The logistics of co-ordinating the All Stars Team is huge. There are about 60 players here in Darwin and all of them are completing the leadership program each day from 8.30 – 4pm. In addition to this they are also doing the required team training and additional work as required by their respective AFL clubs.

When I was involved at Club level (Essendon Football Club 1998 – 2008), one of the biggest frustrations I had with this type of initiative was the feeling of not knowing what was going on. As a club we felt that we had done so much work to get the players ready for the season, and then at a crucial stage, they were flying off to some camp where we had no idea what they would be doing, intensity, volumes of work, etc. When the opportunity came along to do this program, I was determined from the outset to ensure that all fitness coaches at each of the 16 clubs felt as if they were in control of what was happening with their players. To that end, each club has indicated individual work/training requirements for their players; strength programs; rehabilitation programs; running sessions; lactate sessions; recovery sessions; pool sessions and more. My role here is not to interpret or comment on any program. It is simply to implement the program and report to the prescribing coach of the actual outcomes. Sounds simple enough. But doing this with 60+ players has been very challenging.

I have been really fortunate to have such great staff helping me out. Michael Vadiveloo is the team physiotherapist. Based in Melbourne, Michael had worked for 14 years at St Kilda Football Club and brings a wealth of knowledge and practical hands on experience to this role with the All Stars. Michael has been an enormous help not just in terms of physiotherapy but in assisting with the overall co-ordination of activities and sessions.

Our head trainer is Ray Spiteri. Ray has been (and continues to be) the Head Trainer at the Carlton Football Club. He has great energy, enthusiasm and ability – and he brings it all for the benefit of these players. Like Michael, Ray is a great asset in helping to ensure the delivery of a “total program” to the playing group and has a great ability to identify tasks that need to be done. He then wanders off and completes them with a minimum of fuss. Whilst he might have magic hands for massage, I cannot say the same for his sense of humour. Ray has brought with him to Darwin, some of the most pathetic jokes ever told. I have decided it is better to laugh along in order not to raise his competitive nature of persevering until he strikes “a good one”!

On a recommendation from the AFL, we appointed Kia Naylor to the role of Assistant Fitness Coach. Kia is a qualified exercise physiologist and has a degree in sport science. Whilst she has had experience at the Northern Territory Institute of Sport (NTIS), Kia now runs her own sports services business here in Darwin. She is unfazed in the face of different challenges and has proven to be a very able and helpful fitness coach. In fact, based on our first session, Kia’s presence has been essential.

The team doctor is Hugh Seward – former team doctor of the Geelong Football Club (1981 – 2006). Hugh is the current Executive Officer of the AFL Medical Officer’s Association. The doc arrives on Thursday morning to relieve our local medical team of their “on call” positions.

And then of course there are the local organisers from the Northern Territory Football League (NTFL). My Godsend here has been Gaye Messer. This lady appears to be “unflappable” and has helped to establish everything I have needed from drinks orders to food alterations, massage staff, water runners, additional physiotherapists, on call doctors, gym contacts – the list goes on. As does the actual people behind the scenes to get this show up and running.

I was very interested in a number of things so far about this camp. Two however, stand out the most:

  • 1. The indigenous population of Australia makes up less than 2% of the entire Australian population. Yet the indigenous population of the AFL is 10%. Add to that the fact that at the last draft, 11% of those players selected were actually indigenous. This would suggest that the indigenous population of Australia are massive overachievers insofar as AFL is concerned – or they are very, very talented. I do not want to take anything away from the hard work and dedication of these individuals, but I have no doubt as to their athletic ability and potential. And it certainly does not stop with AFL.
  • 2. I was asked to sit in on a leadership program today for a group of young AFL players whom have been identified for their leadership potential. The 19 young men are participating in development activities designed to assist them to achieve all that they can and to make a positive impact on their community – both their indigenous community and the broader Australian community. Titled the Boomerangs, I witnessed some very intelligent, articulate, motivated and inspired young indigenous Australians. If they are the future for AFL then the sport has a lot to look forward to.

The last couple of days have seen the players in the All Stars camp participate in further indigenous leadership programs. In addition to this, they have had a group training session, recovery session; most have done a weights session and/or running session along with other personal needs such as flexibility, physiotherapy and so on. The next couple of days will be similar until Thursday when the actual team to play the Adelaide Crows will predominantly turn its attention to the game itself.

For me, I have been flat out doing the job I have been requested to do. I am enjoying the interaction with the players from each of the clubs and the challenges that this role is presenting to me. Today I had a couple of hours to spare and ended up spending it with an old mate of mine, former Essendon Champion, Michael Long. Mick is looking fantastic and is pulling together a number of very successful projects – for the AFL and for himself personally.

As I walked away from being with Mick today I was reminded of the fact that AFL (and all sport really) is not about the winning and losing. It’s not even about the effort and sweat and tears. It’s not about money or endorsements or fame or adulation. At the end of the day, when all of those things have faded to become just nice memories, it is the people that we will remember as being the most important aspect of sport. For me, Michael Long is one of the great memories I will forever hold of my time in the AFL. And as I work with this group of people that make up the AFL All Stars for 2009, a whole new set of great memories are just beginning.