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Marc Pittonet on key mentors and bouncing back from injury

Marc Pittonet is a current AFL player for the Carlton Football Club. As a passionate PlayBook coach, Marc is keen to pass on his experience to inspire the next generation of athletes to reach their potential.Marc touches on the key mentors in his football journey and the importance of staying motivated during rehab. Since entering the system in 2014, Marc’s AFL journey has involved moving clubs, overcoming injuries and learning from some of the games’ greats, which makes for an insightful discussion.

So you’ve been in the AFL system since 2014, how did first get into sport and what was the first sport that you started playing as a kid.

Yeah, so like most people I’ve copied my older brother and sister who played sports. So, they played a bit of everything. My first two loves were basketball and football. So I played them all the way through, football being the main one. My brother’s actually a diehard Brisbane supporter, so I grew up watching a lot of Brisbane games, especially the three-peat, and just tried to copy him and keep up with him. He was a much better player than I was when I was younger. So, that was sort of where my love of sport came from. And then I just loved being a part of the team and just grew my love for sport off the back of that.

Was it the Brisbane Lions that you supported as a kid?

I was actually a North supporter, but I don’t really care for North anymore, but I do like Brisbane still. All my extended family are still Brisbane supporters. My great-granddad played for Fitzroy. So, had that little bit of a connection. But, funnily enough, in football, there’s only probably eight or nine people who still rattle me. Everyone else, obviously, you play with and against and you see regularly, but Michael Voss and Luke Power, who we’ve also got as a coach, are two of the eight or nine people that rattle me a bit. So, when I first got to meet both of them, I was not really sure what to say.

I’ve met most of that eight or nine now there’s only probably one left I haven’t met. That’s Jonathan Brown who I love. I’ve actually run into him a couple times but I got nervous and kept walking so that’s on my to-do list – to eventually get around to him.

Were those the players that you used to look up to and model your game after as a young player?

Definitely. The way I like to think about playing football is the physicality, the blokes playing really specific roles who are really just specifically good at a craft. So I think about blokes from that three-peat from 01 to 03 that I used to watch. So Vossy was as hard as anyone. Then you’ve got blokes like Simon Black who were just pinpoint with their kicking. Clark Keating, who was just punching balls 40 metres out of centre bounces and Darrell White, who was just running everywhere.

Those sorts of players were just so specific, but complimented each other so well. That made me look at my game, as I played more and more, and understand that I needed to find something that I’m very good at, and just sort of build my game off the back of one thing. So that was pretty inspirational to watch that.

And obviously being a ruckman now, did you always have the height advantage, or did you develop your ruck craft closer to the draft?

I was always tall, so I did get lucky there. Pure chance. My parents are 5’8 and 5’9, so got very lucky. We thought I’d stop growing at 6’4 and sort of 13 years old, so very lucky that I kept going. But got very fortunate early, when I was playing under 12s and 13s, I played with Darcy Moore. And Peter Moore came down and helped me as a ruck coach. So I had some good development very early, which helped. Just getting some exposure really helped. Then moving up the ranks to the TAC cup, I really started to hone in on it. So then a bit of ruck, a bit of forward, but mainly ruck ever since.

As a junior and moving into the TAC, closer to the draft, were there any kind of coaches or mentors in particular that really helped fast track your development and get you to an AFL level?

From a ruck and pure midfield point of view, in my under 18s year, one of the best pieces of advice I got was from Jamie Maddox, who was my midfield coach at Oakley in under 18s and who’s now at the Bulldogs as a development coach. He said at the time I was winning a lot of hit-outs and I thought I was playing pretty well. And he sat me down halfway through the season and said, look, you’re not going to get drafted based off one style of play, which I didn’t really understand because I was winning the hits. And basically he had to explain to me that at the next level, everyone can jump higher, they’re bigger, and they’ve got multiple skills. So if you’re only good at one specific part of your craft, then people can just counter that. And so you need to keep adding strings to your bow.

