Michael Hartley joined the Community Partnerships team late last year as Development Coach after finishing up his AFL playing career, having played for Collingwood, Essendon and more recently, Hawthorn Football Club.

AFL and AFLW players, both current and retired, play such an important role in Ladder programs and bring such a wealth of experience and knowledge for our young people.

Michael reflected on his new role as Development Coach and how players can make a significant impact on the lives of young people in our Ladder programs.

Why do you think it's important for AFL and AFLW players to get involved with Ladder?

I think it's important for the AFL and AFLW players to understand the impact of their official charity (Ladder) and how their support is benefitting young people in Ladder programs every day.

Ladder supports many young people through its programs, but Ladder can also add value to the players. If players are looking for work experience for example, Ladder is keen to help the players with workplace experience players will need during their playing career and post Football.

What sorts of things can players get involved with?

Players could come with Ladder Development Coaches and deliver some Ladder Development Programs to the young people in our programs or players could run a physical education session with young people. Q and A sessions are also an easy way for players to be involved without getting out of there comfort zone too far. Volunteer work is also a possibility which can sometimes lead to job opportunities within Ladder.

What has your experience been so far working at Ladder?

It's been a very busy time. COVID has been a major struggle, not being able to go and learn how to be a Development Coach at the start of my time at Ladder was frustrating. This was due to COVID restrictions when programs were being delivered online. I'm starting to feel comfortable now, with the help of the team at Ladder. It's been enjoyable to work with the young people and see them grow each session. I didn't know what to expect at the start of this journey but I'm extremely happy how it is turning out.

What have you been involved with?

Ladder Community Partnerships is what I've been doing mostly. I've really enjoyed it. As a Development Coach, being hands-on delivering programs to young people has helped me grow so much. Public speaking is not a strong characteristic of mine, but the guidance from the team has been great, and I've grown in confidence every time it's my turn to speak. I've done a bit in the player engagement space but I'm sure we'll rev that up a bit in the coming weeks.

What does it mean to you working at Ladder?

I really feel like I'm helping young people. I've never really been part of something that really helps others. I feel huge satisfaction in thinking that my own personal journey and knowledge can help someone else out in their journey.

What have you got out of your experience so far?

Personally, bringing program participants to the MCG museum and checking out the history around it was something that I never thought I'd really do or like to be honest but I was so happy to learn and see all about it.

Seeing the growth in the program participants has been something I've really enjoyed also. It's nothing major, just the little things that I can see changing. like one young person would always look down when he spoke to us, but by the end of the last program he was glancing up to speak and laughing with us. That sort of stuff really makes me feel good.

How much do the young people get out of the support from AFL and AFLW players?

I think that the players all have extremely different experiences to share. Some resonate with the young people, and some do not. I think that for the young people, just knowing that these athletes who play in front of thousands of people and who are in the spotlight all the time have the same everyday problems that they do. Being able to explain to them that we have had similar issues to them resonates with them, I think.

What has been your favourite memory so far?

Like I said before, going to the MCG and museum was a cool experience. but one other experience really stood out for me. We did an activity in pairs. The two young people were working together, and one was getting frustrated about his drawing. The other just said to him not to worry about it and that he was proud of him. The room sort of stopped and me and the other Development Coaches just looked at each other and smiled. That felt like an awesome moment for me.