When you’re a senior player in the QBE Sydney Swans Academy, knowing how to hold a football is a given.
But what about knowing the right way to hold a knife and a fork?
The Top End U18 squad found that not all the lessons were about footy during their recent three-day Academy camp held in Sydney.
When it came time for lunch on the final day of the camp, the players had to hold back from stampeding the buffet until their cutlery technique was tested around the dining table.
It was part of the Academy’s broad aim to help the boys with life lessons as well as footy skills.
Graeme Roberts-Thomson, an expert in protocol who has held high-level Government and corporate positions, was brought in to the camp to hold an ‘etiquette’ session for the players.
Roberts-Thomson - who also happens to be the uncle of Swans premiership player, Lewis - talked to the boys about the importance of making a good first impression.
There was advice on how to shake hands – firm but not a bone cruncher; on hats and caps – never inside and never on backwards; and how to strike up a conversation at a function with people you don’t know – ask questions because you have two ears and one mouth.
“It’s about good manners and doing the little things that can make you stand out for the right reasons,’’ Roberts-Thomson said.
“Body language is important, whether that’s on the football field or when you’re going for a job.’’
The etiquette session was the idea of Academy general manager, Chris Smith, who did a similar course when he was a young footballer.
“I'm still a bit rough around the edges, but not as rough as I could have been!’’ Smith said.
“I distinctly remember some of the lessons I learnt many years ago and I thought it would be good for the personal development of our senior players.
“We want to communicate on the right level with this generation but it's equally important that young men and woman understand the importance of manners and respect.’’
And while the boys might struggle to see the links at this stage, Smith believes good manners can also help them achieve their football ambitions.
“If they heed the lessons it can really help to make a positive impression on others, and they might be people who are making key decisions on their future prospects,’’ Smith said.
The 50 players who took part in the camp are vying to make the Academy team for the upcoming representative series against other AFL club Academies and top U18 teams from Tasmania and Victoria.
The series starts in March with a game against Tasmania, before matches in April and May against the GWS Academy, the Sandringham Dragons, Murray Bushrangers and Geelong Falcons.
Smith also spoke to the players about the ‘team dilemma’ – trying to fit 50 talented players into one side - as he urged them to work hard ahead of the rep series.
The camp involved several training sessions, nutrition advice and a group walk from the SCG to Bondi Beach, with the Academy’s development manager and ‘pied piper’ Nick Davis, leading the boys on the six-kilometre trek.
Smith says this year’s U18 Academy squad is a particularly strong group with a number of promising and exciting prospects.