This article was originally published in the latest edition of the James Hird Academy newsletter. Click here to read and download the newsletter.

James Hird Academy head coach Heath Hocking says he has enjoyed the challenge of adjusting to life as a coach.

After retiring at AFL level at the end of 2017, Hocking was quickly swept up by the club for the important role and he says taking on the responsibility has been a great learning experience.

“Going from a player to coaching, it’s really just about switching your mindset to thinking about drills and what you want to get out of them, rather than just knocking them off as a player,” Hocking said. 

“Coming up with drills that are going to be beneficial for the players has been a challenge -  there are only so many things you can do so you have to get creative.

“Over the time I’ve been doing the role, it’s been about being more confident in talking to the kids and teaching them different parts of skill acquisition. It’s been challenging, but really enjoyable.”

Hocking said taking the reins as captain of the club’s VFL side in 2018 was valuable and gave him a boost for performing the coaching role.

“Teaching young guys who you play with is a good experience as well, so that gave me a lot of confidence in doing that for younger kids.

“All of that packaged together creates a really good opportunity to grow and gain more experience, so it’s been really good.”

He said one of the most rewarding aspects of the job had been seeing the talented young players embracing the fun of the sport.

“You see kids who are just enjoying their football, which is really good, because as an AFL footballer it becomes a job.

“We’ve got a lot of father-son kids, so they’ve grown up with their dads as footballers and it’s really good to get them all together and see them interact with each other, enjoy it and to teach them a few things along the way.”

Hocking played 126 senior games for Essendon, playing alongside current Bombers and those who now have children within the JHA.

He said having that experience running onto the ground with many Dons who are still on the list had greatly helped his ability to get them to buy into the program.

“We have players come through like Michael Hurley, Jake Stringer, Josh Begley and Marty Gleeson, among others, to share their knowledge as well.


“It’s helped that I’ve earned a bit of their respect after playing with them and they’re happy to help out.

“I know the AFL system is demanding and they get pulled left, right and centre, so for them to take time to help out with my guys is something I really appreciate.”

Hocking plays a vital role in many of the young players’ dreams of getting drafted, but he said it was important to understand that wasn’t the sole objective of the academy.

“We’re just trying to get them to a stage where they’re improving. The be-all and end-all isn’t about getting drafted - it’s about making them better people.

“If guys don’t get drafted, that’s not a drama. It’s about how they leave the program – how they’ve improved on and off the field.

“Getting drafted is the icing on the cake, but that’s out of my hands and up to the recruiters.”