It is said that the transition from crawling to walking is an integral stage of a child’s development.
But for Miles Bergman, the real importance came in the next phase: kicking a football.
Indeed, Bergman’s first steps were swiftly followed by boot on ball. It’s where the journey began.
“I just loved it,” Port Adelaide’s rising half-back told aflplayers.com.au.
“As soon as I could kick a footy, I was carrying it everywhere and trying to learn all the skills.”
Bergman inherited a passion for the pigskin from his father, who forged a career in the Victorian Football Association after playing at reserves level for Melbourne and St Kilda.
“Dad played a lot of footy when he was growing up,” Bergman said.
“That really got me started, because he was just finishing off his career when I was born, and then he pretty much brought me up with a footy in my hand.”
An early start to Auskick soon became an advanced beginning to under ‘9s’ football.
But it wasn’t all about footy — before long, Bergman unearthed his talent for other sports, and whether it was swinging the tennis racquet, wielding the cricket bat, shooting three pointers, gliding across the pool or dashing around the track, he made sure he stood out.
“I did athletics until my draft year and I stopped that to really focus on footy, but when I was younger, I did a lot of different sports; tennis, swimming, cricket, basketball, athletics and footy, so I had a lot going on,” he said.
Bergman was set apart by his athleticism as a 2019 draft prospect, and says his strengths —his x-factor, overhead marking and in particular, his vertical leap — were fast-tracked by his engagement in other sports.
“Even if the sports aren’t really related, there’s little things you pick up that you don’t realise help with footy, but they do in the end,” he said.
“Athletics especially with the fitness side of it, but all those other sports, hand-eye coordination, and balance and all of those skills really help with footy as well.”
The 19-year-old, who idolised Lenny Hayes and Nick Dal Santo growing up, was considered a draft bolter and stormed into the first round where he was selected by the Power with pick 14.
But thoughts of making the AFL only crossed Bergman’s mind a year earlier, after he pieced together an impressive bottom-age season at the Sandringham Dragons.
“I got an email or a text from one of the club recruiters saying, ‘We want to have a chat with you’, and then I realised, ‘OK, this could definitely go somewhere’,” he recounted.
“I started to really focus on it and push to be the best.”
He was also surrounded and inspired by the best. In 2019, Sandringham had eight other players drafted.
“I looked up to a lot of them, because I started to play my good footy closer to draft time, so there were a lot of boys that I idolised, loved playing with and learnt a lot from,” Bergman said.
“It helps you develop quicker.”
In 2021, he has featured at AFL level on 14 occasions after debuting against North Melbourne in round one, and his most recent outing — two goals from 13 touches against Hawthorn — showcased his talent.
Excluding the three games he was deployed as the medical sub, Bergman is averaging 16 disposals, five marks and two tackles per game.
His role in defence remains a relatively new challenge after he made a name for himself through the junior ranks as a damaging half-forward/wingman, but through the support of the back-six — namely veteran Hamish Hartlett and captain Tom Jonas — Bergman is thriving.
“It’s a good experience [and] it’s good to move around a bit,” he said.
“All the boys are pretty helpful. Hamish Hartlett helped me throughout the pre-season with my contested work and my ground balls, but all the backs look after me.
“Tom Jonas, he’s the captain, and he’s been really good teaching me things I need to get better at.”
“I’m still pretty young, but I think moving away from home has been a really good experience. It’s helped me mature as a person.”
But the half-back flanker’s growth hasn’t always been so linear.
Bergman’s first pre-season was marred by an ankle injury, and when COVID struck, Port Adelaide could no longer field its reserves side in the SANFL.
Instead, chances to impress the selection committee came in the form of make-do match simulations against other clubs.
“It’s pretty tough coming into a new side and not being able to show what you’ve got with a lack of games,” Bergman said.
But with every player forced into COVID-secure hubs, Bergman recognised an opportunity to form tight bonds with his new teammates.
“[The hub] helped not just the young players, but everyone to adapt, and helped us progress as a team [with] a bit more chemistry and a bit of a closer bond.
“It builds resilience and helps you in the long run.”
It wasn’t the only challenge Bergman turned into an opportunity.
Rather than being daunted by the pressures posed by living interstate, he saw moving away from home as a chance to mature.
“I’m still pretty young, but I think moving away from home has been a really good experience. It’s helped me mature as a person,” he said.
“Living with some of the other boys at the club, they’ve also helped me progress with my footy as well.”
The 189-centimetre speedster lives with fellow Victorians Xavier Duursma and Sam Hayes, who help ease any passing feelings of homesickness. The only downside, Bergman joked, is that the pair don’t share the same love for golf.
“We’ve all got the same challenges and the same needs, so we always help each other out, but the boys in the house don’t like golf as much, so I don’t play as much of that now.”
But while Bergman’s time on the fairway has been handicapped, his game across the green of the Adelaide Oval continues to be well above par.