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The NBL Hall Of Famer leading Blacktown City FC into a new era

NBL Hall of Famer Bob Turner has played a pivotal role in a range of sporting organisations over the span of his 40-plus year career.

His illustrious resume includes prominent coaching stints at famous teams such as the Sydney Kings and the Canberra Cannons, where he won back-to-back NBL titles in 1983 and 1984.

Despite these achievements, Turner explained to Soccerscene it was his work with organisations in the sports marketing space that was equally as rewarding.

“I’ve earnt this reputation as a basketball guy, but coaching was only one part of it, it was also the marketing of sport for me which was just as exciting,” he said.

In this capacity, Turner has worked with organisations such as ABL’s Sydney Blue Sox, Speedway, four NBL teams, Jack High Lawn Bowls and more.

His latest project however is with the round-ball game and may be his biggest challenge yet, working with a historic club based in Australian football’s heartland.

Turner was appointed Executive Chairman at NPL side Blacktown City FC earlier this year and he hopes to turn the club into an off-field giant.

“The club has been around 68 years, it’s very credible as far as producing talent and what it’s done in the past,” he said.

“I think on the field they’ve been fantastic, but off the field there wasn’t a lot of emphasis put on getting people to the game or having people aware of who they were, which is something I’ve always enjoyed building on.

Turner knows the area well and believes that the stigma surrounding Blacktown as a city is unfair and not a true depiction of reality.

“The city of Blacktown itself is probably the most misunderstood city in the country,” he said.

“When I was involved at the Sydney Blue Sox I’d say to people ‘come out to a game and they’d say where do you play?’

“I’d tell them the games were at Blacktown and they’d say ‘oh no, I don’t go to Blacktown because of the crime or whatever’.

“It kind of intrigued me why the city is so misunderstood.

“So, I looked at what Blacktown City needed and the city of Blacktown needed and I thought they can both help each other to get this thing going. For me Blacktown City is ripe and ready to own Blacktown and I believe the club can act as a catalyst to assist in igniting pride in this city.”

The former NBL coach understands that promotion through the media is vital when it comes to ultimately helping him achieve his goal of regularly filling the 5,000 capacity Lily Homes Stadium in Sydney’s West.

“In the local media there’s 3 newspapers and 3 radio stations; we are working to secure all six of them as media partners. 3-4 of them are already in,” he said.

Alongside this, Turner himself has a monthly column in ‘Blacktown News’ and has enlisted the help of an agency which provides marketing material for the club, that includes print and radio ads.

While all these factors help considerably, Turner explains that most of all the product that you are selling must be of a good value itself.

“The ingredients to any sporting organisation are you have to play in a good competition, you have to have teams people want to go watch and you have to be good,” he said.

Blacktown City, are currently doing more than good. After eight games the senior men’s side sit on top of the table in NPL NSW in a competition that features other former NSL clubs such as Sydney United, Sydney Olympic, Marconi Stallions and Wollongong Wolves.

Turner credits the strong start to coach Mark Crittenden’s coaching methods and he hopes the club stays in the championship hunt throughout the season.

“It comes down to the coach and the recruitment of the right players,” he said.

“What I’m fascinated by is we play a lot of these teams in the competition who will spend more money than we do. They recruit some of our players, but it doesn’t affect our culture or standards.

“The first time I met Mark Crittenden, he was my kind of coach. He’s what I like as a coach, it’s what I tried to be as a coach. Someone who develops a culture and makes it clear that the club is far more important than any one player, coach or anybody.

“I see what he does with players and how they react to him and that’s why we are winning.”

Turner emphasises that the club wants to replicate this success with Blacktown’s female program and claims they must capitalise on the upcoming Women’s World Cup in 2023.

“If we have a women’s team with the same culture as the men’s team, the same ability to develop talent, we’ll be right up there,” he said.

“Next year we want the women to be in NPL2 and 2023 we want them to be in NPL1.

“We need to start to show that our commitment is both ways and it will also help us with potential funding for improvements to our changerooms and our ground.”

 

Philip Panas is a sports journalist with Soccerscene. He reports widely on football policy and industry matters, drawing on his knowledge and passion of the game.

