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Inside Richmond Football Club's secret sessions (Age)
« on: October 28, 2017, 04:52:50 PM »
Inside Richmond Football Club's secret sessions

Konrad Marshall
Excerpt from 'Yellow and Black"
The Age
28 October 2017


One coach throws a footy at his feet. Another pushes a tackling bag into his path. Brandon Ellis hits the bag, charges at the Sherrin, scoops it lightly and handballs it back.

Again he charges, and again the swinging heavy sack hits him, and the blond back flank makes a sound like gas escaping a pressurised tank –ish! – with every contact. Ish! Ish!

“Nice, Brando!” yells Damien Hardwick, supervising the drill. “Spend time over the ball. Good, good, good. Yes!”

Ellis has spoken before of his need to be first in line for this particular drill. For the 23-year-old cog in the Richmond defence, it has become an almost superstitious part of improving his contested game – to do better at fielding all those pivoting, twisting ground balls that bobble around in the backline like leather chaos. Ellis never leaves a session at Punt Road without making sure he has done the drill 10 times because, he says, defence is like “life and death”, and the drill offers perfect preparation for that crucible – a kind of trained clarity.

But in truth something else is responsible for his newly found calmness. It happened six months ago, on the pre-season training camp in Mooloolaba. The club was trialling a new cultural exercise called The Triple H Sessions and it meant that a single player would stand in front of his teammates and share three personal tales: one each of a Hero, Hardship and Highlight.

Ellis immediately knew what his would be. “I wrote it all down, I couldn’t wait to share,” says Ellis, sitting now inside Tigerland, in the middle of winter. “But I was so nervous because no one knew my story.”

He was the first player to perform the exercise. He did so in front of the entire playing group of 44, along with his coaches, in an air-conditioned conference room of a Sunshine Coast resort, on the Sunday night before a brutal five-day training camp.

He wore thongs, tan shorts and a black T-shirt, and clutched his iPhone. He was too scared to improvise – “poo-scared, actually” – and so he read directly from the little screen in his hand.

He told a story about his dad (Dale), mum (Nancy), sister (Kate) and brother (Sean). It was about his Hero – his father.

He was diagnosed with cancer, Ellis began. I came home from school one day to find dad and mum crying on the floor. I asked what was wrong and he told me, and I ran to my room. My world crashed down on me.

Ellis was in year 10 at the time. His father had overcome kidney cancer in the past, but now it was in the throat and the diagnosis was more insidious.

Quote
    They said, ‘You don’t have long to live. It’s way too far gone. We can’t cure it.

‘Start saying your goodbyes and cherish what time you have with your kids and wife.’

He came into my room and we just cuddled in my bed for hours. I didn’t want him to leave. Didn’t want to believe it was real. He was my right-hand man, who took me to training, never missed a session or a game, kicked the footy with me in the pouring rain for however long I wanted, and so much more. So I gave up footy. Stopped going to school. I just wanted to be with him all the time.

The doctors said, ‘You can have the treatment but it’s pointless.’ He goes, ‘Stuff that, I’m a fighter, I’m not giving up on my kids. I’ll do anything.’ He lost all his hair. He was so skinny. He looked like he was just dead, there in his chair.


He said to me, ‘Whatever you do Brandon, go back and play footy. Do it for me.’

Six months later, the lump was gone and he’s still here today. They said it was a miracle. He’s taught me to never give up, always work my arse off. Nothing has ever motivated me more.

I play AFL for my dad.


Ellis sniffed, and sniffled, and wiped away a few tears. In truth most of the room did, too. And then he began his tale of Hardship, in North Carlton, in a tiny first-floor Housing Commission flat.

I got bullied through primary school and high school. I got reminded every day that I was poor as hell and had nothing. I used to walk a different route home so that people wouldn’t know where I lived, because I felt so uncomfortable, embarrassed and ashamed.


