Riewoldt: Themes can take your club to a flag
"OK boys. Get your minds into gear. And quick. There's a premiership cup up for grabs".
The premiers of season 2020 will always have an asterisk next to their name. But that shouldn't, and won't be interpreted in a negative sense.
The asterisk will simply acknowledge that it was a season like no other.
Unprecedented in 140 years. And unlikely to ever be repeated. But a season with a champion nonetheless.
Challenges abound. Fewer resources. No crowds. Limited preparation. And surely for some, diminished levels of motivation. Various players admitted as much after Round 1, equating their clashes to glorified practice matches.
If the status quo endures, how then do the players putting on the show, find a way reach the same level of discipline in preparation, and arousal on game day that they would for a packed MCG, Marvel or Perth Stadium?
Enter the leaders. Both coaches and players.
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For all the talk we have heard over football's enforced vacation about fitness, miles in the legs and injury risk, a player's mind, is now the most important commodity they possess.
Since the return to training was announced, players have been pushing the envelope physically, while each club's coaching panel will undoubtedly have been devising their 'theme' for season 2020.
Each coach must now find a way to stimulate and light a spark inside the minds of their playing group.
Phil Jackson did it with the Chicago Bulls. On day one of pre-season training he outlined his plan for 'The Last Dance" which became a constant point of reference throughout their triumphant 1998 NBA campaign.
In 2004 the Saints won the Wizard Cup. After witnessing Lenny Hayes and Grant Thomas receive the trophy and appearing on the verge of tears we got together the following day at the coach's house. His message was simple. "We're ready". Up until that point in my time at the Saints, we had been completely irrelevant.
Hearing those words lit a fire amongst the group. It didn't guarantee us anything, but it was clear that the group possessed a profoundly more meaningful sense of purpose and confidence from that point on. We started the season 10-0.
I wonder what Damien Hardwick presented to the Tigers. He is the master of 'themes'. Is 2020 'The Trilogy'? The Tigers have built such a strong foundation on trust, role playing and finding the enjoyment in every challenge they face but these times might demand even more from them.
Nathan Buckley recently declared that Collingwood were prepared to play more than the prescribed amount of interstate games to relieve the burden on interstate teams facing a hub scenario. Was he serious? I'd be surprised if one of the fiercest competitors we've seen would so readily sacrifice any perceived advantage. Instead he appeared to be sending a message to his players. We will play anywhere, any time. Stick some goalposts on the moon if you want. We will play, and win there.
Can West Coast win 'The Greatest Flag ever. Against all the odds'? Strangely enough, despite common belief, operating out of a hub could work in the Eagles' favour. If the players embrace it, and immerse themselves in the environment that Adam Simpson and Shannon Hurn create then it could have a galvanising effect. Us against the world.
Ken Hinkley recently spoke on Fox Footy Live about finding "the victories" in every situation. Rather than why relocating to a hub will be hard or unfair, by focusing on the victories, it becomes 'what's the opportunity' or 'what's possible'?
Of course you need more than just a catchy phrase. The players need to buy in and display behaviours that will give themselves the best chance to win. You need leadership and accountability to the standards you set. You also need talent.
So what then for the clubs at the lower end of the talent food chain or those less likely to contend? What is their purpose that will sustain them through a potential crowd-less season?
Is it a case of 'Relevant again' for the Blues? And can the Suns look back on 2020 as the year they built mental toughness and resilience into their young stars, 'laying the foundation' for future success. Stuart Dew must surely be thankful for shorter games and an abbreviated season. 'This will suit us boys'. Gone are the excuses facing young players if you subscribe to the attrition of a long year being too much for rookies to handle.
Whatever your club's purpose or theme is this year, adopting it, believing in it and harnessing the power of the mind will be more important than ever. It might even deliver a flag.
Who cares about the asterisk.
Originally published as Riewoldt: Themes can take your club to a flag