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Walking the Tightrope

04 May Walking the Tightrope

Former Eastern Ranges under-18 Assistant  Coach Andy Hayman looks at the
TAC Cup under-18s program.

Elite Talent Pathways in all sports walk a tightrope and the demands and challenges faced under each program need to carefully monitored and managed. A TAC Cup club is no exception. TAC Cup under-18 players need to balance school (VCE studies), work (usually first jobs or apprenticeships), school football (private schools), Vic Metro football, club football, logging hours to obtain a learner’s permit and gaining their license, family and social life and then we ask them to commit to a two-three day-a-week program modelled on the professional AFL environments. They indeed are walking a tightrope and the TAC clubs are mainly responsible for ensuring they have the balance required to enable them to come out the other side a better person and, for a lucky few, as an AFL footballer.

As part of the coaching panel at the Eastern Ranges TAC under-18s, it is interesting to sit back and consider what this program offers players and the outcomes we strive to achieve each season, given the resources, time and external influences mentioned above, at play. The TAC program is set up, run and carried out by a large team of mostly volunteer people and the following is a snapshot of a typical year for a TAC club and player, and particularly the Eastern Ranges.

Players are invited to join our pre-season training groups, starting in November after having already been part of the TAC program the previous season as a bottom-age under-17 player or as a graduating player from the under-16s development squad. But other young men are invited having been viewed by the talent identification staff that numbers about five for our region.

These passionate people have over a number of years developed an eye for talented players. They watch each team in every league in the region up to three times a year and players are put on a watch list for future review. Games are held in the September school holidays for the players who have been identified and, following these trial games, all players are advised of their areas to work on into the next season or of their invitation to the TAC under-18s summer program.

Summer training for the 70-odd players is held three nights a week for two hours’ duration. In this period, the football department (one coach and three assistants) is gaining an idea of each player’s skill level and establishing basic team rules.

Meanwhile, the high-performance staff (one plus three-four assistants) are putting the players through a detailed training regime which has been prepared following hours of consultation with all parties, including coaches, doctors, physios, dieticians and exercise physiologists. This training plan will incorporate the running, weights, core and football phases and the formula must be right so all facets are covered adequately.

Some players are advised they have not made the training squad for the season and a select group of about 35 are put on the jumper listing. Another 10-15 will continue to train in the hope that, with continued coaching and development, they too will be elevated to a listed-player status. Games follow three-four practice matches and each club will have the best team available playing in the first three games.

The TAC under-18 competition is best defined as a development competition which provides the stage for the best under-18 boys in the state to show AFL recruiters and clubs what attributes they have. To this end, the under-18 carnival is held each season and a select few are invited and selected to play for, in our case, the Vic Metro under-18s team. This squad is selected and training starts after four weeks or so of the season and, on average, about seven young men will attend this training once a week. At the same time, any private school boys have now basically gone back to that environment and only train with the TAC club on a Tuesday.

The programming schedule during this time of Metro trials and games is to allow the maximum exposure of the high-end talent, so the TAC competition will have scheduled breaks. These breaks allow the other players to return to their home clubs while the recruiters get a chance to view identified players under pressure-type environments at Metro level.

This is a recent innovation in the TAC Cup and is a win for all parties. The TAC clubs now will introduce more players to the TAC cup experience and blood new talent, hoping to unearth another previously unknown gem.

Following the completion of the Vic Metro games and during school holidays, the full complement of players will be available for selection, and usually as the season moves towards finals, they again are all available to ensure full exposure during the pressure and high intensity of a final.

It should be noted, certain players who play for a TAC club, are selected to play for Vic Metro, play for their home club or are a private school attendee, could have up to four coaches during a 10-week period during the season. While all coaches are of a high level befitting the roles, there can be up to four different game styles, plans, set-ups and roles the players must cope with.  The club needs to also be aware of and communicate with the players regarding their schooling requirements (i.e. exams), sporting events outside of the TAC (school sport or other sporting commitments such as basketball, cricket) and the players’ family environments and assist where needed with counseling or just as someone to talk to about issues in their busy lives.

A typical in-season week for TAC under-18 players, coaches, high-performance staff and high-end management staff will consist of the following: 

Monday

  • 4.30pm Participating players from previous game meet at swimming pools to start rehabilitation.
  • 5 to 6.30pm Game review from the weekend with typically 1-12 selected players. Injured players from the TAC or those playing local or school football will attend to be screened by the physio, training staff or masseur
  • Coaches meetings are held usually for 30-45 minutes.

Tuesday

  • 5 to 7pm Video review with full playing squad followed by training. Core stability is included and soup for all at the end where a training squad of 26 is announced for the Thursday night’s training.

Thursday

  • 5 to 7pm Light training followed by team meeting, vision on opposition and pasta.

Saturday (game 2.00pm)

  • Arrive 12.30pm
  • Game
  • Aftermatch
  • Leave 5.30-6pm

Whatever happens though, all the TAC clubs will continue to develop and showcase players at a fantastic rate and all the Eastern Ranges people mentioned will still turn up for the next session, the next game review, the next parents’ get-together, a social event to raise funds or, together with the players, an educational session on drugs, TAC importance, racial vilification etc with the same passionate love of the game and the underlying hope we can assist the young men under our umbrella to hopefully achieve their ultimate goal of AFL recruitment. For others, it may be to reach VFL standard or return to their home clubs better players and people for the experience of TAC Cup football.

Andy Hayman was Eastern Ranges TAC Under-18 Assistant Coach – Midfield.
This article was written as part of the requirements of the AFL High Performance Coaching Course

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