Senior players in the QBE Sydney Swans Academy will be pushed to their limits during the five-week benchmark-training program which runs till mid-December.
Academy head coach, Jared Crouch, will use knowledge gained during more than a dozen pre-seasons with the Sydney Swans to test the bodies and minds of the players, aged from 16 to 19.
Around 120 Academy players will run time trials, take on the infamous sandhills at Cronulla and work on their football skills during twice-weekly sessions.
Players will take part in mid-week sessions locally on the north coast of NSW, in Sydney, and at Wollongong, but will all come together each Sunday in Sydney to train near the Swans home base in Moore Park.
Boys will be assessed on a range of criteria including skill level, running ability, professionalism and competitiveness, as coaches decide who will stay in the program in 2018.
There are 56 players in the Under 15 group, and around 40 of them will graduate to the Academy’s Under 16 squad.
Crouch, who played 223 games for the Swans, says one of the most important aspects of the benchmark program is seeing how the boys work together as a team.
“It’s really all about starting to learn how to be part of a team and all the disciplines that go with being a professional sportsperson,’’ Crouch said.
“There are always testing times in a program like this, and we throw in one tough physical challenge to see how the boys respond.’’
Crouch said the Academy program mirrored the pre-season training undertaken by the Sydney Swans senior players.
“We mimic the basic elements of the seniors’ pre-season,’’ Crouch said.
“We work hard on showing the boys not only how to improve as individuals, but we start to incorporate game style and teach them how to defend as a team.’’
It can be a nervous time for senior Academy players, particularly for the Under 15s who are taking part in the benchmark for the first time, and for older players who have not been included in previous years.
Some players have come from other sports, such as 17-year-old Lachlan Dent from Wollongong who is a national level basketballer and new to AFL.
Crouch has some simple advice for all the players.
“Make sure you come to training to improve, come with energy and have a real crack,’’ he said.
“The harsh reality is we all have different abilities and not everyone will make it through, but everyone can learn from the program and use it to help them become a better footballer and sportsperson.’’