5 March 2019

Why I came back to grassroots sports: Helping out the Gungahlin Eagles Rugby Club

| Tim Gavel
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Marco Caputo and Tim Gavel at Eagles headquarters. Photo: Supplied.

Eagles first-grade coach, Marco Caputo, with new recruit, Tim Gavel. Photo: Supplied.

The phone call from new Gungahlin Eagles’ first-grade coach Marco Caputo came out of the blue. Would I be interested in helping out as the Eagles’ first-grade co-manager? There was a moment of silence from my end.

I said I would get back to him, as I needed a couple of days to think about this.

There were plenty of reasons why I was keen to be involved: I get on well with Marco, firstly as a journalist when he was a player, then as a co-commentator for many years on ABC Radio. I also had a strong social connection to the club despite a lengthy involvement with the Uni North Owls and Wests. Also, I was still dirty on Wests after being moved to the forwards, as a result of being beaten in a sprint by the deceptively quick Trevor Ellis.

The prospect of being involved at the grassroots again also held a major attraction.

I have long held the view that community sporting teams, such as the Eagles, are the true essence of sport; you are playing for a club you love with your mates.

So there was plenty to suggest that it was a no-brainer.

Over the three days of contemplation, however, one major obstacle presented itself. Despite being involved in commentating sport for 30 years, I had never been involved in management of any team, not even juniors.

I coached junior soccer and rugby, but that was more about providing constant positive reinforcement and making certain that every child received equal time on the field. This really required no skill level at all. I was just the available parent willing to take on the cause. I just had to make certain that they all stood (at the very least) in a place that approximated the correct position and that they had fun. I must admit that players remained in their designated positions only for the split second prior to the whistle. Once the whistle blew they all bolted to the ball and there they remained, hovering and moving with the ball like bees around a hive.

In fact, as a junior soccer coach, my job consisted mainly of putting out the cones and bringing the balls. For three years I had a constant reminder that I was the coach, as 12 soccer balls in the boot of my car rolled from side to side at every Canberra roundabout.

So back to the present.

I sought advice from all and sundry. One piece of helpful advice was that I would have to buy a bigger washing machine to cope with washing and folding 30 jumpers a week.

I was also told that I required a thick skin, given the free and constant advice offered to the bench by opposition supporters.

After more advice than I really needed, I had developed a mental image of the job requirements of a co-manager. I had to be on constant call in case players were stranded at three o’clock in the morning after a huge night of celebrations after another victory. I had to help with the barbeque and the group bonding.

Some more sober advice revealed that I wouldn’t need to upsize my washing facilities and the Eagles are a group of the finest young men you would ever hope to meet, so no problems with the early morning calls.

Needless to say, I rang Marco back with a confident, “Yes; I could do the job.”

Now, after having spent some time with the Eagles club, I can honestly say they are a great group of people, from the coaching staff to the players, through to the volunteers, to the families, to the sponsors. I’ll learn a lot from this experience.

One of my roles, it would appear, is to produce statistics and undertake an analysis of penalties. What could go wrong?

I will let you know at the end of the season.

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