Why volunteers are the lifeblood of our game

Playing soccer

Taking place between Monday May 17 and Sunday May 23, National Volunteer Week (NVW) is Australia’s largest annual celebration of volunteers. NVW recognises the significant contributions of over six million of them throughout the country, with over 600 million hours reportedly spent helping others each year.

Since 2014, Australia has seen a 20 per cent decline in the number of hours volunteers give – during COVID-19, two-thirds of volunteers stopped working. In this modern era of uncertainty where time is as important a commodity as it’s ever been, collaboration should be a priority amongst Australians. Particularly in how we adapt to the lives of volunteers and engage volunteers to continue their incredible output and contributions.

The last few years has seen Australia as a nation dealing with drought, devastating bushfires, floods and a global pandemic. Whilst many of us stayed home during the COVID-19 pandemic, volunteers dedicated their efforts to delivering essential services, organising food packages and providing care, comfort and plenty more in support of Australians. Through crisis Australia persevered and this resilience was built off of the collective strength exhibited by our nation’s volunteers.

Many people in the last year saw their mental health take a significant hit, particularly in a year where isolation and loneliness were forced upon us, adding to financial stress, anxiety and fear. Volunteering can be a tool which facilitates not just a reconnection with others, but a reengagement with the world around us and the community spirit that drives our local competitions that are the building blocks for many of our sporting and social aspirations.

Those interested in contributing to football off the park would have benefitted by the experience of contributing to a local grassroots club where the reward is ensuring the game that we love is played week in, week out.

Truthfully, university students are best placed to gain authentic experience in a grassroots football environment, with roles on offer across the board in media, health, finance, legal and coaching capacities among many others. The manner in which obstacles are overcome in grassroots football is like nowhere else, and it is a substantial learning curve for those willing to give their time to the game.

In honour of NVW, Football Victoria, Football Queensland and Football NSW have all published articles this week which aim to put a spotlight on the tireless work of individual volunteers across clubs in their respective states. Each story reflects the positive impact of volunteers for Australian football – from Jasmine Hirst’s contributions towards growing the game for women and girls as Vice President of Darebin Falcons Women’s Sports Club, to Buderim Wanderers’ Brigitte DeCourcy being named as the April recipient of the Volunteer of the Month Award for her efforts that date as far back as the 1980s.

These stories stir a myriad of memories that one will undeniably have from playing football in their youth, whilst ensuring a newfound appreciation for the volunteers we’d encounter growing up who put their heart and soul into the clubs they loved.

Youth football

Football has seen a downturn of volunteers in the last year, with Football Queensland’s Chief Executive Officer Robert Cavallucci noting last month that “research by Volunteering Australia suggests that an estimated two in three volunteers stepped away from their roles in 2020 due in part to COVID-19 restrictions.” Obviously, this is wholeheartedly understandable, especially in light of the COVID-19 pandemic and its far-reaching effects across Australian football.

Volunteers are an essential part of the Australian football family, with contributions being made to the everyday running of clubs and organisations right across the country at grassroots, semi-professional and professional levels of the sport. Campaigns such as Football Queensland’s Good2GiveBack initiative demonstrate a push towards recognition and respect of volunteers, those of whom were the reason why we have the memories of weekend football that we all do.

Saturday and Sunday league football harkens back to memories of being driven to games by your parents. Of sharing the responsibility of washing the team’s jerseys between each player. Of your parents – some louder than others – issuing you on through a haze of discombobulated moments of play and opportunities to win the second, third, fourth and fifth ball that deflected in between you, your teammates and the opposition.

And it was often these same parents who took on the role of coach, team manager, trainer, barbecue wrangler (or accompanying jostler) and canteen attendant. Volunteering and initiative are intrinsically tied in with the idea of community. The building of collaborative spirit, through a dedication to assuring one’s love for the game is fostered in the same way for their kids, is pivotal to developing the next generation of Australian footballers.

Cavallucci spearheads reform for football in Queensland

Football Queensland (FQ) have made it their mission to work through a wide range of reforms for the game in the sunshine state, with CEO Robert Cavallucci a central figure overseeing the governing body’s progress.

