Errol Gulden's rise to prominence in 2021 came as no surprise to those who knew of his sheer determination to succeed in the AFL, but the QBE Sydney Swans Academy product says the tireless efforts of the coaching staff during his development is a key factor in his stellar first season.
Gulden joins a special list of current players who graduated successful from the QBE Sydney Swans Academy, with the likes of Callum Mills and Isaac Heeney evolving into key figures in the squad and more importantly, well respected team-mates.
Casting his mind back to where his AFL journey first began, Gulden recalled arriving to the Academy Assessment Trials as a nervous 10-year-old - shy on the outside but with a competitive nature and perseverance that ensured he wouldn't let the opportunity slip.
"I remember turning up to Lakeside when i was probably nine or ten years old. Everyone was wearing white t-shirts and black shorts, and I have never been so nervous in my life," he said.
"They were probably 100-150 boys that were my age there, with about 10 stations that went for about five minutes (each). We got assessed on the different skills throughout those stations.
"I just remember being really nervous and really intimidated but it was really good fun. I definitely think I would have been comparing myself to the other boys in my group, and trying to beat them."
While Gulden kicked 14 goals and averaged 15.7 disposals in his first season, e left-foot kick and decision making was ultimately what caught the eye.
He praised the tireless work of Chris Smith (General Manager - QBE Sydney Swans Academy), Jared Crouch (Academy Head Coach), and Nick Davis (Youth Development Coach) - with the trio dedicating countless hours to helping his professional development.
He highlighted Davis, in particular, for helping him craft his trade and developing a lethal left-boot that is now revered by many amongst the AFL community.
"I think there are several key figures at the (QBE Sydney Swans) Academy that have taught me a lot. Chris Smith, Jared Crouch and Nick Davis," he said.
"In terms of skills directly, Nick Davis has had a massive impact on me, and still comes to training and helps me out with my kicking. Especially kicking at goal - he's probably one of the best kicks to ever play the game.
"He's done some work with other sports clubs as-well, but through my time at the Academy he was massive in helping me with my kicking.
"He's given me little tweaks to my action and technique and that really helped me a lot."
Gulden has developed an abundance of self-confidence in his own natural ability, and his fearless nature has helped him make his mark in the AFL - earning the 2021 AFLPA Rising Star award.
While he lauds the work of the Academy that has helped shape him into the player he is today, he also credits the coaches for helping develop a strength of character that helps him play with confidence.
"I think they're massive in helping put yourself under pressure, even just at training, they're trying to make every kick you have like you're playing a game," he said.
"The Academy is massive in taking the game on as well, and using your weapons. For me, my kicking has always been one of my attributes and they encourage me to use my kicking as a askill and not shy away from taking the game on.
"That was the biggest thing - having that confidence to be able to use my kick but also doing a lot of work on my kicking, because that's one my attributes and something I need to continue to work on."