Welcome to the new Coach

With less than three weeks to go to the start of the football season, there are a number of new coaches anxiously counting the hours until Round 1.

For some of them, this time will be one of either confidence that they have inherited a well-managed list with great potential, or a realisation that there’s more work to be done than they first thought.

At every training session, they will all be looking for a refinement or amendment or rejigging of the standard football format and training pattern to give them an edge.

Opposition research is difficult, as teams are experimenting through these pre-season games and it is hard to know who will run out in Round 1 or in what real form they are in.

But the shared feeling among coaches will be excitement and nervousness, as the first real game is the time when it all has to come together and many set of eyes will train upon the coach to hear the words of instruction, support, encouragement and planning that makes a difference and gets the season off to a win.

And just like them, I will be part of a large number of coaches delivering that message for the very first time, on Sunday April 1 to a group of 24 Under 12 players, along with at least 70 first time coaches through the Yarra Junior Football League in Melbourne, and I am sure hundreds more across Australia.

You don’t have to be Sanderson, Neeld, McCarthy, Watters or even Buckely to be feeling it about now. For all of us at junior level, with the added burden of (usually) being a dad of one of your players, the spotlight turns to you.

All teams, be they AFL, country or junior, have supporters, administration and players who have high hopes and expectations for the 2012 season, and a group of Under 12s are no different. My group has come off a flag in 2011 and a Grand Final in 2010, and so they are their families are anticipating another successful year.

But as this is their first year in the top division, having risen rapidly in the last 2 years, the season is unpredictable and could signal either a continuation of their success or a wakeup call at the standard of junior football.

It will also be their first taste of playing against many clubs who grade their teams at U12 level, meaning we will play against the best from that club, rather than division based on schools, registration timing,  history or just growth of the club.

These boys are mostly 11, although some of the ones with birthdays in the early months have turned 12. At this age, there’s a real difference in size and ability, and maturity, with some amazing talent starting to show in some boys and the fun of participation still a factor for others. At this age, they have developed beyond the muck around of Auskick and Tackers (with no tackling) and have not yet got into the semi seriousness of Colts and Under 14 or 15 level, where there’s a possible path to a football career made clearer to some of them.

At this age, they are starting to realise they are growing up, have coordination, strong verbal skills and in some, the hint of the young teen smart alec that some of them will undoubtedly grow into. There’s the class clowns, the driven ones, the ones who want to imitate their AFL heroes, and ones who do it for exercise.

They are also though young enough to still need mum’s hug after an injury just as much as magic spray, still cry after a loss occasionally and think the highlight of training is a packet of snakes.

For me, I am more Neil Craig than Kevin Sheedy, with my coaching career being pretty good and with some success, but all outside football. I chose to divert to playing hockey when my Saturday winter sport decision s had to be made in my early teens, and whilst I have played a lot of sport, my AFL impact has been watching, kick to kick or helping a budding champ learn the basic in his first decade of life.

I now stand before 24 sets of young eyes, and their parents, having to set different drills each week, balancing encouragement and supervision, trying not to overcomplicate things and hoping that my own stab passes don’t embarrass or cause them to doubt me.

Having attended the AFL level 1 course, I reflected on the different ways kids at this stage learn, and realise that the drills I am taking them through need visual, practical or verbal explanation depending on the child, as well as ensuring that they are not given too much down time between participation for mucking around, and that some are still earning the basics.

I have had a new found and embarrassingly late appreciation of the tough job faced by teachers, through trying to corral or focus 24 young minds through my words, and remind myself of the trust these boys parents have placed in me to guide them at what is a very interesting stage of their life.

Junior football is very much a volunteer and family game, with each match needing many hands to get going, with runners, trainers, goal umpires, boundary umpires, oranges and umpires escorts having to be in place. I have my metallic board and names on magnets, and a bag of vests and witches hats, so you add a coaches bib and whistle to that and you know why it becomes a drug for so many.

To all those about to embark on this journey, especially if it is in junior ranks with your own kids, good luck. I will try to remember it is a game and a great game at that, and that these are just boys, like I was, having fun with their mates, getting dirty, trying to kick freaky goals at training and wanting to sing the song in the rooms after a game before running to the canteen.

Round 1 for all new coaches awaits. Be it under the glare of live TV and a huge crowd, a traditional clash in a country or suburban league, or group of kids in a beautiful tree lined suburban ground in Hawthorn, we’ll all feel something similar.

Can’t wait.




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. Hey Big Toe

    Lovely piece. You painted a vivid picture of under age football …. had me reminiscing about my days in the juniors. Delightful stuff.

    As for your debut season as a coach, I hope you’ll be promoting an attractive brand of football. The way I remember it, junior football already has enough problems with flooding. Any more of it and the game will be a quagmire.

    T Bone

  2. M Curtain says

    Great article Sean. Such memories!!!
    Best wishes for the season to you, Ben and the Team.

  3. M Curtain says


  4. Ah the memories of coaching and the hope of a new season. Thank you.

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