By Andrew Jackson
The average age of the Growthbuilt Sydney University NEAFL squad may be just 23 years old but the development program in place has ensured that the club’s young talent is one of its key assets.
The Students currently remain undefeated in the start to their 2018 campaign and have embraced the balance between youth and experience in the playing group.
Coach Tom Morrison says that helping young talent grow and learn is an integral goal at the club.
“My primary focus is to develop the young talent from both the local Sydney AFL Clubs as well as the two Academies,” he said.
The success of the development system in supporting outstanding talent coming through the ranks is evident in the honours received by SUANFC players last year.
In 2017, SUANFC had five NEAFL Rising Star nominations, two rookies in the NEAFL Team of the Year, five rookies played NEAFL Representative Football and 12 local Sydney players debuted – nine of which were rookies.
Morrison praised the work of development coach Lloyd Perris in enabling the younger players to access state-of-the-art guidance in order to improve their performances.
“Lloyd Perris has worked tirelessly with our Development Squad and we have prioritised the purchasing of IT to ensure that we are giving our players as much objective feedback and education opportunities as possible,” he said.
The development program is particularly helpful in preparing younger players for a possible future career in the AFL according to Morrison.
“As coaches, we have structured our game plan to mimic the modern style of play,” he said.
“We have done this so that when one of our players is drafted they will understand the concepts taught at AFL level and won’t require years of development before they can play at that level.”
Morrison also highlighted the role that the more experienced players have had in contributing to the growth of the squad.
“The education that our senior players offer our young talent is invaluable, it’s a team effort with our group to leverage as much knowledge across the squad as we possibly can,” Morrison said.
“I know the dialogue that comes back to me from the younger players, either directly or indirectly, is that they are learning a lot and enjoying their time in the program.”
One such player is 19-year-old Sam Barkley, who said that he has already grown as a player at the club.
“The coaches are very welcoming and personal with giving advice,” he declared.
“They will take you aside and make sure you are getting it and tell you what you are doing well and what you aren’t doing so well so that has been really helpful to me for adjusting to NEAFL level this year.”
Barkley also said that the more experienced players have been invaluable in providing support for him during the early stages of his playing career.
“A lot of the boys – ‘Barto’, Tom Young, ‘Stevo’, ‘Birdy’, Shawn Edwards… they are all experienced campaigners and are very good players but they are also willing to help out the younger boys and give them as much insight as possible,” he stated.
Nick Foster is a graduate of the Sydney Swans academy and has also benefited from the club’s mentor program.
“They put in place a mentor program from a young age which hooks you up with one of the senior players within your local area… it was invaluable for me,” he said.
Foster also said that the balance of youth and experience has been integral to the team’s success this year and that it holds them in good stead for the future.
“We are seeing a lot more success this year and last year because the core group of young guys and senior players have merged and integrated together,” he noted.
“It did take a while but we are starting to see the rewards with those young guys starting to take leadership and direct the new young guys coming through.”
The development program provides the opportunity for young men to gain invaluable skills that will help them grow both on and off the field and that is something Morrison is particularly proud of.
“They will be 22-year-old young men with 100+ NEAFL games to their name, vastly developed life skills, highly educated leaders of our program with countless employment opportunities ahead of them, and still with the door well and truly open to play AFL football,” he said.
“Not many programs can say that, we really do value the holistic development of our athletes.”
The NEAFL squad take on the Canberra Demons this Saturday 12th May at 1pm at BISP