Sandringham Zebras new VFL head coach Jake Batchelor has been a huge addition to the coaching ranks this season, as the club looks to impose its presence in the new look VFL competition.
A relaxed character with an incredible knowledge of the game, the former AFL defender spent seven years on Richmond’s AFL list. Batchelor joined St Kilda in the AFL as a development coach in 2019 but was “thrilled” to be offered the head coach role at Sandringham.
Hear the words straight from Batch’s mouth on his coaching style, ambitions for the season, and the players to keep an eye on.
Strengths and style:
Batchelor is only 29, and he highlights this as his main strength as a coach.
“I’m young — that’s my strength straight away,” he said.
“I can relate to the players, I look 40 and sometimes act 25, so it’s trying to strike a balance between those two things.”
Batchelor spoke about the importance of a good player-coach relationship.
“I’m all about trying to develop relationships with my players.”
Photo by Tony Vella
“I’m only out a couple of years, but I still remember what it’s like to be a player. I can still vividly remember the way I felt after getting specific comments and how actions of coaches can mould you, so that’s something I’m really big on,” he said.
Batchelor is also keen to work on the lifestyle a footy player lives, ensuring they have downtime and can live as people not players.
“I want Sandy players to remember they’re people first that can play football really well, as opposed to them (just) being football players.”
“Too often players define their identity by being able to play football, and that’s not a good way to be,” Batchelor said.
It’s easy to tell Batchelor has keen aspirations to be the best coach he can as well as a significant mentor for his players.
“This coaching side of things I’m really enjoying, and I think I’m going to be pretty good at it in the next few years,” he said.
“I like the idea I can enjoy it — and if I can have an impact on people’s lives in a football and personal sense as well then that’s something I’ll keep doing.”
“It’s a brand-new comp with 22 teams.”
“One thing that is going to be important is that when you do lose it’s not a big blowout.
We don’t think there’s going to be a clear cut top eight — there’s going to be a lot of teams between 6-14, and percentage might be the difference between getting in the eight.”
It would be easy for Batchelor and the Zebras to fall into a win/loss mindset and purely focus on the eight.
However, Batchelor isn’t concerned by the way the ladder shapes up, confident the season will take care of itself if the Zebras control what they can control.
“We don’t talk about winning or losing at the club — that’s a result of doing what’s required.”
“If we start talking about winning and losing, we’ll go away from the process of what it takes to win or lose,” he said.
The Zebras have re-aligned with St Kilda, and there’s plenty of talent going in and out of the squad, as players move back and forth between the two competitions.
While it could pose a problem for some, Batchelor is assured the culture at the Saints and Zebras gives them an advantage on the competition.
“We’ve got a great bunch of kids who are really connecting with the AFL listed players who come down, and one of the strengths of our AFL list is that there’s no sooking when they come and play for Sandy.
“They buy in and get along really well and lead the young Zebras on our list,” he said.
Photo by Tony Vella
Players to watch:
“Shaun Mckernan’s done pretty well the last two weeks — he’s had two good games in a row and presented really well for us,” Batchelor said.
“Luke Dunstan keeps putting his hand up — he’s dedicated to getting the best out of himself and his teammates.”
“Oscar Clavarino had a little hamstring hiccup, but he’s back and playing really good football as a key back and an intercepter.”
“It’s all about managing their emotions and offering them support of how best we can keep getting them to turn up and play our way and not get disgruntled that they’re not playing AFL.”
“Goy Lok is a really strong inside midfielder — he’s a bull for us and he’s a really good user,” Batchelor said.
“Jack McHale — coming back from a shoulder reconstruction — he’s just got an extra second than everyone else and it just makes such a big difference when you can see the game before everyone else and you’ve got good skills and the flexibility that he has.”
“Chris Carey — he’s big centre half forward and ruck. At the moment we don’t have many injuries to our key position players, so there might be weeks where he gets a chance and weeks that he doesn’t, but he’s a great person. Schoolteacher by trade, he’s really caring and a great person for the group, and we’d love to find a spot for him.”
“We’ve got a good balance of inside and outside VFL players who play different positions who can really complement who we bring back from the AFL system. We think we’re in a good spot to play some football going forward.”
What he wants from you:
“Every person who comes through the gates adds a bit of support to the players, we love playing in front of crowds because we haven’t been able to for the last 12 months. If you’ve got a spare Sunday or Saturday afternoon, and you want to see the Zebras put on a good show then please do get down because it makes football so much more enjoyable, the fans are the most important part of the game.”
Written by Seb Mottram - Sandringham Football Club Media