Choice involves pains – so what’s your excuse?

USP - Choice Involves Pains, so What's Your Excuse?

by PIT Athlete, Matthew Lodge

Use this week’s article as a motivational tool in making THAT choice – push yourself or simply take the easy route.

It is indisputable how important choices are in AFL football; how rewarding the good choices can be, and how devastating the consequences are of a footballer’s wrong on-field decision.

So here’s an interesting angle to look at AFL for you.

In the great game that I love, the object of the game is to take possession of the football and find an avenue into which you can score. To Mr Simple, this would ultimately define that whatever you do in our game; it must be done with the red Sherrin.

After all, the game IS called football – the idea that you kick the ball with your foot. In AFL, it is the primary skill. GWS assistant coach and former Port Adelaide coach Mark Williams, once said to me at a public forum: “If you can’t kick, you can’t play.” Never mind the fact that he said this to a group that consisted of many ten- and eleven-year-olds giving AFL a go for the first time!

However, he’s right. In AFL, possession of the football and kicking is the key. So here’s an interesting perspective on football and it involves a little bit of maths.

Let’s hypothesise a 300-game footballer, who, for his whole career, averages 25 possessions a game. Each game runs for approximately 2 hours of activity, so we can mutually agree that in a career, our footballer will play 600 hours of football.

Let’s look at his time in possession. It is agreed upon by most people that, during a game, one possession averages out to about two seconds of a player physical holding the ball.

USP - Dipper Injury, 1989 GF Folklore
One of the most courageous players, Robert DiPierdomenico NEVER had an excuse

Going back to our example, in a game that runs for 2 hours, our player has touched the ball for a grand total of 50 seconds. Therefore, in short, 50 seconds of possession can determine whether you receive three votes from the umpires, or smashed in the media the next day!

In further calculations, if our player only touches the ball for 50 seconds per game, throughout his career: our player, a distinguished 300-gamer, whose JOB in life is to chase the red Sherrin, will physically only have it in his hands for 15000 seconds, which equals 250 minutes, which in turn equals to 4 hours and ten minutes out of a 600 hour career.

Funny, the thing that we so desperately crave in AFL, the football, is something that during a game we only experience for the absolute fraction of a game. So when you get that footy, you’ve got a choice – you either hit the target or you don’t.

Hours spent kicking, handballing and ball handling are the focus of many AFL clubs in their skill acquisition sessions.

Do you know why? Because, when the pressure’s on, you’ve got that split second to execute the skill and hit the target.

If you succeed, well done. If you don’t, there’s very limited opportunity, in the context of the whole game, to rectify your mistake. In saying that, there IS opportunity, but you could all agree that it’s easier if you make the right choice the first time!

So if you haven’t got the ball for those 50 seconds of a game; what else are you going to do? Williams’ next words to the same group of people I mentioned before sum it up perfectly: “If you can’t run, you can’t play!”

Running, effectively, allows you more access to possession in regards to working hard to get to contests, the gut-running pushing into open space and the often ignored, unrewarded running.

Running is pain. And it’s how you push through pain that defines your character as a footballer and person.

Champions don’t complain, and here’s an anecdote that will make you cringe every time you try to blame a poor time-trial or beep test result on tight hammies or any other pathetic reason, other than the fact that you simply aren’t fit enough to meet expectations:

My father, Bob, was a solid footballer, a captain of the firsts as a schoolboy and a very handy player in the amateurs’ competition through the 1970s. Between being a excellent middle- to long-distance runner, a canoeing enthusiast and his work as a road labourer, Bob was unquestionably in his prime of fitness while playing footy.

He attended a local gym run by Hawthorn champion Don Scott. Part of Bob’s warm up was often a run around Glenferrie Park, a 4km track. Scott, one day, announced that he had a boy just drafted to Hawthorn and he sent the boy of about seventeen years of age, with my father – about five years his senior – to run around the park.

A while later, Bob collapsed over the line running the fastest time he had over the distance. Unfortunately, the boy had slaughtered him, winning by about three-and-a-half minutes.

If that wasn’t enough, the boy had taken his shoes off, his feet awash with blood from blisters. He had borrowed someone else’s shoes, their shoe size far too small for him, yet still ran a blistering time without complaint, despite his shoes flooding with blood. He continued to train in bare foot in the gym.

A few years later this boy developed into a steam train of a man, won a Brownlow medal and years later won a grand final with Hawthorn, playing with a punctured lung.

Robert DiPierdimenico might have been the friendly face that advertised Auskick, but when it came to his approach with footy, he made a choice: there was to be no excuses.

Despite being a shadow of the physique of the modern day footballer, ‘Dipper’ left no stone unturned.

When others crumbled, he thrived despite calls to halt – this was his choice.

And that is why he is legend.

So the next time you feel any aches or pains in your body before you train, reflect upon just how much it will impact your training, reflect upon the story of ‘Dipper’ running in blood filled sandshoes around Glenferrie Park and then make a choice.

The line above was written to motivate a bunch of 16-year-olds I used to coach at my former high school. Upon reading this, they went out and won by a point in the pouring rain – I hope you dear reader, young or old, get some degree of learning out of this like my boys did before you.