“connection doesn’t care about the laws of the land. Your soul will be pulled to the place it belongs.” – anonymous

 My seven-year-old son decided this year that he wanted to play AFL Football. I was surprised by this declaration as to his previous foray into the world of Auskick had left him emotionally drained and clearly overwhelmed. So as a loving and supporting father I told him that he didn't need to play football if he didn't enjoy it. He decided to have a break from the game, but now he was back!!

 I was lucky enough to grow up in a family that encouraged team sports and this for me transcended into a pathological obsession with AFL Football. I love the game and everything it offers. If you are willing to invest your energy and passion into our game, you will no doubt experience the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. I have spent many Saturdays at a cold MCG in winter.

 Football clubs are various things to different people. It was a football club that welcomed me with open arms and gave me the cuddle I needed to kick start my own rehabilitation. No questions were asked about my appearance and why I was so skinny, they didn't ask about my background and more importantly, they didn't judge me. It was the salvation I needed to be able to trust people again.

 The people involved in that football club offered an avenue to reconnect with the community and feel like I belonged somewhere. I have always felt indebted to football for this reason and at some stage in my life I made myself a promise that if I was ever afforded the opportunity to give back. I would take it. Putting my hand up to coach my son’s under 8’s football side was a no brainer.

 It is surreal to have 15 x seven-year-old boys staring at me eagerly waiting for the coach to give them directions. In a lot of ways, I still feel like a 7-year-old, especially when there is a football in my hands. With no tackling or scorekeeping, the under 8's version of football is about as pure as this game can get. My boys are out to kick goals and emulate their heroes.

 The most important aspect of my role is helping these young men grow and to feel that connection with their teammates, to be part of something unique. You see for certain kids, a coach may well be the most significant male role model in their life at that moment. It is my duty to provide an experience that galvanizes our team and leaves room for individual acts of brilliance.

With my ethos firmly entrenched in the "look after your’e teammates mentality", the players are bonding. They each have their own set of values, emotions, skills, and challenges just like adult beings. It has been incredible to learn how to coach with a bunch of kids that are learning how to play the game. It's the perfect fit we are growing together and understanding each other.

 Personally, I feel a huge sense of pride when I'm watching my boys produce the skills we practice every Wednesday night. When I see them complete an act that is out of their comfort zone, it makes me extremely emotional. Because I remember how scary that is when you're little. I love watching the way my boys get around each other and celebrate like kids, it makes me feel seven again.

 It would be fair to say I have completely invested my energy in something that is out of my control and outside of my comfort zone. I’m well aware of the responsibilities any coach has. So going forward I’m expecting good luck to come my way. From my experience the more you are willing to give of yourself, voluntarily to the community. The luckier you get.


My 8 areas of awareness:

·      Making sure they have fun

·      Everybody gets a chance to play in different positions

·      Equal amounts of game time

·      Managing parents expectations

·      Losing or getting beaten every week isn’t good for anyone’s confidence

·      Personal growth

·      Understanding the game

·      A feeling of connection

Love and prosperity,

James “the hammer” Harding

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