Leadership is the ability to translate vision into reality. It’s about unlocking a team’s potential and inspiring them by word, deed or a banana-kick from the boundary.
On the brink of the new AFL season, three of the game’s most respected skippers reveal their most important leadership lessons and why modern captaincy involves more than just tossing a coin.
PORT ADELAIDE 30
After six seasons, Travis Boak is stepping down as the Port Adelaide skipper. He’s made the decision in the hope that freshening things up at the helm will benefit the team after a difficult season (in 2018, the Power slumped to six losses in their last seven games). Yet while he’s convinced it’s the right move to make, the decision is still tinged with regret. “Leading your boys out when you’re walking onto the MCG or the Adelaide Oval in front of a full house . . . ” Boak lets out a wistful sigh. “That is the best feeling. I’ll definitely miss that.”
On a daily basis, not much will change, he suspects. Sure, he’ll no longer rally his men with a pre-game pep-talk. But beyond that he retains a key role in the leadership group and remains devoted to the club’s progress. Conceding the captaincy, though, does have one tangible benefit: it’ll lighten his personal load.
Heavy is the head that wears the crown, or in Boak’s case, Port Adelaide’s famous No.1 jersey. Speaking with rare candour, the 30-year-old admits that while leadership was a huge privilege, there were times when it could also feel like a burden.
To read more about Travis’ story, pick up a copy of the April edition of the mag, on sale Monday 4th March
March 31, 2013. Deep in the bowels of the MCG an inquisition has begun. Demons coach Mark Neeld is red-faced with anger. He’s just watched his team get smashed by Port Adelaide in their first-round match. The losing margin: 79 points. Any news eason optimism is already dead.
Now Neeld wants answers. Shut in the locker room, the Demons players sit around looking sheepish and avoiding eye-contact with the coach. Co-captain Jack Grimes says a few words, urging his teammates to step up and raise their game. Then there is a long and uncomfortable silence. Finally, Jack Viney raises his voice. Input from this source is completely unexpected. Viney, after all, is a callow teenager who made his senior debut only today. What’s he got to offer a roomful of grizzled pros with hundreds of games behind them?
Today, Viney smiles at the memory. “I’ve always been taught if I see something then say something,” he recalls. “I thought we were playing for ourselves rather than working together as a team. And that we weren’t going to get too far unless we started trusting each other a bit more.”
That Viney, now the Demons’ skipper, had the balls to fire up his team as an 18-year-old rookie is a reflection of his natural authority. Not that his motivational tirade did any good. In the next round, Essendon walloped Melbourne by 148 points and his team proceeded to win just two games all season, limping to 17th place on the ladder that season and the next.
“My first couple of years in the system were brutal,” Viney sighs. “Fans were throwing their scarves at us, we were getting booed off the field and I’m seeing my teammates – who were 28-year-old men – cry in the change room. Yeah, that was a pretty shocking introduction into AFL football.”
To read more about Jack’s story, pick up a copy of the April edition of the mag, on sale Monday 4th March
As the siren blared, Scott Pendlebury looked bewildered. The Collingwood skipper stared at the MCG turf and shook his head, trying to process what the hell had just happened. After the Magpies had led the 2018 Grand Final for almost the entire game, West Coast snatched victory with only minutes left on the clock.
“I was shattered,” Pendlebury recalls. “It was five minutes where we weren’t in front for the whole Grand Final. They were just the wrong five minutes.”
As the Eagles players whooped in triumph, Pendlebury surveyed the scene. His teammates were scattered around the field. Some lay facedown on the grass, their bodies convulsing with sobs. Others squatted on the turf, head in hands. Pendlebury wasn’t having it. Snapping into action, he called his teammates into a huddle ahead of West Coast’s trophy presentation.
“When I looked around the field it was like we were a segregated group,” the 31-year old explains. “There were all these people mourning in different ways and I wanted to get everyone together and say: ‘Our journey doesn’t stop here. I know we didn’t get what we wanted today. But the strength of our group all year has been how tight we are and how much we stick together. And we’re going to need each other more than ever in the next 24, 48 hours, so stick tight. Ideally, we would have celebrated together. Now let’s hurt together.’”
To read more about Scott’s story, pick up a copy of the April edition of the mag, on sale Monday 4th March