Buddha gives Jets his best

NEW CHALLENGE: Garry Hocking hopes to bring the skills he's gleaned from the likes of Malcolm Blight, Gary Ayres and Mark Thompson to his new role as coach of the Western Jets.
Thursday, February 20
Geelong Advertiser _ Sam Bishop

GARRY Hocking always believed in letting his football do the talking.

From the training track to the field, football always came first and defined the man himself.

So when a handful of his Western Jets squad told `Buddha' they were going to the Big Day Out instead of training, the self-confessed disciplinarian told them to choose between football and having a good time, and live with the consequences.

The players who missed training returned on the Thursday to be sent out on a 3km time trial to equal their best time, or face another 3kms as punishment for missing training.

It was a choice that Hocking says his Western Jets charges will have to make if they ever have to play at the highest level.

``So why shouldn't they have to make the choice now?'' he said.

Hocking knows the lure of a good time can be too much for his 16 and 17-year-old squad, but it's his job, he said, to make them realise that it takes sacrifice to get drafted.

``I'm a bit of a disciplinarian but it's the only way you can deal with these kids because they try and test you, and they try and get a bit more and a bit more and a bit more,'' he said

``I'm happy for that because I know they've got a lot of other stuff in there lives, but if they're just fair dinkum dudding me then (they can) go now.''

His eyes sweep over the TAC Cup squad as they go through their paces at the Jets' Caroline Springs home in Melbourne's west, looking for signs of anyone slacking off or falling behind.

He gives the players one minute to run to the rooms and get their mouth-guards, and counts down as the stragglers bring up the rear.

It's a method Hocking said he learnt from coaches throughout his 274-league-game career.

If his approach to coaching is based on a monkey-see-monkey-do philosophy, the likes of Malcolm Blight, Gary Ayres and Mark Thompson should serve him well.

``I've got a process out of all the coaches, there's no doubt my style of play and that sort of thing is based on and influenced by all the coaches, but I've got my own ideas which is important,'' Hocking said.

``I've taken a piece out of every one I've had, and I like to think I've mixed it all in and put my own coat of gloss over it.''

It's a technique that is already paying dividends just three-and-a-half months into his first head coaching job.

His wife would hold up photos of the Jets' squad so Hocking could recite the most trivial of details about each of the 51 players on his list - favourite bands, birthdays, school subjects - to help find some common ground with his charges.

``I learnt that from Mark Thompson. The ability that he has got and the rapport that he has built up with people and the way that he's able to manage people.

``In that last two or three years I was with him I used to sit back and go `gee he does it so well'.

``People knew their roles, what level they needed to work at, and if people go outside of that he kept them in check. He gives people responsibility - both players and staff.''

After leaving Geelong in late 2001, Hocking moved to North Ballarat because ``I still felt I had something to give to the game''.

But it was in Ballarat where life after football took a turn towards coaching, Hocking said.

Taking on a role as an assistant coach after lining up in only seven senior games, Hocking began to feel the frustration of a coach without control over his side.

``There were a few times I wanted to take control, I wanted grab the phone in the box when I saw something and I wanted to be in control,'' he said.

``Here I can make decisions. I like that. I've thrived on that, being able to say what you want to say.''

Hocking admits the quiet nature that served him so well on a football field didn't adapt to coaching but when he realised the passion he had for the job, the words began to flow a little easier.

Now he's got the confidence to stand in front of a white board for hours on end, debating set plays and team rules with his assistants. Indeed, Hocking has already come a long way since his first day at the Jets.

``When I was introduced at the first meeting of the year. . . I turned around and said, `what do you want me to talk about?'.''

``From there I developed, I got huge confidence out of that, I don't need a sheet in front of me because I'm talking about what I believe in.''

The passion Hocking has for his squad is shared by his team of assistants, who stay long after training to discuss, debate and plan for the season ahead.

They all know they have been hired to get Jets players drafted.

``The system's about getting the kids drafted. They only had one kid drafted last year and for me to do my role is to have more than one kid drafted,'' Hocking said.

``Do you want to play on the MCG on Grand Final day or would you be more happy having six or more drafted?

``You can play on the last day of September or you can have a bit of a mix, winning during the year, hopefully and developing the kids.''

He sees his role as making the transition from junior football to AFL as smooth as possible and feels compelled to give players a true taste of how committed they need to be to play at the elite level.

``That's why we had the whole Big Day Out thing.

``If they're going to a league club and they've got training scheduled for Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday they won't be getting out of training if they have a birthday on the Saturday.

``When they move away from here we want to make the step up a lot smaller for them.

``I didn't used to drink during the footy season and neither did other people but you get branded and targeted because of the 5 per cent who go and do it.''

With the Western Jets draftees board bearing names like Ty Zantuck, Matthew Lloyd and Shannon Grant, Hocking knows his coaching ability will be judged by how many players he can lead into the top flight.

While an AFL post is in his long-term sights, Hocking is happy to do his apprenticeship in the TAC Cup, and wait for the elusive league job to present itself.

``If I can start to get some kids drafted and then hopefully league clubs will look and say `they're getting six drafted every year' and think `why'?'' he said.

``(Then) They look at who's coaching and you build up a bit of a reputation that you can coach.

``I know that I have to be in this system for two or three years, do my time and maybe step up to VFL. If the opportunity arises, and if you're lucky, it will happen.''