In a League of its Own

The Academy is a school like no other in the region.

It’s on a mission to keep passionate footballers engaged in a school while fostering a high performance mindset.

Former AFL star Alex Rance co-founded The Academy five years ago, offering male students in year 11 and 12 the opportunity to undertake VCAL in an AFL simulated environment.

The Geelong campus launched at Western Heights College in 2020.

While still undertaking coursework like english and maths, there is also an emphasis on physical development necessary for an AFL career.

“We’re really trying to make it personalised and ensure each individual can be successful within the program.”

The school maintains an Athletic Profiling Database to identify strengths and weaknesses and create a tailored program for students, who also undertake AFL standard drills and work with a physical therapist during the season.

Following his days with Richmond Tigers, Alex is now the director and head of high performance at The Academy.

“I deal with football, strengths and conditioning and industry expertise side of things,” he explains.

“The key premise about The Academy is involving your passions with education.

“We saw there was a bit of a problem with the education system, there was a lot of specialised sporting programs that were tacked onto the side of education but that didn’t actually deal with the underlying problem that education was a struggle for a lot of these athletic young students.”

“There needed to be a better way combining the passion with literacy, numeracy and work related skills.”

And it’s not all about physical development, but emotional advancement too.

Weekly gratitude questions, mindfulness exercises, buddy programs and an understanding of the personality profile fosters a thorough sense of self awareness.

The nominated leadership group also undertakes development training to expose them to different leadership styles and strengthen their capabilities.

Alex and fellow footballer Luke Surace were on holidays in America six years ago when they were struck with the idea for The Academy.

“We were talking about how a lot of our mates had either fallen out of their jobs or were not really engaged in their uni courses,” Alex says.

“I had mates at Richmond that had pinned all their hopes on being a professional footballer for many years, and they’d just been delisted.

“We were talking about the fact that there had to be a better way to prepare students for life after school.”

Football is even integrated into the literacy curriculum, with students swapping an English textbook on Shakespeare for a novel by Adam Goodes, on analysing articles about the social media trolling of AFLW player Tayla Harris.

Year 12 student Joseph Heffernan says he likes attending The Academy because it is personalised to his passion for today.

“I also like the different subjects that you wouldn’t learn in a normal school. For example understanding maths by using footy statistics,” he says.

“I definitely feel that through The Academy I have developed a better sense of life’s bigger picture, like what life must be like for me outside of school and how I see myself in it.”

At its core, Alex says The Academy offers students a well rounded education that allows them to better understand themselves, where they want to go and how they will get there.

“As we started to piece the curriculum together we realised that VCAL, a certificate three in sport and recreation and certificate four in tertiary prep was the best way to provide that well rounded education,” he says.

In the final six months before graduation students engaged in the Launch Pad program, which prepares them for future study and careers after school.

Upon completion of the program, the young men meet the requirements for admission to numerous courses at GOTAFE and Victoria University, including Bachelor of Education, Bachelor of Health and Science and Bachelor of Business, as well as a leadership and sport development diploma at Richmond institute of Sports.

The school has three campuses, and current enrolments of 26 students in Geelong, 50 in Essendon and 10 in Wangaratta.

“The main thing we wanted to make sure was that this isn’t a one size fits all model,” Alex says.

“We’re really trying to make it personalised and ensure each individual can be successful within the program.

“ We also want to be embedded in the community and make it specific to Geelong.”