A former number one draft pick, Carlton’s Bryce Gibbs grew up playing a variety of team sports. As part of TeamUp’s 20 Day Challenge, Gibbs discusses the role other sports can have in shaping AFL careers.
Pendlebury played basketball, Didak played soccer and Hird did ballet.
While most AFL stars follow a similar path after they get drafted, what happens in the preceding years has always interested me.
Did Pendlebury’s famous ‘basketball background’ help him develop the ability to make great decisions with his hands in heavy traffic?
when the high school championships came around each year in Melbourne, we’d usually do really well.
How much did Didak’s experiences as a promising young soccer player shape his kicking action into one of the best in recent years?
And did a few ballet lessons as a child have anything to do with Hird becoming one of the most balanced and graceful footballers the game has seen?
I knew from an early age that I wanted to play footy, but like any kid, I played other sports too. The high school I went to, Brighton Secondary School in South Australia was a special interest volleyball school – which meant I played a lot of volleyball as a teenager.
Brighton Secondary was one of the top two volleyball schools in the country, so I always got invited out to the state competitions – but I always had too much footy on to really commit to it. Early in my career there were reports that I played volleyball for South Australia as a youngster, which were flattering, but untrue.
Having said that, I certainly played a lot of volleyball through high school and when the high school championships came around each year in Melbourne, we’d usually do really well in them.
— Bryce Gibbs (@BGibbsy4) December 8, 2011
But we would have done well if we’d had a footy team too! As far as footy went, we competed in the state knockout comp, but didn’t have a Saturday morning team that played weekly. In hindsight, that was a bit of a shame. With guys like James Sellar, who went on to play at Adelaide and Melbourne, and Mark Austin – who went to the Blues and then the Bulldogs – we would have had a pretty handy side.
Given we all went on to play AFL, I can’t help but wonder what we might have learned from volleyball.
It’s hard to know exactly how it might’ve helped, but I’ve got a few ideas.
It certainly helped improve my vertical leap, which has assisted me with my marking in footy.
Standing on the mark in a footy match is often seen as a fairly insignificant part of the game, but when you can make a smother, get a touch on a shot at goal or even ensure a player has to go back a couple of extra metres further to get their kick over you, it can make a difference.
As with any sport, values such as teamwork and commitment are transferable.
Manning the mark is very similar to standing at the net in volleyball. There are two important aspects in both – the jump itself, and the timing of the jump. Most blokes who play volleyball are pretty tall – if you were over 6’5 it seemed you were guaranteed a crack at it at representative level – so being a bit smaller, timing my jumps was incredibly important.
The fact I wasn’t a small bloke, as far as my team went, meant I did my best work as a ‘pass to hitter’. Back court passing and outside hitting was my go – and if I’m being honest, I was also a pretty handy decoy.
I’d be lying if I said playing volleyball at high school had a profound effect on my footy career, but I’m sure it influenced me in some way. As with any sport, values such as teamwork and commitment are transferable, and interacting with other personalities – teammates, coaches, opponents and umpires – is always a big learning curve.
I’ve always loved team sports as opposed to individual pursuits, and believe learning from other people is one of the most valuable elements of playing sport. That’s why I’m proud to be taking part in the TeamUp 20 Day Challenge, which is encouraging Victorians to team up and get moving.