or rise above it. Be that bloke who never quits, who will, if he has to, go it alone. Who wants to work. Pride. Self pride. It’s what makes good footballers. It’s up to you.”

Then, I would give the few there a very hard drill. Let them know the whole night would be hard. If they did the work, if they attacked that drill, rather than go through its motions, rather than waste yet another night, then great! Sometimes I’d surprise them. Sometimes the rest of the night would be speckies, soccer or mini scratch matches.

When I trained them hard all the way through, they came off the track sharing something. A bond. You could see it in them. As if the others had missed out.

Numbers are never an excuse. My favourite mantra, the one that still gets shouted back to me in pubs and on worksites by grown men I once coached, was, when I trained them hard –

“It’s not a punishment, it’s a reward.”

So many senior coaches need to learn this. We’re there, we’ve showed up in the middle of winter, for a losing team, because we love footy. And footy is work and reward. Don’t take that away from us. Our chance to be proud.

Every time we go easy just because the numbers are low it breaks my heart.


To read more of Matt Zurbo’s Kids series CLICK HERE



  1. Good on you Matt.
    It can take a huge effort just to turn up.

    We don’t know someone else’s obstacles.

  2. Cheers mate. Exactly.

  3. Malby Dangles says

    These are gold, mate! I’m thinking back to my old junior footy days, thinking about which coaches adopted these suggestions. Not many! Looking forward to the rest of them.

  4. Matt,
    That story is great.
    I’m teaching my three-year-old boy to kick a football, in the backyard with a footy and in the house with a balloon.
    Just like I used to do.
    When I was a kid I used to kick a pair of socks in my bedroom.
    Imagine my surprise when my junior coach told the team he used to do that to.
    I loved your line ‘it’s not punishment, it’s reward.’
    Whenever I use that I’m gonna remember this story…

  5. Ironmike, mate, Malcolm Blight told me he used a balloon to teach his kids how to mark a footy. “That way they cup their hands right and don’t slap at it.: I laughed and told him I used to use a balloon to take three touch speckies over the couch, pretending i was him! Haha.

    Thanks Malby, always.

  6. Thanks so much for writing this piece Matt. There’s nothing worse than making the effort to go to training, only to feel as though you are being punished with a lame session, because your other team mates didn’t show up. Wish more coaches shared this mindset.

    Look forward to reading the rest of the series

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