Coaches at the QBE Sydney Swans Academy were impressed with the talent shown by the young footballers who attended the Youth Boys Open Assessment Trials at Moore Park this week.
Nearly 600 players in the Under 10, Under 11 and Under 12 age groups tried out for the Academy over three nights. The largest group was the Academy's youngest cohort, the Under 10s, where 211 players took part in a range of different drills designed to test their athletic abilities and football skills.
Academy General Manager Chris Smith says demand to attend the trials was very strong.
"We had to cap numbers and close registrations, interest was so high,'' Smith said.
"It's a big job to assess so many young players, and we were really happy with the talent on display and the level of enthusiasm. They seem to get better each year, and it's really heartening to see how many kids love the game,'' Smith said.
The trials are a huge logistical operation for the Academy, with 50 coaches and support staff overseeing the 10 testing stations which the boys move through during a three-hour period.
Ryley Jewell and Harry Kane, both 10 years old, travelled several hours from Maitland north of Sydney to try out for the Academy. They claimed to be a bit nervous before joining the throng of boys who took part in kicking, marking and handballing drills as well as motor skill tests, such as catching a tennis ball with one hand, jumping hurdles and dribbling a ball.
The boys were broken up into small groups and ushered through each drill by the Academy's senior players including Taine Wright, Kye Pfrengle, Pierce Roseby, Errol Gulden, Braeden Campbell and Willem Smit.
Most of those boys - now playing senior football and aspiring to be drafted into the AFL - started in the Academy in the same way, trying out when they were 10. "They're all fantastic with the young kids because they can still remember what it was like to go through the trials themselves, and the excitement they felt trying to get into the Academy,'' Smith said.
Pfrengle asked his group to name their favorite team and their favorite player, and the straw poll showed Swans stars Luke Parker and Isaac Heeney taking the top spots in 2020. Though one boy was bold enough to admit he barracks for the Giants and his favorite player is Toby Greene.
Lucas Lang, from the Willoughby Wildcats in Sydney's north, has been playing footy since he was four. What does he love about the game? "Just everything.'' His mate Toby Ward, a Wildcats player since he was five years old, likes to play as a forward. "My favorite thing is kicking goals.''
Sonny Stead from the Moore Park Tigers has wanted to be in the Academy since he started playing footy. "I want to get into the Academy so I have a chance of making it into the AFL and playing for the Swans.''
Carson Blacksmith, 10, lives in Shell Cove south of Sydney and plays for the Shellharbour Swans. He says it took him many hours to get to the trials, but his wide smile showed he was loving every moment.
Max McPherson from the St Ives football club says he barracks for Melbourne, despite the fact his uncle, Daniel McPherson, played for the Swans, and Finn White from the Wyong Lake Magpies wants to be in the Academy so he can improve. "I want to get better at everything but especially my tackling, marking and kicking,'' he said.
Each boy was assessed during the trials by a number of Academy coaches including Swans premiership players Jared Crouch and Nick Davis. The drills were also filmed, and Academy staff will now spend the next two weeks going through the vision to make sure every boy who attended the trials is fairly assessed before final selection decisions are made.
"All 570 boys who tried out will receive detailed feedback on their strengths and also the areas we think they should focus on,'' Smith said.
"But our main advice to all young players at this age is always to practice their kicking, marking and handballing. The ability to execute the basic skills effectively and consistently is what ultimately determines any player’s long-term prospects.''
Players who miss out on selection may have the opportunity to trial again the following year, and the Academy has also put in place more programs to identify talented players in the Under 13 and Under 14 age brackets.
"What we've found is that those who commit to practice their skills, and those who have a genuine love of the game are the ones more likely to grasp those chances,'' Smith said.
The Youth Girls Open Assessment Trials for U11s, U12s, U13s and U14s will be held later this month, and registrations are still open at https://www.trybooking.com/BLFFE