Hawthorn premiership teammates Brad Sewell and Michael Osborne were not sure what to expect when they set up the Australian Rules Football College.
Having spent the best part of 12 months developing the pioneering concept, based on a US college model, they opened the doors to their North Melbourne facility at the start of the school year.
And now, after Term 1, they are delighted with its progress and looking to bring in more students.
Brad Sewell marvels at the diversity of the first intake of students to the Australian Rules Football College.
Whether it be a teenager with hopes of being drafted, a Kiwi rookie delisted by St Kilda, a netballer, a soccer player or the young man king hit in suburban football who has been told to stop playing and now hopes to get into coaching.
Although the college’s focus in on improving all students as footballers, Sewell said the “holistic approach’’ ensured the program catered for all talent levels and simultaneously kickstarted their tertiary studies.
“Traditional education isn’t for everyone,” said Sewell, the ARFC’s director of football. “So what we’re finding is that a lot of the students are really enjoying being in the classroom combined with being in a gym, as well as having a football in their hands every day.
“For school leavers who might be unsure what they want to do, the idea is that there’s a great opportunity for them to develop their football and also get an education that allows for further education opportunities.”
Apart from handling a Sherrin 1000 times a week, students also do strength and conditioning training in the vast gymnasium. Then there is the self-contained classroom devoted to studying certificates in health, personal training, massage, leadership, management and diplomas in business.
His 2008 premiership teammate, Michael Osborne, is the program’s head coach, while teacher and physiotherapist Tiffany Toombs runs the educational program and Jay Ellis, a performance coach with Western Jets and Vic Metro, heads the fitness regime.
Osborne said he had drawn upon the learnings from his time as a senior Hawthorn footballer working with younger players, as well as his two seasons as a development coach at Carlton.
“We’re trying to replicate an AFL environment here and take the students through a simulated AFL training regime so that they can experience what it’s like,’’ Osborne said.
“An Under 18 player is very similar, whether they go to an AFL club or local footy. They’ve had the same upbringing, school, local footy, so in some regards they’re almost on the same level.
“So some of the stuff we include in the program is just talking about professionalism, time management, organisation, as well as getting themselves ready for games, sleep and diet and recovery. It’s all things that even guys that are getting drafted to AFL clubs are getting taught as well.”
“We’re trying to replicate an AFL environment here and take the students through a simulated AFL training regime” – Michael Osborne
Osborne said the college’s football program was intended to complement what the students did at their own local club, and he tried to communicate weekly with those clubs and coaches to make sure that everyone was “on the same page in regards to their focuses, injury and fitness load management”.
“Their No.1 priority is to play good club footy and we supplement that program with footy development and strength and conditioning,” Osborne said, adding that each student benefited from the college’s individual programs and direct feedback.
In those conversations with local clubs, the feedback after just a few weeks was a noticeable difference in the students’ attitude, skill level and the impact they had on the rest of the team.
Osborne thinks it would be uplifting to see a student come through the college and be drafted into the AFL system. He also hopes that the program might become a useful vehicle for female footballers.
“I’m not sure exactly how clear the pathways and facilities are for young women to develop their football, so we certainly welcome female students and feel there is an opportunity to not only develop but also get a taste of what it’s like in an AFL environment,” he said.
Although all of the students will never run out as part of the same football team, Osborne said they had jelled as a tight-knit unit.
Sewell believes it might be because the ”banter and teamwork around the place makes it feel like a football club”.
But the biggest improvement in the group, Sewell said was how they had grown in confidence.
“Initially they were all a bit tentative, but now they’re bouncing in every day,’’ he said.
The Australian Rules Football College will continue to take 2016 enrolments until April 8.
The college accepts participants over the age of 16 with no requirements on athletic ability and runs between one and three years depending on student availability.