In a wide-ranging interview with Soccerscene, Cavallucci emphasised the importance of delivering important objectives for the game, which include executing crucial competition reforms for overall player development, encouraging and providing appropriate support strategies for coaches and referees, lifting the profile of futsal in the state and taking the women’s game to the next level.

The FQ CEO explained some of the changes they are implementing to competition structures across Queensland and how critical it is to link the state’s football pyramid.

“Strategically, it’s very important, Football Queensland takes all possible steps in regards to connecting and linking the football pyramid where it can to benefit the game,” he said.

“In the advanced pathway, we need to make sure there’s a clear, transparent and accessible opportunity for aspirational clubs and players to find the right place for them in the football ecosystem.

“What we’ve done is divided the state up into three competition conferences – South East Queensland, Central Coast and North Queensland.

“In South East Queensland obviously it’s a lot more mature in terms of the advanced pathway, the NPL itself has been around for some time. But it’s now about linking it with the other elements of the advanced pathway, so there’s a clear passage for clubs to transition to the right framework for them that aligns with their strategic objectives. That’s what we are doing in South East Queensland and from a football point of view, having a connected pyramid with promotion and relegation is the most preferred position to be in.”

The South East Queensland competition reforms are set to have as many as 6 divisions of the Football Queensland Premier League (FQPL), with clubs in those leagues able to strive to reach the top tier in the National Premier Leagues (NPL) Queensland.

In the Central Coast and North Queensland conferences, the system will be similar, however some adjustments will need to be made.

“We will be transitioning the Premier League clubs in those environments into the FQPL environment (which is the same licensing and competition framework as South East Queensland).

“We will then work those clubs over the next 3 years or so to build their capacity and help them transition from a community club environment into the advanced pathways.”

The idea is that over the next few years the FQPL in Cairns for example, will be as close to the same thing as the FQPL in Brisbane.

“It’s a 3-5 year journey, but it’s something we are ambitious in doing because we have a firm belief that kids in regional Queensland should have the same opportunity as kids in South East Queensland,” Cavallucci said.

Alongside the focus on the development of players through these revamped competition structures, improving coaching and referee standards have been two major pillars that are an integral part of FQ’s overall growth strategy.

“We’ve had a massive investment in coaching education in Queensland, significantly growing the number of coach educators and significantly growing the amount of courses being delivered,” he said.

“We’ve been able to substantially grow the number of registered coaches across the state; we are up nearly 35% this year, which is huge.

“That reflects investment in the key parts of our game that have been neglected from a coach education point of view.

“Equally in referees, we have conducted significant reform in that space and have worked to fix the culture across the state.

“Under the number of strategies and programs we’ve implemented, referee numbers are also up over 20% this year. After 7 years of decline we’ve been able to turn it around, so these are really good outcomes for the game.”

Futsal referee courses have also been delivered by the governing body, which in the past were never prevalent.

A strategy for the small-sided game in the state was released late last year, which has gone a long way to uniting the Queensland futsal community.

“We released our futsal strategy not that long ago, and now we are quite ambitious in our efforts to promote and grow the game,” Cavallucci said.

“We are absolutely investing in the right places to try and bring futsal to life and intend to heavily promote it as much as we can. It’s that fast, active, intense social product of our game, where there is a whole market for it in itself.”

Another market which continues to grow at a rapid pace is women’s football and with games to be played in Queensland at a home Women’s World Cup in 2023, Cavallucci sees huge potential for the tournament to instigate generational change.

“It’s the ultimate opportunity,” he said.

“There’s strong ambitions to have 50/50 participation by 2025. It’s an incredible ambition and target to get to, but that’s ultimately where we want to be and we will strive to deliver that.

“The opportunity for our game with having more women involved, more women in leadership positions, more women as referees and coaches, our game is ready to embrace these changes and the direction we are heading in.”

Cavallucci believes the game in Queensland will reap the rewards of the World Cup in the future, through a tangible lasting legacy.

“We will certainly benefit from it,” he said.

We launched our women’s football strategy a couple months ago at parliament, which was all about unlocking the infrastructure legacy of the Women’s World Cup.

“Whether it’s a centre of women’s football, whether it’s female friendly facilities or changerooms, it’s critical for accommodating the growth we are experiencing as a game overall.

