The Sporting Capital is a sports series by Lachlan Roberts, who sits down and has conversations with Canberra athletes. In the ninth article in the series, Lachlan grabbed coffee with the captain of Woden-Weston’s NPL first-grade side, Olaide Yinka-Kehinde. Lachlan chatted with Olaide about his team of underdogs, how he has grown into his role as captain of a young and inexperienced side, and how he led his team through the deducted points rollercoaster.
From self-doubt to believing
“Last year was my first season with Woden-Weston and I only managed to play half the games due to several injuries. So I came into this season focused on helping the team as much as I could and staying injury free.
“When I got the phone call that I was going to be captain this season, I was hesitant. I had no intention of being captain and I told the coach I didn’t deserve to be captain. My good friend and club captain Adam de Francheschi was the person that everybody thought would become captain. He had been at the club the longest and it was hard for me to accept the role because I thought Adam had all the right qualities.
“Adam and I have known each other for a long time and we do everything together. Even right now, though I have the captain’s armband and he is the vice-captain, everyone in first grade sees us as partners in the leadership role. And the coach was right, we compliment each other really well. Adam leads by his action on the field and I led the team by being vocal and keeping people in check.
“I am still shocked they picked me as captain and I still question it sometimes. As soon as I was told that I was going to be captain, I doubted myself. I thought to myself: ‘What is a leader? What does a captain do? What kind of qualities does he have?’
“So I started to force myself to do things that I thought a captain should do. I almost stopped being the person that I was. I am usually a funny person who likes to joke and play around with people. When I became captain, I tried to pull off this serious attitude and show that I was always determined and focused. I wanted to look like I was the real deal as a captain. But, over time I have learnt to loosen up and I have developed a mixture of the two attitudes. I have continued to be myself, but at the same time, I also have to show responsibility and accountability. Along the way, I have built up my confidence and the doubt has dissipated.
“We have a lot of teenagers in our team compared to last season. I am one of the oldest players in the side and I am 23. At the start of the season, I was trying to make sure all the younger kids could assimilate their way into the team and were welcomed into the side. I wanted to show them that this isn’t going to be like the younger leagues. Players are going to be tough, so you have to have a stronger exterior and learn how to play the game. The beginning of the pre-season, they were all about the tricks and I just had to impart the knowledge on to them that tricks aren’t going to work in first grade.
“At the beginning of the season, our team was divided into three groups. We had the Africans, we had the experienced players who have been playing for a couple of years together, and we had the youngsters. But now, we have all the three groups together as one team. The comradery is there now. There is no such thing as young players anymore, there are no Africans, there are no old players. We no longer recognise ourselves as a different age or nationality. We are all a team.”
Team of underdogs
“I won’t lie, at first I thought all the young kids might capitulate this season. Out of the seven or eight of them, I thought maybe one or two could make it in first grade. But the young kids have taken me by surprise. From being a team of underdogs and players who were told they aren’t going to cut it, I am just in awe of the progress they have made, especially since I had a lot of doubts.
“The best reward I have had this season is seeing some of the youngsters going from being players that would be smashed in the league and won’t survive, to having a breakout season. There are two people that stand out: Luke Masters and Michael Adams.
“When I first met Luke, I thought he was a player that could play in the under-20s and maybe support the first-grade team because we were a little short in the left back position. One day, our left back didn’t show up, so the coach told Luke to play the first 20 minutes till the guy shows up. And I was worried that he would be smashed. He is not the tallest, fastest or strongest person, but he has so much mental strength and determination. For a young kid, it’s easy to lose your head. Starting off the season, he was not even guaranteed a spot in our first-grade squad and now he has the potential to be one of the best left-backs in the league and he is still just a teenager.
“Michael Adams started the season in state league five for Belconnen and he was pushing for the first team. He even told Belconnen he would play at centre back just to prove he was good enough for first grade and he is a striker. Belconnen kept telling him to keep trying in lower divisions so he went over to Cooma to trial there. They told him to go play for the capital league side and maybe he might get a chance. I heard about him and told him to come along to our pre-season and try here. The first game that he played for us was against Cooma and he absolutely shredded them. Two or three weeks later, Cooma started calling up and asking him to come back. He then played against Belconnen and shredded them also, and then they came calling asking him to come back and guaranteeing first team position.
“Our club is all about giving people chances. The coach, myself and Adam are building a philosophy that it is not about who you are, but what you can give on the football field. Now we have a couple of players wanting to join our team because they are starting to realise they can’t get into other teams, even though they are crazy talented. They want to come to our club to establish themselves but they need to buy into the philosophy that we are doing it for the team and not for ourselves.”
Staying focused despite the off-field drama
“In terms of team mentality, our points being deducted during the season got to us. It would have gotten to any team. It is heartbreaking seeing your points taken away. Honestly, it was never going to be a matter of me trying to make sure the team wasn’t hurt because we were always going to be hurt by that. The thing that I had to get across to the boys was what is happening off the field is out of our control. The only thing that we can control is what goes on on the field. And as much as it hurts us to know that we are looking at the league table and we have gone from second place all the way down to last, there is nothing we can do about that. I reminded all the boys how well we had done so far, so why stop? I was one of those people that believed even if we didn’t get the points back, we could still make the finals. It was not impossible.
“The boys knew we had to focus on the field and let the club and administration do their job and they did an immense job. The outcome was quite a shock to us. If those off the field were willing to put all that effort in, all that time – some people even took time off their job to help us out – I told our players that we have to give back to the club. We have to try harder.
“I also made sure that no one in the team talked about it. The only time we can discuss it is if the President asks you to discuss it with them, but other than that, you mention it and I will kick you off the field. Never again are we talking about points. After the points were deducted, we never spoke about it and all we focused on was how to win a game. It was never easy, but this is a lesson in life: any setback, do not dwell on it. Just move ahead.”