Jake Batchelor has committed to the Sandringham Zebras for another season in 2022 and is looking forward to the journey ahead for his up-and-coming side.
Photos by AFL Media
Batchelor settled into the job nicely in 2021, leading the club to a 4-5 win/loss record in an abridged and heavily interrupted season.
The first-year senior coach transitioned into coaching after a 7-year career with Richmond, where he played 84 games as a reliable medium defender.
Post-AFL, Batchelor served as a playing assistant coach with Frankston in the VFL for two years before moving to St Kilda in 2019 as a development coach working predominantly with the backline group.
He praised former Sandringham Zebras Senior Coach Aaron Hamill for playing a crucial role in the evolution of his coaching career.
“I had some good mentors to help me through and I learned a lot off Aaron Hamill in my first year as a development coach,” he said.
“I think the apprenticeship has given me a good chance to work out where my strengths are and where I need to improve.”
Robinson and Batchelor at the Saints' Best and Fairest
Now in the next chapter of his career at the Zebras, he’s excited by the opportunity to build on the strong foundations laid in his first year at the helm.
“I’m just really excited to move into preparation mode for next year. We didn’t get a full run at it this year for obvious reasons but we still managed to take some steps forward as a club,” Batchelor said.
“The fact that Dale and myself have signed on shows the faith we see in the club and I think we’re on the right track to get some continuity in both programs which is really important for success.”
Batchelor spoke positively about his experience working alongside fellow first-year senior coach Dale Robinson, who led her Southern Saints to a semi-final in an impressive first season in charge.
“Dale and I got together and decided we wanted to have an inclusive club that is two teams and every chance we could get to connect, we’d try to do that,” he said.
“COVID obviously stopped that a few times but we had a training session together and we connected in a few other ways, so that was really important from the holistic side of things.”
While COVID might’ve prevented the Zebras from taking the field for large chunks of the 2021 season, the team’s spirit wasn’t dampened and they continued to keep in touch and support each other from afar.
The club embraced a flexible and adaptable mindset which allowed them to make the most of their time together and build on the strong relationships between players and coaches.
“I think we adapted pretty well,” Batchelor said.
“Everything was over zoom whether it was reviews, or our trivia night or a pilates session. It’s a hard thing to stay connected when you can’t physically be with people but we’ve got a good bunch of blokes who are friends with each other so it wasn’t overly forced.”
“When we were together, we tried to make the most of that time because we knew things could change so we took our chances where we could.”
Batchelor took some important learnings out of the COVID interrupted 2021 VFL season, none more so than keeping an open mind and the need to evolve as a coach.
“I tried to do a bit of everything over pre-season, some things worked and some things didn’t. I’ve learned a lot about what you need to focus on and what you don’t, and where you can delegate more or realise it’s not actually as important as you thought,” he said.
“We had a young coaching group and a young playing group, so there’s a lot of confidence from my end that we can start to grow and develop more as a team.”
One player Batchelor thinks will impress in 2022 is Cody Henness, a former key forward recruited from Richmond’s VFL program who thrived on a mid-season positional change.
“We dropped him in the midfield halfway through the year where he hadn’t played much and he just looks so natural in there. He’s tough, he’s strong, he’s smart and he should take a lot of confidence out of this year,” he said.
Heading into next year, Batchelor is confident his team is well placed to attack the upcoming season with a positive mindset.
“If we can keep the majority of our list together and keep the majority of our coaches together and have a shared vision, we’re going to progress because there’s not going to be an option not to,” he said.
“The competition’s a great competition, it’s the second best one in Australia. We’re after the challenge and we’re really looking forward to getting off to a hot start.”
Written by Jack Bennett - Sandringham Football Club Media