Luckily for me, tonight’s Aussie Rules training is mainly just drills. The guys have a match tomorrow, so they don’t want to get too bashed up in the pre-match training session.
Also luckily for me, everybody here is friendly and inviting; they include me immediately and don’t even mock my utter lack of ability, which I suspect is very irritating.
We start with simple slaloms; running in and out of cones, catching and passing the ball. It is easy in theory, but the second I get going my instincts take over and I just throw the ball, rather than hand-balling it (punching it out of my hand). Eventually, I figure it out and start to relax a little. This isn’t so hard.
Then we move onto kicking. This is a whole different world. I feel as good as useless.
Kicking drills are essentially one long embarrassment for me. I have never been good at kicking; I have never really played football and my limited experience is drop-kicking in rugby, which is very different.
I feel grateful that I have become almost impervious to embarrassment over the last few years.
As the rest of the team jogs and stretches, the captain, Roger (an ex-Londoner, as it happens), takes me to one side and helps me practise my catching and kicking. He and half a dozen other guys offer advice until, slowly, I start to improve.
The ball has started to spin properly, because I am hitting it as the right moment. Granted, it is now flying off to the right or left (or barely going anywhere), but it is flying all over the place in the right kind of way.
To get it going the right way, I must learn to kick like an Aussie. At the moment, I am relentlessly moving through the kick and end up pointing off to the left. Eventually, I realise this is because I am subconsciously spinning through my hips, slightly as if I am throwing a roundhouse or leg kick.
I point this out to one of the guys and, being versed in combat, he explains in terms I can understand. I must line my hips up as I would to sprawl in wrestling, to get my weight travelling directly forwards into my opponent. Today, my opponent is this ball.
When it comes to distance, this is all about coordination. There will come a time when sheer force and speed will play a role but, at the moment, the harder I try to kick the ball the less chance I have to hitting it properly.
Having just about got the timing right, I build up to taking a few steps into the kick – which messes with my accuracy a little, but helps the distance. This is going to take a while to learn…
By the time the session draws to a close, I have just about got my eye in. I’m definitely not any good, but at least now I know why my kicks aren’t going where I want them to – which is the first step to making them behave.
This is essentially the Socratic approach to sport; at least now I know the extent of my own ignorance. Now I can build upon this total lack of foundation.