'Dragons Tales' is a series of indepth feature stories on some of our top prospects in 2021, exploring their junior careers, their upbringing, the ups and downs of the dealing with COVID complications and more, written by Jonty Ralphsmith. This week we will be focusing on running defender/midfielder, Campbell Chesser.
Last year, Campbell Chesser read the book “Atomic Habits.”
And then again.
All throughout his life, Chesser has been surrounded by structure and strong values: as a junior training under the tutelage of Ken Little; National Athletics Championships; NAB League programs; Melbourne Grammar; AFL Academy programs.
But reading the book, promoted as an “easy and proven way to build good habits and break bad ones” and written by New York Times bestseller James Clear, reinforced the importance of discipline.
“It emphasises that small habits can accumulate over time, and uses a lot of analogies,” Chesser said.
“It’s more process driven rather than outcome based. It’s very focussed on processes and I can relate that closely to my training and not focusing too much on the future, so a lot of my goals this year have been focussed on what I can do in the present.
“Everyone has the same goal in the end, and it’s more the processes that define whether you get there and that’s what the book is centred on.
“Little aspects of football and life away from football that might seem insignificant but over the course of time if you’re consistent with might show good results.
“These habits aren’t formed overnight, so at the moment I’m trying to get back into these habits because they’ve proven to be beneficial when you do them consistently.”
Training with purpose is a promising quality he has developed in the last few years.
This year, a week after training with the NAB AFL Academy, he noted the training standards as something he picked up on, given he was unable to play the exhibition game for the Academy against Geelong’s VFL side due to the meniscus injury.
While he only played three games for the Dragons in 2021, his commitment to excellence and his professionalism saw him enshrined as the standard-bearer of the program.
“If you were going to take one of your seventeen-year-olds and say ‘follow him around and you’ll learn a shitload’, I tell them to go and see ‘Chess’,” said Sandy midfield coach Nick Moodie.
During the various lockdowns across the past two years, Chesser has returned to his native Lavington and remained accountable.
Last year he had now Gold Coast listed Elijah Hollands for company. Although Hollands was recovering from an ACL, the pair were gym partners with upper body strength the focus for Chesser.
Spending time with Hollands also gave Chesser an insight into the intricacies of life he would face this year.
“I’ve got a lot of good mates in the system now that you can kind of get advice from them with balancing year 12 – they were in year 12 last year so were going through similar things to what I am now so it is good to lean on them for advice.
“I knew Elijah quite well from junior footy and training with him, it was interesting to get an insight into what the lead up to the draft looked like for him with interviews and what clubs and stuff were saying to him. And seeing him on draft day, he didn’t know and was uncertain, all up in the air.
“This year he’s spoken to me about not focussing on the picks and focussing on what you can control, now that other stuff is done, it is just focussing on the interviews and controlling what you can, having fun with mates before what could potentially be a move away, it’s a big commitment when you get on a list so his preparation taught me.”
During 2021, there was no Hollands, but Chesser was still at home and sticking to his atomic habits.
These practices included maintaining consistent sleep patterns and awakening early to maximise his productivity throughout the day.
“When you’re at online school you can sit down and feel pretty shit about yourself, you can sit there and have no energy.
“There were a few times I rolled out of bed into period one but I didn’t like it so it was just about waking up earlier, instilling these habits of trying to get things done earlier in the day.
Prior to going to sleep, he meditates for 5-10 minutes in pursuit of establishing positive habits that will lend themselves to the elite AFL system.
“Meditation also helped me on the field with the notion of bringing yourself back into the present when I have been able to play,” he said.
Diet was another habit that was tinkered with, with the assistance of Rachel Little, the wife of junior athletics coach, Ken, particularly effective when Chesser has returned home across the last couple of years during lockdown.
“I tried a few different things like fasting, cutting out certain sugars and wheat – I was off the bread for a while – and eating to what my body needed for recovery which I definitely saw benefits in with recovery times last year because I was doing quite a lot of strength work.”
“It’s harder in the boarding house but I’m still meticulous with the diet and I think it also helps me at school – you’re there all day and might do a session in the spare [period] and a session after school so making sure I have enough energy to concentrate all day.”
Melbourne Grammar football coach Rhy Gieschen saw the cumulative effect of those habits.
“The way he conducts himself - his professionalism, his diet, he trains seven days a week, he’s always either in the gym, or on the bikes or doing recovery or watching what he eats so I think… he’s already acting like an AFL player in terms of his professionalism.
“For a 17-year-old kid he was super organised, he had a football calendar and had every minute of the year planned out from a football point of view. I think he’ll have no issues being a full-time athlete because he is already acting like one.”
In the next edition of Dragons Tales, Chesser details his recovery from a knee injury that sidelined him for much of 2021.