Allansford under 18 coach Tim Nowell knows footy means everything to some youngsters.
That's why he's been keen to look after his players during the past two coronavirus pandemic-interrupted Warrnambool and District league seasons.
The undefeated Cats host third-placed Merrivale on Saturday.
Nowell said the group was keen to play after four weekends off footy because of school holidays, a bye and two weeks of coronavirus lockdown.
"It's very exciting. These boys, they live and breathe it and I ask them to train extra nights and they turn up and train extra nights," he said.
"It's very, very important. Not just for them to get back to football. But for the mental health side for our younger generation as well."
Nowell said having no footy because of the pandemic was hard for youngsters all over Australia.
"A lot of these kids haven't been without football their whole life," he said.
"From Auskick right through, every year they've played football - and all of a sudden, you take something away from them they love.
"I know within our group and with other groups with kids, they've suffered on the mental side of it, because you've taken away something that's hard for them to adapt to."
The coach has been proactive in trying to come up with ways to engage his young players during the lockdowns.
"I was very vocal here at the football club when training was going to stop and we couldn't do anything (last year)," he said.
"I was trying to come up with ideas abouthow we could keep the kids engaged at the football club or engaged in football at some stage, but obviously, with the legislation and rules that made it very hard.
"So it was more a message and a phone call to the boys once a week, or just putting on the group (messenger) a message to see how they were going.
"Last year, we had a push-up challenge while COVID (lockdown) was going and once the season was called (off), I stayed in touch with most of these boys.
"That's why this year we retained all these young men, they all came back and played."
Nowell said 2021 had been tough as well.
"They were undefeated and then COVID kicked in - they started struggling saying 'are we going to play?' That whole mental thing started coming back into it," he said.
"We got them going again. And then obviously with the last break - we've missed five weeks of football - and a few of the boys two weeks ago, they were messaging me saying, 'the season's over', because there was no clarity on when we were going to get back to playing football.
"So again, it's been that, let them sound out to you. And sometimes, you've got to say to them 'no, there will be football, we'll be right mate'.
"You've just got to keep that positive vibe going, I hate negativity."
The positive reinforcement appears to have had an influence on the players.
The under 18s trained two nights this week. Seventeen turned up on Wednesday and 26 were at training on Thursday night.
The team stayed in touch online the past fortnight during lockdown.
"All I asked the boys to do, is 'if you went for a run put it up there'," Nowell said.
"Because not only does it help you, it helps your teammates knowing you're out doing something.
"Once the first one puts something up then all of a sudden, everyone's putting something up."
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