Off the back of that, when I got to Hawthorne, Damian Monkhorst was big on the same sort of thing. I grew my game to be able to jump off both my right and left foot which is quite unique. Off the back of those two conversations, it’s what sort of gives me a point of difference because I’m not the biggest jump but I’m quite good at centre bounces off the back of that development and advice. That’s one thing that’s definitely stuck with me.

How do you find the transition from playing in the TAC Cup to getting drafted to the Hawks and becoming an AFL footballer? Obviously you’re coming up against a lot bigger Ruckman and people that have been in the game for quite a long time.How was that transition for you?

Definitely a shock to the system. So I got drafted just after Hawthorn won their second premiership and my first year at the club, we won our third premiership in a row. So basically to come in and go from playing against 18-year-olds to training with Luke Hodge, Ben McEvoy, Jarryd Roughead, Sam Mitchell, and just seeing how they go about their craft, how good they are at what they do, and the consistency with which they apply themselves, you can see why they were such a big level up. The big thing for me in my first year was that I just wasn’t ready to play, which I completely understand as an 18-year-old.

One funny thing I did was my first 12 rounds of VFL, I led the VFL in free kicks against because these blokes were so much bigger than me that I would try and just hold on at times when I’d get pushed out of the way because I was giving up sort of 5, 6, 7 kilos. But the way I actually got around that apart from working on my craft was I found out that if you talk to umpires before a game, they won’t give as many free kicks. So I still do that pre-game.

Obviously drafted to the Hawks and you started at a very successful period for the club. Can you talk about the key mentors, coaches or players at the time that took you under their wing and helped you develop as a young player?

Definitely. So,Damian Monkhorst was our ruck coach my whole time at Hawthorn and he was awesome in terms of understanding what you’re good at and really trying to help you get better at that. So, for me, I was drafted as an aggressive, big-bodied ruckman who follows up well and he didn’t try to make me something I wasn’t. He was obviously a very aggressive player when he played so he gave me good guidance on that.

The two players who helped me the most from a craft point of view were Ben McEvoy and Sam Mitchell, which is ironic given he’s very short. One thing I’ve tried to do since being at Hawthorn and coming to Carlton is sit down and watch tape every week. Ben and I used to scout the opposition ruck. So if we’re playing against whoever we were playing against that week, he’d come in and go, look, we’re playing against this player. This player’s a left-handed player. He prefers to start from behind or in front. This is why he’s so good. So I’m going to try and counter that at training this week. You’re going to play like this guy. I’m going to counter you like this and we’re going to see what works. That way you get to see what it’s like playing different styles and you can add that to your bow and I can show you how to counter everything that we do.

So off the back of that I just got to grow the different parts of my game from a ruck point of view and fortunately McEvoy is also a very good mark, so he was able to teach me the patterns and the craft that he did so well. And then Sam Mitchell was the attention to detail. He used to watch every stoppage from the week before that the team played because he thought that understanding what the general movement pattern was would get him two to three more clearances a game.

When you’ve got McEvoy who at the time was one of the more dominant ruckman in the game, selection’s always going to be difficult. How did you, as a young player, stay motivated at training to put your best foot forward and keep putting your hand up for selection?

Just looking for those continual developments. So having honest conversations as much as possible, seeking that feedback. It’s easy to say one player’s better than you, and you sit there and go, you know what, they could be, they might not be. But unless you get that direct feedback of how are they are better, what part of the game are they better at, how can I bridge that gap, then you’re not going to make any growth towards being a better player.

You’re just gonna sort of stay the same, could be one-dimensional sort of player in that regard. So it was real honest conversations with the coaches and players around me for multiple years and just really getting to work on that and trying to find the little wins week by week, which like you said, it’s not the easiest thing to do, but you’ve just got to really celebrate the little wins.

In 2020 you moved to Carlton and in your first year at the club, you won the Spirit of Carlton Award, which is obviously a big achievement. Can you talk about the transition, or how you approached that transition into a new club and earning the respect of the new playing group, coaches and staff?