“It’s incumbent on all of us in leadership positions to ensure we deliver what’s best for our game.”

 

 

Oxidate: Driving sports performance and coaching in Australia

Oxidate Football Pitch

When speaking to brothers (and footballers) Jacob and Dominic Falla about Oxidate Performance, one begins to understand the true passion and insight behind their work. Oxidate Performance is Melbourne’s newest training centre dedicated to delivering football and performance coaching like never before.

Oxidate is much more than just activities and training drills, the performance centre was established by the pair in an effort to take athlete development and education, injury rehabilitation, recovery and football development to new heights. In addition, Oxidate currently have the lowest injury statistics across the state of Victoria.

Currently plying his trade with Heidelberg United in Victoria’s National Premier Leagues 1, Dominic previously spent five years in Europe learning from the elite schools of Spanish and English football. Jacob has had his own experiences in working with footballers across various levels, often with an eye on what could be done to provide athletes with the right tools to continue to evolve throughout the remainder of their career.

What is Oxidate?

Jacob: So, we’re a sports performance and coaching company who specialise specifically in the football development and physical development sectors. We tie a few pillars of performance together; including strength and conditioning, nutrition, skill development, massage therapy and myotherapy and physiotherapy. Working closely within the sports science realm and exercise science realms.

Undoubtedly there are a range of things on offer at Oxidate, how did it all come together though?

Jacob: Dom and I have been footballers for all our life, and we’ve figured out that there’s a good portion of development, help, education and training programs that have been missing. So, we thought, based on our experiences, our studies and our expertise that we’d develop the missing link, and provide the training content that is Oxidate Performance.

And now, the launch of our new performance centre in Coburg is very much that. It’s your one stop performance destination where football athletes, of all ages and skill levels, can come and receive the right types of help, training and guidance to enhance their opportunities overall.

How do you go about educating your clients?

Dominic: The big thing we think is missing is the educating of the parents. So, every single session when a client comes through, we spend time describing what the session is, what it entails, and what we’re looking for in terms of the performance and how we can maximise each session. It’s about giving them an education on what we’re actually doing in the session, rather than coming in and just running through training drills and skills.

MentoringSo, giving the education to the player or the client, as well as the parent, is key to the overall experience so that they can learn in the short term and long term. They can then implement these things throughout the remainder of their career.

What are some of Oxidate’s other points of difference when compared with other football and performance coaching places?

Jacob: We pride ourselves on the physical development of our clients and the fact that we have the lowest injury statistics in Victoria. And we’ve held that statistic since 2016.

We track the metrics and the data of every club that we work with, from the grassroots level all the way through to the NPL. So, we’re recording these stats and each year we are progressing and developing by fine tuning our programs. Which in turn continues to provide these opportunities for athletes to develop and hopefully reduce that risk of injury as well.

How do you want Oxidate to impact the football industry?

Jacob: For us, it’s about bridging the gap between professional football and semi-professional football, or the elite to sub-elite. There’s a lot of areas that we can improve on, from the football fundamentals and the basics right through to athlete development.

We pride ourselves on the athlete development side of things more so, to us, this is what is currently lacking when comparing Australia to other nations. It’s the level of athleticism, and the ability to play the game at high tempo and speeds, or having the engine to cope with the physical demands of training two sessions per day, 6 days per week.

We’ve got an awesome gym setup here focusing on strength training not just in the off-season and pre-season, but in continuing the right types of training throughout the season. Because a child or athlete’s career should be seen from a progress standpoint, as every season they’re getting stronger, fitter and faster and developing their skills.

How similar is Oxidate’s coaching philosophy to your own personal coaching philosophies?

Dominic: Pretty much Oxidate, for Jacob and myself, is our baby. So, it is our own personal philosophies that we’ve built together through years of experience. I personally spent five years in Europe learning from different coaches, different teams and different types of football in Spain and England.

So, we’ve molded these experiences, including the missing links together to create our own version of football performance, now trademarked as the Oxidate philosophy. And that is what Oxidate performance is. We practice what we preach and teach. It is our mission to help improve the standards of Football in Australia.

What is the science behind Oxidate?

