By Matt Fotia
Headed up by former Essendon Bomber and Eastern Ranges coach Darren Bewick, the Rowville Sports Academy (RSA) Australian Rules Football program is building a reputation as one of the better athlete development programs in the state, and heading into its 13th year the school is hopeful that it can continue to grow its standing and continue to develop some fine young people in the process.
The Rowville Sports Academy began in 2008 as a means to encourage more engagement in the students of Rowville Secondary College.
It was thought that by focusing more time on the hobbies of students, there would be an increase in both attendance and academic results, and current RSA Operations Manager Glenn Fankhauser believes that whilst the program still has a long way to go, the progress so far has been very pleasing.
“It (RSA) came about from a philosophy of getting kids to want to come to school and by tapping into their strengths and their passions we thought it would make them more proactive in their desire to come to school,”
“We’ve made some progress in regard to academic results and we’ve certainly made progress with attendance, but I guess something we didn’t anticipate is the geographical reach that the school has,”
“You know we’ve got kids from Dromana, Mount Dandenong, Cheltenham, Ringwood, Interstate and even some international students across the various sports.”
The program originally began with just three sports, Golf, Basketball and Soccer and with just about 100 children involved.
Netball followed soon after to encourage more female participation in the program, before Australian Rules, Volleyball, Cricket and Tennis joined the fold and the enrolment numbers skyrocketed to almost 800 students.
Each sport has its own head coach, all of whom have impressive CV’s, with Australian Diamond Erin Bell in charge of the Netball curriculum, ex Victorian wicket-keeper Darren Berry coaching the cricketers and of course two team Essendon Premiership player Darren Bewick holding court for the Australian Rules contingent.
Bewick says his number one priority is making sure that all students know that they’re a student first and foremost and that a failure to work hard in the classroom will effect their ability on the field.
“We get a lot of support from the school which is fantastic and we (the coaches) are very aware that they’re a student first and an athlete second,”
“They’re continually made aware that they have to be doing the right thing in the classroom, because if they’re not it’ll effect their ability to develop as athletes too,” Bewick said.
“Regardless of where you coach it’s always about teaching and building relationships with kids to help them be the best they can and in our case that’s both on the field and in the classroom.”
Whilst many would expect the program to be full of highly advanced analysis and the kind of language found only when listening to Fox Footy’s David King analysing behind the goals vision, Bewick best describes the early stages of the course to be ‘Big Kids Auskick’.
Students are filmed performing what they would consider elementary skills such as kicking and hand-balling and work heavily on improving this technique.
While they may initially be frustrated by the rudimentary nature of their first few years, Bewick says the students who are eager to take on advice are the ones who benefit the most.
“We’re very individual development focused, not only in terms of skill acquisition but also their ability to understand the game, decision making etc, and in a credit to the school, we’ve been given a blank canvas in terms of our approach,”
“Often kids will come into the program and think they know everything and we show them different things about how they approach the game and they’ll hopefully realise that they’ve got a lot of work to do,”
The students who open to that the advice are the really good ones to work with, because they understand what they need to do to get to where they want to be.”
As the cohort move further into the program, learnings become more advanced as players look to grow not only their on-field skills but also their off-field ones and Bewick says that this element not only benefits the player, but also their teammates at the local level as the RSA students take their learnings back to their community club.
And with almost 70% of RSA students playing for EFNL clubs, it’s good news for the EFNL junior competition.
“We work on their personal development here as well and what we’re finding is a lot of the kids go back to their local clubs and will take a lot of things that we’re doing here to their local teams and are teaching their mates what they’ve learnt, so the flow on effect for community sport is really good,”
“We’re very hopeful that we’ll get some more draftable players come from the school, but by the same token we’re very aware that if a boy or girl can go back and be a better player at their local club, we’re helping not only the kid but the quality of local football as well.”
The school is proud to have a number of a players on current AFL lists, including Fremantle duo Taylin Duman*and Tom North as well Port Adelaide’s Sam Hayes and Richmond’s Bigoa Nyuon.
They’ve also got a handful of players who are competing or have competed at the state level (VFL) such as Anthony Brolic who won a premiership in 2018 with the Box Hill Hawks, before returning to Rowville FC for the 2019 season and Lachlan Stapleton who represented Victoria Metro U18 and was Best and Fairest at Eastern Ranges in 2019.
Bewick says that the most pleasing feedback he and the school receive from their drafted players is how ready they are for the AFL system.
“The feedback we’ve got from kids who have been drafted or have gone to other high levels is that a lot of the stuff they do at their AFL, VFL clubs is stuff that we introduced to them here,”
“So we’re giving them that exposure of what it might be like to reach that higher level.”
To learn more about the Rowville Sports Academy head to their website
*Taylin Duman finished his schooling elsewhere due to logistically reasons.