SFL: Mountain Lions coach raises the bar

WHETHER it's a spray, a sledge or just a bit of motivational talk, new Mount Waverley coach Nick Smith hasn't stopped short of telling his players how it is.

Especially since he is hell-bent on taking his side to a long-sought-after Southern Football League division 3 premiership this season.

Smith, a former VFL player and assistant coach, said he hadn't been shy about demanding his players change some long-held bad habits so they could challenge for the ultimate prize.

"One thing I bring to the table is that I've played for four premierships and won them all," he said.

"So I believe when you have been part of winning teams then you know what a winning team looks like.

"Sometimes when they are doing the wrong things I give out a few reality checks. I have made the occasional call of 'no wonder you haven't won one yet'."

Smith was an assistant coach to Gary Ayres at VFL club Port Melbourne and he wasn't sure he wanted to coach in 2013.

Many of the coaching positions were filled but he kept looking for what openings remained and the challenge of taking on a team so close to a premiership caught his attention.

"I've coached at all levels and there is not much difference.

"They are all about getting people to learn and to improve. It's just about tailoring what I do to suit the side.

"When I saw this was a team that had fallen short in grand finals, it got my competitive juices flowing a bit."

After getting between 30-40 players to preseason training both before and after Christmas, Smith was impressed with the work ethic and commitment of his side, which looks to have remained largely intact from last season.

"The enthusiasm and desire to improve is higher than any group I've ever coached.

"Coaching at VFL level is actually very difficult because you are dealing with players who have achieved a lot and think they know everything.

"Half of the guys I was coaching had played at AFL level. What can you tell them?

"This team looks at me like I've got lots to offer — as a coach and teacher you can't teach guys who don't want to learn."

The 40-year-old coach, who works as a physical education teacher, still trains with his side but has yet to commit to playing this season.

"After playing in VFL and in other A grade competitions I know I can still kick and I have the boys at training telling me I should play, but for me it comes down to whether I can still keep up with my opponents.

"I'm planning on not playing but if I see a gap in the side that I could fill and the boys tell me they want me to play then I'll consider it."

Without knowing the standard of SFL division 3 football, Smith believes his side will be fit and skilled enough to go that step further this season.

"My biggest problem is I don't know what the standard of division 3 football is like.

"So I've just prepared the side as best I can. Maybe we are miles off the pace, maybe we are ahead of it.

"We won't know until we get out there and play some matches."

The SFL season starts on April 13 and the Mountain Lions open their season away to Black Rock.

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