Jacob: We do a lot of performance analysis, and that may be viewing players on the pitch as we get a lot of parents request that we go and watch their child play, but also, we work in the sports science realm as well. That involves bringing players in, whether that be teams or individual clients, and testing them through a range of different things.

So, we do a full-body assessment and screening, where a physiotherapist assesses ankles, knees, hips, range of motion and the likelihood of where injuries could arise. And then we look at the performance testing as well with strength and power tests, and speed and agility tests. From there, what we do with those metrics is we build the training program specifically and then retest that client or athlete before the next training block. This is the pinnacle of individual performance.

We’re taking individual performance to the grand scale as well. We’re working with Heidelberg United, so what we’ve done is we’ve formed a collaboration with that club and launched an Athlete Development & High-Performance Program that includes working with over 100 athletes to provide these same opportunities. 

What does the week-to-week look like for Oxidate?

Jacob: We’re here seven days a week and our coaches and staff are available for a range of high-performance sessions, recovery or rehabilitation. We’re here to provide opportunities for everyone that would like to enhance their careers.

Obviously, we follow a set structure, we set up a weekly schedule for each of our clients and we give them our opinions based on when and how they should train, and we setup a weekly forecast for them. So, for example, it might look like a Monday day recovery where (tying back into that point of difference) a lot of footballers, coaches, teams and clubs are taking a recovery day as a lesser option where they’re not really doing too much. Whereas, recovery can be enhanced if you stick to the science and stick to a proper structure.

Recovery at Oxidate includes our recovery pools. Hot and cold contrast water therapy. We do a lot of active recovery style sessions and a lot of injury prevention stuff too, including strength training. So, that’s a huge point of difference here as our clients are always progressing, instead of plateauing due to doing nothing. Rest is not always the answer for recovery.

A midweek session on a Wednesday will be your heavy strength power sessions, and then we do a Friday session which is game day -1. And we do what’s called a neural priming session, which involves a lot of work on the nervous system, a lot of stimulation work, a lot of low volume work at a high intensity. We do some sprints and agility training as well. All of our systems and programs are designed purely to make sure our clients dominate on game day, week in, week out, all season long.

It sounds like there is a huge variety of coaching and treatment on offer, who are the type of coaches working with Oxidate?

Jacob: All of our coaches have exercise science and sports science-based backing. So, every coach has a university degree of either 3 or 5 years. But, they’re also more importantly either current football players or previous players, so they understand the demands of the sport. They’re not just gym-goers or lab-tech gurus, they know what it feels like to play and they know what the demands are of a coach or a club. So, I think it really gives us a unique backing which then ties into that unique experience that you get when you step into our doors and come train with us.

It sounds like you both have an in-depth knowledge about performance coaching, but what inspired the way you approach things? Was it a particular coach or club experience?

Dominic: For myself, I have had some really good football coaches throughout my footballing career. There’s one or two here in Australia, but over in Spain the standard of actual coaching over there is on another level. And I guess, throughout my 4-5 years over there in Spain and England, I was consistently speaking with Jacob and saying how crazy the coaching was and how different it was.

From that I think I learnt a lot. I don’t need to name drop anyone because they’re overseas, but there were a few coaches who really took the technical side of the game to another level. And I think it shows in the way, for example, the way international teams like Spain and England play when compared to Australia.

So, that experience of training 4-5 times a week in Spain compared to here where it’s 2-3 sessions in a club setting, that contact time in terms of football development, hours spent in terms of load and actually improving the physical aspects as well made a massive difference. For me, learning all that from those coaches and that experience is where I personally got all the knowledge, we have today that I have passed on to Jacob.

Jacob: It really just comes from trial and error. So, I like to call it being “in the trenches”, and I’ve sort of been in the trenches for the last 10-11 years in the industry. That has involved trialling, erroring, testing, reassessing and shaping this hybrid program, philosophy and format. So, my knowledge has come from years of working with 100s and 1000s of different athletes, trialling different areas and just tweaking and always improving them.

We’re very grateful Dom and I, that we’ve still got youth on our side. We’re still optimistic and open-minded, and we’re not too set in our ways. Which gives us that edge of adaptability and that’s probably a key word, ‘adaptability’, and that includes being adaptable to the client, situation, team or performance that’s needed.

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