He takes a breath now and crosses his arms, and one leg bounces as he explains how it was hard to bring home mates, or girlfriends. He didn’t bring anyone to the flats until high school, in fact, because so many kids had called him scum. His father, before the illness, packed orders in a chocolate factory, and his mother took care of her three kids. They had – and still have – little wealth.

But when I got drafted, I promised them as soon as got some money I would start looking after them. I got my family out of the flats a few years ago. I got them a rental property in Moonee Ponds near me, and pay half their rent. It’s the first time my mum and dad and brother and sister have had a backyard in their life. They can’t get the smile off their faces.

They each have their own room. His mum has a veggie patch, and a lawn. His career gave them a life removed from the one they remember.

I’ve lost people close to me. I’ve seen a lot of crime. My mates have been stabbed right in front of me. When I was little we wanted a trampoline, so my mum and dad saved up 200 bucks to buy us one. You couldn’t get us off it, until one morning we woke up and someone had burned holes in it with cigarettes. It shattered us.

Mum used to do our washing and put it on a shared clothesline. So many of our clothes got stolen, so I used to go to Melbourne Central with my mates on the tram, and steal clothes, rip the tags off, just so I could have some nice new tops.

Over time I’ve had to develop some tough skin, and could have easily gone down the wrong path. I know I’m reserved, and don’t speak up a lot. I know I hang out with my mates outside footy a lot, and should probably spend more time with you boys, but they’ve all been through it with me, and we’re so close because all we had was each other.


His Highlight came next, and it was the day he was drafted. Ellis began playing Auskick at four. When he was seven he played under 10s, and won the best and fairest anyway. He grew up a Collingwood supporter, but in his teens a relative – who was the cook for the North Melbourne Football Club – told him he could go into the club with her if he switched and began supporting the Kangaroos.

Soon he was lurking in corners at Arden Street, mouth agape as Wayne Carey, Glenn Archer and Anthony Stevens trained. Brent “Boomer” Harvey is still his idol.

He saw what they did, how hard they worked and how much fun they had. It was all he ever wanted to do. On draft night, he couldn’t have friends over to the family flat – too small – so his Calder Cannons coach offered to host.

Ellis wanted to go to a Victorian club, but it looked unlikely. Greater Western Sydney had 11 of the first 14 picks that year. Brisbane had two. Port Adelaide, one. And Fremantle wanted him at Pick 16. Richmond, with Pick 15, was the first local club in the draft.

And so they read out Pick 14, Devon Smith, to the Giants, and Ellis sat on a couch, crossing every finger and toe. Richmond read out a number, and then “Brandon”. He never heard his last name …

Everyone just erupted, and there was a big stacks on. It was the best feeling in the world.

Chris Newman called. Brett Deledio called. Trent Cotchin called. Hardwick called (and Ellis accidentally hung up on him). Within days he was at the club going through induction, and then he was at the airport, headed to Arizona for a high-altitude camp.

Quote
    He grabbed a chocolate bar and Deledio appeared in front of him: “Would Gary Ablett be eating a bloody chocolate bar?”

I threw it in the bin. poo, potted by the vice-captain on day one. But I learned a good lesson straight away.

He moved in with a host family, eventually bought his own place and lived there before fixing it up and selling. He bought another place, and just completed an eight-month renovation. It is his castle.

So yeah, feel free to ask me anything you want, Ellis said to the group. That’s my story.

The conference room applauded and cheered and rose as one. Players approached and held him close. For Ellis it was the beginning not just of a training camp or a new season but of another phase of his career. Perhaps his life.

“By the end, people were crying,” he says now, back at Tigerland after a midweek training session. “I felt like I became a new person. And I just felt so much closer to the group, so accepted. It was massive for me. Massive. It’s like I can finally be who I want to be.”

His play this season as a running defender has been a revelation. And he attributes that form – indeed the form of all Tigers – to the Triple H sessions that have happened every other week this year. “There’s so much love for each other,” he says. “We stay positive, we stick tight, we don’t let anything in the cracks, or anyone inside our heads. And we know our best footy together is good enough to beat anyone.”

