HAWTHORN star Sam Mitchell says his desire to keep learning is behind his ability to continue to play at a high standard as he prepares to play his 250th AFL match on Sunday.
The dual premiership player, two-time All Australian and four-time club best and fairest winner has been one of the game’s elite midfielders for 13 seasons but last year developed himself into a damaging half-back.
It was a challenge the 31 year old approached head on, something he says he thrives on because he loves looking for new ways to improve himself and his game.
“As soon as you stop learning, you may as well give it away because that’s what the game is about, that’s what life is about - just continuing to try and get better and do new things and learn new things and trying to add another string to your bow,” Mitchell told hawthornfc.com.au
“The older and more experienced you get, you might lose some physical capabilities along the journey but hopefully you can make them up for a certain amount of time with some mental things and some experience things that might help you get around some obstacles in the game.
“I still love the game, love the development and the things you can do with the ball and without the ball to make yourself a better player.
“I love that side of things – that learning and trying to improve all the small things in your game.”
Despite the accolades and the individual and team awards that have come along the way, the Hawthorn star has never once stopped to think he has made it as a footballer.
It might be hard to understand because on the outside we see Mitchell as one of the game’s best ever midfielders who can do it all – win it in close, be damaging on the outside, tackle hard and kick goals.
But he isn’t satisfied and that’s why he continues to win 30 disposals week in, week out and why we continually see new things from Sam Mitchell.
It is in that approach to his game that the true value lies because he believes he isn’t perfect and there are always ways he can improve or change to stay ahead of the game.
“You learn a lot about your teammates but continuing to improve is the key to being good at anything,” he said.
“Being able to not think ‘I’ve made it’ – I’ve never thought that, I still think I can watch what other players can do and things I can’t and wonder if I’ll be to do that.”
So he does and he starts with the players he shares a locker room with because football for Mitchell, is about a lot more than developing yourself as a player and a person.
It is about developing those around you and the new teammates he meets each year.
So he spends his time in the day-to-day grind around the teammates he sees doing things a little differently to him and tries to implement them into his preparation.
And in turn, they adopt some of what has worked for him to see if they too, will help their development.
“Luke Breust for example, he’s taught me a lot about how to play the game because he does things a little bit differently to others,” he explained.
“I look at him and I still see things that I’m trying to work out how he does them and try to master them myself but that’s the beauty of the game – being able to teach other people the things you can do.
“A guy like Mitch Hallahan who played his first game last week, I’ve spent a lot of time with him over the last 2-3 years and he’s trying to do things I’m doing and I’m trying to do things that he can do.
“Learning off each other, it creates such a fun environment when it’s like that – there’s obviously the pressure of the game but there’s a lot of fun in-between of trying to master the skills that we possess.”
While it is that ability to continue to improve himself and his skills, Mitchell says it is the desire to win another premiership that is ultimately driving him in his thirteenth season.
But his love for the game comes from what he calls the “day-to-day grind”, which fuels his motivation to get to that last day in September.
“Everyone plays footy to win premierships, they’re the days you remember, the moments you remember but if that’s all you play for, then on a day-to-day grind, that’s a long way away sometimes,” he said.
“So you have to be able to find stimulus in other things. For me, a lot of the day-to-day motivation comes from improving things, whether they’re small things or big ones, game plan and trying to do different things with the ball and trying to find new skills and do lots of things like that all the time.
“Lots of them go wrong, you try and figure out new things but can’t do them for a long period but then when you crack it and figure something out, whether it’s the way to do something or the way a team is playing and your figure out why and how it works, that’s a rewarding part of the job.
“That’s what the day-to-day grind is and how you get your rewards on a short-term basis but silverware is why we’re here in the long-term.”