NATALIE Wood needed inspiration when she decided to add storytelling to her coaching repertoire.
Enter her two much-loved "naughty little nephews".
Warrnambool-based Rafferty Lynch, 5, and younger brother Sullivan, 3, have become part of the Essendon mentor's pep talks.
Wood, who grew up in Warrnambool, spent the COVID lockdowns living with her sister Ebony and brother-in-law Matthew and their two sons.
"You have to evolve your coaching and I have never been a big storyteller but it's been something I have focused on in the last couple of years because it's proven to draw connection for players," Wood told The Standard.
"I have been having different themes for my stories and I didn't plan it deliberately but the way it's happened is the first month was about when I lived with Rafferty and Sullivan, so the whole playing group know the boys fondly as my naughty little nephews.
"The playing group are looking forward to meeting these naughty little nephews because they've heard a lot about them."
Wood said they would be among her loud personal cheer-squad for Sunday's AFLW game against Geelong at Reid Oval.
"My best friends are now three and five years of age," she laughed.
"Raff - it was his fifth birthday on Monday - and he quite frankly told me, as he's just learning about the game, 'Natalie, you need to coach the Bombers better, they're losing'.
"I get good feedback, there's no hiding."
She has persuaded them to follow the team too.
"They're Carlton supporters in the men's so they've had to learn to (wear) the Dons' jumper and they have a couple of favourite players in Maddy Prespakis and Bonnie Toogood," Wood said.
"They will come along to the open training on the Saturday too."
Wood - a former Warrnambool College student who will give a speech at her former school on Monday - said she was excited to bring a national-level competition home.
"For me personally it's doing a 360-degree turnaround from being a young female who didn't have access to the game growing up in Warrnambool. (Now ) to bring it back and to give the community the opportunity to have an AFLW game is terrific," she said.
Wood, whose mum Denise also lives in Warrnambool, has siblings in Geelong and Melbourne too.
She said friends and family had thrown their support behind her as the Bombers embarked on their inaugural AFLW season.
"I had one of the players on the weekend ask me 'do you have people come to watch you coach?," she said.
"I was like 'well they come to support the game'. My family are terrific support for me. I have all my brothers and sisters and their tribe of kids - nieces and nephews - running around in Essendon colours and supporting me and the team and following the journey."
Wood is excited to for Essendon, which has a 2-4 win-loss record, to play on the redeveloped Reid Oval.
"It was getting done up during COVID so we'd walk the kids and the dogs around the Albert Park precinct," she said.
"I saw it getting done up but haven't seen the final product but I have heard the ground is in really good condition."
The game is at 1.10pm at Reid Oval on Sunday. The open training session is at the same venue on Saturday from 3.45pm.
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