April Goldring, Gezim Zeneli and Chris O’Connor sit in a row on the changeroom bench looking like a budget quiz show panel. In twenty minutes, they will head out onto Bundoora Oval for the first training session after the Redbacks’ first game. For the next twenty minutes, however, they are fulfilling media duties.
“Alright guys – so this is one of those ‘easily said, not so easily done’ ones,” says Callum O’Connor, who stands before them presenting the task.
“I ask you questions. You – in your own words, from the positions that you are in at the Academy – answer as quickly and well as you can. I want you giving your honest answers, not necessarily the ones you think people should hear.”
Nods, some nervous smiling.
Callum begins to record on his phone and nods at April.
“Alright, skip: what is culture?”
“I think culture is a feeling,” April answers, straight off the bat. “A sensation… I don’t think there’s anything tangible that can solely describe culture. It’s deep within your soul, within your heart.”
Callum smiles – later, he comments, “I wish I could clone April. I’ve worked in footy media for four years and never met a player who answers questions as well and enthusiastically as she does. And she’s just 18, for Chrissakes.”
Now, it’s Gezim’s turn. Callum opens the door to the Reserves’ coach: “Gezim – what is culture?”
“Culture,” says Gezim, his hands springing forward, “is the environment an organisation or club creates that is uplifting, supportive, positive and inclusive to everyone and is developed by both the leaders and the players in unity.”
Gezim sits back and Callum turns to Chris. The pair scowl at each other in a mock machismo and April and Gezim chuckle. Callum will interview nearly seventy people at the Academy across this year and his father is his least favourite talent.
“Padre – go for it.”
“Culture is the actions,” he begins, emphasis deliberate, “of the individual, the team and the organization both on how it treats people within the Academy and also how it treats people in organisations outside the Academy.”
Back to April.
“April. Why is culture important?” asks Callum, turning the still-recording phone in his hand.
“Culture is more than a word… it’s… it’s a feeling. It’s connection to the land, the beating of your heart… it’s looking at the stars and knowing that there’s something greater than you, knowing that you’re being guided culture is important because it brings communities together. Culture can’t be described as culture when it’s individualised. Culture brings groups together as a collective. I think it’s important to share and embrace culture and I think the Academy has done that holistically: we pray before every game and before some trainings.”
“Gezim. Why is culture important?”
Gezim pauses to consider, balancing his coaching perspective with his career as a player.
“Culture is important to understand what you want and knowing what the end result is supposed to look like. If you don’t know what the end is supposed to look like, how will you know when you see it? It’s important for everyone to feel part of the culture.”
“Dad: exec. Why is culture important?”
“Culture is critical – or good culture is critical. Every place has culture, but it is important because it does reflect your standards and the standards of the organization. It’s important that an organization identifies what culture it wishes to have because then it can review on whether it’s developing the culture that it believes.”
The final question now as the stopwatch on Callum’s recording climbs past 15 minutes. Players are now coming in and out of the change rooms, like a two-minute warning that training is upon the Redbacks.
“April, how has the Academy’s culture been developed?”
“Specifically talking about cultural identity of the club. Being an Indigenous woman and a Torres Strait Islander, I’ve played a role in making sure that this club is culturally safe and doing culturally appropriate things, like Welcome to Country when it needs to be had, acknowledging the land that we train and play on and it was such an honour to have Ngarara Willim put on the back of our guernseys, that made me quite emotional. What the club and community we have created has done around culture is nothing short of…” she falters, clears the lump in her throat and finishes with a deep breath, “amazing.”
“Gezim, how do you see the Academy’s culture being developed?”
Gezim breaks the culture down into a “multi-tier approach”.
“The coaching fraternity identified the leadership group, who excelled in work ethic, leadership, attendance and integrity. The players discussed and evaluated the values that are important to them.”
Callum turns to Chris and his father needs no prompt.
“We’ve developed our culture through discussion with anyone interacting within the Academy, be it an intern, be it a player, be it a coach, be it a supporter. Through those discussions, the culture has developed through actions that we’ve been able to reflect upon.
“The other thing that has happened within the Academy is we’ve asked people how they’re finding the Academy and if they think we’re establishing a culture that’s positive, supportive, encouraging and respectful. Being the first year, leadership had to be shown by action and not by words. So, the presence of people like Sally and Big [Sarah McKenna] at training, the fact that we could set up so many resources like support staff who are respectful in teaching players who have never played the game. The fact that the playing group led by April had reflected on the culture and were living the culture was so important.”
And the culture reflection is done. Callum releases his talent – the industry word for any interviewee -and they exit the change rooms to take on another training session. Change rooms that, by the way, have the four values of the RMIT Redbacks as decided by the players and coaches prior to Round 1 adorned on the walls.
Respect. Accountability. Unity. Resilience.