Monday 28 September was the AFL’s night of nights and the end of the evening saw Fremantle’s Nat Fyfe awarded the Brownlow Medal and named the AFL’s best player for 2015.
The AFL takes a bit of a different approach to the whole acceptance speech thing. Rather than sending a player up on stage to thank a long line of (undoubtedly worthy and important) people, they have Bruce MacAvaney interview the player. And, depending on who the winner on the night is, these interviews can either be quite painful (with the player giving MacAvaney nothing to work with) or they can be super entertaining as the player gives insights into themselves and their clubs we don’t usually get to see. Fyfe fell into the latter category with answers that were heartfelt, humble, amusing and insightful.
And in amongst the banter with Bruce were some great nuggets about the secrets to any level of individual success:
Anyone who has achieved any kind of individual award know this to be true – nothing is achieved by one person in isolation. So if you’re currently striving for success and you’re trying to do it all by yourself, time to stop with that. Time to get a great team behind you.
When you’re highly focused on achieving something, it’s very easy to get ahead of yourself or get lost in your own head. That’s when we need those people who know us best and know where we’ve come from to keep our feet firmly planted on earth. Fyfe’s love of his family and his hometown of Lake Grace makes it clear he’s got very strong roots and those roots help keep him grounded.
When you’re in the public eye, you often have other people telling your story. And it’s really easy to get caught up in the story people build around you. It was clear from Fyfe’s speech that he’s both aware of how quickly stories about him can become the ‘stuff of legend’ … and how keen he is to keep those stories from becoming bigger than him.
Fyfe singled out Ross Lyon (head coach) and Brett Kirk (assistant coach) in his speech as two people who’ve not just helped him become a better player, but helped him become a better person too. He made it clear that being surrounded by great people around the footy club was pivotal to his personal success in 2015.
He also acknowledged that having a very stable club free from controversy and ‘issues’ also made things much easier for both him and the rest of the team over the course of the season. Instability takes up a lot of head space and emotional energy and makes it very hard to focus on the most important tasks at hand. Stability comes from good management, having good people around, forward thinking and excellent organisation … and makes life easier for pretty much everyone.
In 2014, despite being ineligible for the Brownlow, Fyfe polled heavily and ended up finishing one vote behind eventual winner Matt Priddis. It would have made perfect sense for him to continue to leverage his already impressive natural talents in 2015, but he didn’t. He identified the strengths of two other players (Dangerfield and Judd) in the league and decided he wanted add their strengths to his repertoire.
Fyfe didn’t just decide he wanted to bring Dangerfield’s strength and Judd’s explosiveness to his game – he got the Dockers’ strength and conditioning staff to create him a program to help him do so … and then he actually executed that program. The result? The entire league was blown away by the new dimensions he brought to his game in 2015 and it took opposition teams more than half the season to figure out how to counter those strengths.
Fyfe has confessed to being a fairly intense guy and someone who is highly focused on achieving the goals he sets for himself and his team. But he can also laugh at himself, something that was made abundantly clear as he jousted with MacAvaney on the night.
Mick Barlow was Fyfe’s ‘date’ for the night and it was clear why. He’s a funny guy and it’s easy to see how important his presence would have been when the count got right towards the end of the night and nerves really kicked in.
It was clear on the night that winning the Brownlow was something that meant a lot to Fyfe … and you could see he really meant it when he said he felt it was a win for everyone involved with the Freo Dockers, not just him. But you could also see quite clearly that he’d have happily traded the medal for the chance to run out on the field with his teammates in the AFL Grand Final that coming weekend.