You learn as you go

By Andrew Fithall

They say that how you train is how you play. In fact Dickie Fry said it several times on Friday evening as under-sixteen training went overtime until we could get some semblance of skill into the drills.

Training had begun the same as Wednesday, with “whole group warm-up” co-ordinated by Dickie and the As coach Peter Lane. However, on completion of the warm-ups, the squad split into teams – half an oval each. The As went one end and we, the Ds, went the other.

This immediately creates an interesting dynamic. Within our group we have just a few boys who don’t want to be there. They want to be up the other end. In some cases they even deserve to be up the other end. “Train well and play well and you will be,” I tell these players quietly. “It is up to you.”

I should add: “Train like you are not part of our group, and you will probably find yourself with us for the year.”

Just before training, Mark Hunter, the As assistant coach, had given me a couple of drills to run. My problem was that I didn’t know them well enough. My verbal instructions to the players were complicated, and the set-up wasn’t quite right. The players were confused and distracted. Training went overtime. We trained terribly on Friday.

Sunday afternoon we were at home to Altona. They too had won well in Round 1, two weeks previously. Their D team, similar to ours, is their second team in the age group. Dickie and I had prepared a first-quarter team layout on Friday after training. Six players on the bench. On Saturday I then did the structures for the remaining three quarters. Every player would spend a quarter on the bench. Player positions would be rotated.

Just after I had completed the task, there was a phone call from a player who had just returned from holidays. Could I fit him in? Yes, I said, but he would probably get only half a game. I identified two other players who hadn’t trained at all during the week and flagged them for two quarters on the bench. When they and their parents arrived on Sunday I let them know of the situation and the reason for their extended benching. There was no argument from anyone.

Dickie Fry gave the pre-game address. Explained again our rotation policy. Then told the players that he had to leave just after quarter-time and I would take over.

Reuben was our captain for the day. A good player, he is definitely marked for promotion. He won the toss and kicked into the breeze. Wouldn’t have been my choice. Dickie was supportive of his decision – finish with the wind.

Altona got the jump on us. We had a fair bit of the play but our training form was carrying through. They pressured us well and when they got the ball they were very effective. Three forward thrusts for three goals. Late in the quarter we got a couple back including a tricky one on the line from Sam McHugh. Not a bad result into the breeze.

Dickie gave the quarter-time address. I held the magnetic board, having set up the player placements during the course of the first quarter. Part way into the second quarter, Dickie said, “Well, I’m off”.

I stood on the line, clipboard cradled, and tried to look knowledgeable. I delegated the magnetic board to my wife Helen, who had arrived after watching Herb play in Altona. We did reasonably well and went into half-time just in front.

In the sheds I didn’t want to make the mistake of talking too early. Instead I erred the other way.

We went through the team and emphasised some individual highlights. Spoke about applying pressure just as they had to us. Some specific instructions and then a general rev-up. OK, boys – let’s go out there. The umpires and the opposition awaited. Oh, hang on a moment, a couple need to go to the loo. Others not quite ready. Let’s wait and go out as a group. Sorry about that. Did I tell you I was new at this?

The third quarter we held our ground. I found my voice. People on the other side of the ground were finding my voice. Helen again assisted with the magnetic board preparations for three-quarter-time. We went in to the final break one point down.

Again I went through the team structure. I named each player in their position for the quarter. Emphasised that we still had to do the work but our extensive bench meant that everyone should be able to run out the game. “If you can’t, let us know and we have someone to take your place.” Back into the fray.

The first part of the quarter didn’t go to plan. An early goal by us was matched by a goal against the breeze. Jayden at full-forward was providing a good marking target but we weren’t getting it to him. A quiet word from Helen. You are missing Sam out there. I turned around and spied Sam McHugh sitting with others on the bench.

How strong are my principles? Pure rotation policy. Or pragmatism. Or rationalisation. A couple of injuries had meant that players designated to play only half a game had actually spent only one quarter on the bench. One was on the forward flank. Had a done a reasonable job but he probably needed a bit more training to get some miles in his legs. Probably due for a rest. Is that fair enough? A call to the runner and we effected the change.

Sam’s impact was immediate and positive. With a good supply, Jayden got three for the quarter and we got home by four. Helen looked very pleased with herself.

Did we play as we trained? The deficiencies, unfortunately, were with the coach. I will learn the drills. I will also work on adapting some basketball drills to the football field. And I will continue to take advice from the experts, whether the expertise belongs to an ex-league player turned junior coach, or a very perceptive wife.

About Andrew Fithall

Probably the most rational, level-headed Collingwood supporter in existence. Not a lot of competition mind you.

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