Hardwick smiles when he hears such endorsements. He didn’t really know the exercise would produce such an outpouring, or be so popular, but he had an inkling the sessions could prove important. “You always bring different things to the group at different times, but this idea of ‘connection’ was something I delved into late last year,” he says. “It seemed more relevant this season.”

The coach didn’t hear about it on a leadership course, or from another coach. He read about it in a book by Jon Gordon, a self-styled American leadership guru. The book was called You win in the locker room first, and it featured many of the methods used by Atlanta Falcons coach Mike Smith, who led that franchise through one of the most striking turnarounds in NFL history. The Triple H exercise has also worked with everyone from the Clemson University football team to the UCLA women’s basketball program.

It worked at Richmond, according to Shane McCurry – a culture and leadership consultant to the club – because of the trust within the group. McCurry saw it immediately in that initial session with Ellis.

“There was not a single head in the room that wasn’t solely focused on the person up the front, and it wasn’t in a way that made them feel isolated,” McCurry says. “It was that focus and that presence – that idea that ‘We’re right here with you, we know you’re doing it tough up there, but we’re behind you’.”

At times the program can sound like the kind of pop psychology too eagerly lapped by sporting organisations and commercial sales teams. Gordon himself is fond of canned inspirational quotes: “Humility doesn’t mean thinking less of yourself, it means thinking of yourself less.”

But there is nothing hokey or semantic about the Triple H method – certainly not as practised at Richmond. “It’s pretty confronting, but it’s also like a load off their mind,” says Tim Livingstone, head of coaching at Richmond. “We’re talking about stories of sickness and broken homes. Put it this way, if you’ve got to put your arse on the line for your mate, and take a hit on the field, you’re more likely to do it if you have some care for what he’s been through.”

For obvious reasons the sessions are closely guarded – players and coaches only.

Quote
    Every man willing to share his story has spoken with awe about watching a teammate cry or shake – and about how it felt to lay themselves bare.

Veteran onballer Shaun Grigg, for instance, spoke about his Hardship. He was a teenager playing senior cricket for VRI Delacombe, south-west of Ballarat, when a 41-year-old friend collapsed and died at the crease. Grigg was presented with his bat that week, at the funeral.

“Next week I made 112 not out, using his bat,” Grigg says. “I was 16.”

Tall forward Ben Griffiths found his Hero at home, as many of the players do. “My father is the kind of man I want to be,” Griffiths says. “His sister has a terminal disease. She also has the maturity of a 12-year-old. The way he looks after her and loves her ... He just shows this care. All the time, he just cares.”

Skilled left footer Bachar Houli found his Highlight transformative. The birth of his first daughter, Sarah, made him appreciate his entire family more, especially his mother, Yamama, and father, Malek. “I made a promise that day – an oath – that every time I see mum and dad I’m going to kiss them. Hand or forehead or cheek,” he says. “Because what more does a mum or dad want?”

Ellis isn’t sure the results at Richmond would be the same this year without Triple H. Despite every team bonding exercise, every interstate trip and every community camp the side has been through over the years, he says it has taken these sessions for the players to truly show one another who they are.

“We don’t want to be fake,” Ellis says. “We want you to know, ‘This is who the f--k I am’. We’ve taken a massive step forward this year in how much we care. We’re connected now. I feel like we’re forming a brotherhood.”

http://www.theage.com.au/interactive/2017/brandon-ellis/

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Re: Inside Richmond Football Club's secret sessions (Age)
« Reply #1 on: October 28, 2017, 05:01:57 PM »
The. Voice?
“I can’t believe it, 1.20 to go, you’re three points up and there is nobody at the back end of the square for a quick kick in for the opposition.

“I just can’t believe my eyes.

“It’s poor leadership and it’s poor coaching from the Richmond Football Club.”