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The AFL recruiter pointed across the ground: “See that father over there… he will probably be the reason why his son won’t be drafted.”
This was a candid comment from an experienced AFL recruiter as we stood together watching a late-season TAC Cup game. It was half time and the father in question was on the ground having a kick with what looked like a younger son.
I asked why this was the case and he went on to describe a range of factors that placed the kid firmly in the “be wary” category.
For starters, when they went to interview the kid at his house — which is as much to interview the families as the potential player — the recruiters didn’t like everything they saw.
When they asked the son a question the father chimed in with a response. When the son did speak the father would correct him or enhance any answers he thought weren’t covered well enough or, in his mind, the right ones.
Then they spoke to his TAC Cup coach and heard numerous stories of the father interfering in everything from coaching strategies to training methods. It was clear that the goal was to be drafted and being part of a successful team was secondary.
As the kid’s talent placed him firmly in the round three to four category the question has to be asked, is the risk of the father entering the scene worth it for a late pick? Is there a similarly talented kid who doesn’t come with the parental baggage?
If he was supremely talented you may overlook such an issue, but for a late pick? Probably not.
The recruiter in question was from an interstate club that also had to weigh up whether it would help the kid to get away from the family and move interstate, or whether the pull of the father would be too great and he would move back after one or two seasons.
Getting these sorts of judgments right is where good recruiters earn their money.
Anyone who watches enough of the national Under 18 carnivals and the major state leagues will be able to put together a list of the top 20 to 30 based on talent.
Great recruiters make their names on the gems they find outside of the draft’s second round. This is where being able to assess a player’s character comes to the fore.
Most good recruiters have their tricks on how to make this assessment, but in the end it often comes down to just doing your homework.
For instance this year I had the privilege of working each Tuesday with the leadership group at the undefeated Haileybury College first XVIII team.
Five of the boys (Andrew Brayshaw, Luke Davies-Uniacke, Charlie Constable, Oscar Clavarino and Jackson Ross) in the team are highly draftable commodities with three a chance to go in the top 10 picks.
Of the 18 clubs that have a chance at drafting the boys only six made the effort to make contact and find out about their leadership qualities.
They asked questions like whether leadership came naturally to each of them, how engaged they were in the program, were they the drivers of the team or simply picked because they were talented?
They wanted stories on when the boys saw a threat to the team and how they came up with solutions to overcome any obstacle that would derail the season. They wanted to know how the boys handled success and maintained focus in an unusual season whereby the team was undefeated.
The questions were in depth and essentially they wanted to know if the kid had the ability to think outside of himself and his own performance.
Could they perform as a player while being mindful of driving the team forward?
Thankfully I could give every kid in the leadership team a tick because they were an outstanding bunch of young men who would be an asset to any AFL team.
These methods are very direct, however some methods are far sneakier.
One of the common tricky ones is what I call the warm-up test and may be run at something like the draft camp.
On day one the boys are given a drill that requires cones, bibs and small groups of players. Everything is set up for them and they are told exactly what to do.
The next day they will be asked to do the same drill, but without the detailed instructions.
They can then observe which have a good memory and are self-starters, getting the drill going and helping those who have forgotten the instructions from the day before.
On day three the cones, bibs and balls are left on the side of the oval.
They then observe which kids, when told to warm up, have the wherewithal to organise the equipment and players efficiently, and who stands around with no clue what to do.
How is this useful?
Well if two kids have similar talent and physical attributes you need something to separate them.
Who would you rather have in your team; the self-starter with leadership qualities or the kid who needs to be spoon-fed? I know which player I would prefer on my list.
Having future draftees understand the importance of these attributes is as important as getting them to sharpen their skills, mainly because AFL clubs don’t expect to draft a finished product.
They know they will have to improve a player’s skills, which is why they spend so much on development coaches these days.
With this in mind they have to make sure they draft a kid with the right attitude and willingness to take the development opportunities afforded to him.
Anyone can pick a talented kid, but only the best know what is behind the talent. Ultimately this is what counts the most.
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