It’s a pretty funny transition for me because I was there, got a full pre-season in, round one happened and then COVID hit. So my first year was a bit of a funny one. It was just a matter of getting in there, not saying a whole lot, but just understanding that I need to just compete hard, show what I’m good at, and just do everything I could to help the team. So that was the main thing – trying to be as reliable and consistent as possible. Then when I got the opportunity to play in round two that year, it was just about bringing those same things that I’d shown for previous six months. And everything just came off the back of that, of just that reliability, consistency and competing.

Carlton at the time had Matt Kreuzer, and you’ve talked about theKreuzer Academy. Can you give our audience a bit of an insight into that?

I like to call it theKreuzer Academy because I just love pumping up Kruz, to be honest. I just think he’s an absolute star of a player. His last year was my first year at the club, so even six months of pre-season training with him before he got injured was something I really benefited from.

At training, we would play on each other and his way of coaching me was he would talk out loud as he played, so he could explain to me what he was thinking. So such a simple thing was he’d read the play and essentially commentate. He’d come to a stoppage and say, okay, I know that the ball’s probably gonna land here, we’ve got this part of the stoppage open. I’m in a position here to set this up. So for me, I got that much development from it that I just love pumping him up at any chance I can.

You’ve talked before about how the mental preparation for the physicality of the game is something that you really had to develop in the early stages of your career. Can you talk about the process that you go through pre-game and during the game to be able to switch on and off

I tried a bit of everything early. That was probably one of the bigger things I had to work on early in my career. I’d have some great games and then some games that just wasn’t up to standard. So I really had to develop the consistency before I could start to build my game. I’ve worked with the performance mentor coach for about five years now. Simple things I still use are the visualization side of it, or even in games, I still write a few words on my wrists, just as triggers to keep coming back to. And I just make sure that they’re things that I can control that doesn’t matter how the game’s going or what my opponent’s doing, it’s very simple things that if I focus on the process side of it, good things will happen.

Last year, obviously a tough year for you with a PCL injury, so you were sidelined for a significant part of that season. Can you talk us through your approach to rehab?

Yeah, it’s been a pretty frustrating year for me. That was my first real major injury last year. So I did that round six, last year, and came back round 20. And the initial one was probably more frustrating because I didn’t have surgery initially and then post-season got surgery. So it was probably more frustrating because I’d go watch games and you just want to be out there. We’re playing good footy, it looked like fun. And it’s hard watching football every week knowing that you want to contribute and you just can’t.

But at the same time, I tried to use that as motivation going, I’m trying to get back before the end of the season. I need to do everything I can because I’m working against the clock to try and get back for one, two, three, four games. So even though it was frustrating for three hours every week, it was probably my biggest source of motivation to stay on track as much as possible.

Then I had surgery in September last year, got back for round two this year, and I only got cleared to full training about a month before that. So I knew that I had to be as close to perfect with my recovery, my rehab, and just my attention to detail if I wanted to get back to the start of the season. So it was definitely hard, especially when boys went on holiday, but just understanding that I had to do the touch sitting on a chair, I had to do the extra weights, I had to stay off my leg as much as possible, even if I wanted to go outside and walk my dog. But just that little attention to detail and understanding, right, I’m doing this for the sole purpose of I want to be back playing, I enjoy playing, and just remembering and being really aware of and visualising what it was like last time I played and how much fun I had. Using that as motivation to try and be as good as possible to come back as fast as possible.

Based on your career so far, what would be three pieces of advice that you’d give to a young up-and-coming ruckman who’s looking to make the AFL?

The first thing I would say to anyone is just you’ve got to have fun and find as much fun in everything you do. Whether it’s the recovery, the touch, the training, the games, if you’re not having fun you’re just not going to do it enough and you’re not going to do it to a good enough level. So, to be able to consistently do it to the level you’ve got to do, you’ve got to be having as much fun as possible.

The second is try and work out what you think you’re good at. And yeah, we hear about working on your weaknesses and everything, that’s important, but you need to have a point of difference. So, being able to really hone in on a strength and make that as good as anyone is one thing I really stress because we’re all going to have weaknesses in our games and if you’ve got a good team around you, they can help you cover for those. So if you bring a strength that then helps someone else, you’ll just make the team better.

You can book an AFL coaching session with Marc Pittonet here: Train with Marc

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