Cricket is a game of resilience and when it comes to coaching, few are better equipped than Damian Bonner to teach players how to overcome the challenges that sport and life can throw your way.
Damian was recently awarded the 2015/16 Cricket Coaches Australia – ‘Junior Coach of the Year’ for Victoria. Recognition for his incredible impact on a group of players from the Gisborne & District Cricket Association (GDCA).Originally from the Wallan Cricket Club, ‘Damo’s’ coaching career began as a familiar story, taking on the Under 13 coaching role when his son Ryan was selected in the GDCA representative side. However, far less common is the commitment and passion Damian displayed over the next five years, taking the same group through to Under 17’s. His ability to build the character of his players, along with creating a sense of belonging within the team, resulted in overwhelming support and endorsement for his award.
While having a profound influence on his team, coaching has also been instrumental in helping Damian deal with his own challenges. Despite suffering a debilitating back injury in 2012 and battling depression, the players and parents within the team provided Damian with the support to open up and manage his daily struggles.
“Even though it’s a short period, the 32 players l came across during my 5 years as coach have given me an opportunity to put aside my personal battles; by helping these boys not only improve on their cricket, but shape them into adulthood. The boys and their parents will hold a special place in my heart forever” – Damian Bonner.
When asked to describe his approach to coaching, Damian said ‘I wanted to build something that people saw and said, I want to be a part of that’. Damian’s popularity with parents, officials and the opposition is a testament to having achieved his vision.
Throughout the five years, Damian introduced several initiatives that demonstrate the traits he values. From presenting the match ball to the opposition player who best displayed the ‘spirit of the game’, to having a player make a speech at the tea break thanking umpires and helpers. Damian ensured his players understood the game beyond simply winning and losing.
To counter the feeling of failure having made a duck, if a player didn’t trouble the scorers, Damian would present them with a blue rubber duck. The player would then have to make an acceptance speech for ‘winning’ it.While the players were initially unsure, this ritual became one of the day’s funniest moments; signalling that while things don’t always go your way, a game can be put into perspective. The players awarded Damian the duck in his final game as coach. It now sits mounted on a plaque at his home; an everlasting symbol of what the team stood for and achieved.
Damian encourages his players to take risks, make decisions, and be accountable for their actions. He placed a priority on developing the character of his players over simply winning or losing. The players later told Damian that they learnt more about the game in a campaign when the side finished last compared to when they won the competition.
Further, Damian is a man of principles, and he imparted his values onto his players. Watching his team, you see respect in the absence of swearing, pride in the way the players never leave their cap on the ground, and togetherness in the sight of all the players and supporters sitting together under a marquee he organised.
As with many coaches, the Damian held his position as a privilege. He committed countless hours to best prepare his players, making phone calls and researching statistics to ensure that everyone understood their role and how it contributed to the team.
While the players have now graduated from his team, Damian still keeps in close contact with them, sending out group messages when a player made their senior debut or was selected in a representative side. In the winter, Damian can regularly be seen on the sidelines watching his players run around the footy field.
While humbled by the accolade, it’s clear that Damian’s greatest satisfaction from the last five years comes from the relationships and development of his players, seeing them grow in self-confidence and mature into men with the skills to succeed in any endeavour.
Damian’s success illustrates the benefits of having stability through a young player’s development. In today’s age, junior players are given advice from everywhere. It can be easy to become overloaded with messages and often contradicting information from club, school & representative coaches, along with parents. There is clear reason to support having someone remain a central figure as a player progresses through the age groups, one who understands them as a person and knows their strengths of the game; ensuring they never fall away from what they do well or enjoy.
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