A conviction that you 'belong' and a mantra to give it your best are key ingredients for youngsters looking to make the most out of elite pathways offered by North Coast Football.
That's the advice of Scotts Head prodigy Taj Northfield, who is nudging the end of his remarkable journey through the SAP (Skill Acquisition Phase) and NPL (Northern NSW National Premier League, youth series).
Aged 15, the Macksville High year 10 student encourages those interested to roll the dice and put themselves forward at a series of trials for both NCF SAP and NPL placements.
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Taj started with the SAP program as a 10-year-old, and moved through the ranks to become an integral part of the all-conquering NPL side which won three straight major premierships and is in with a shake for a possibly unprecedented fourth crown.
With nominations now open for both SAP and NPL trials, Taj said it's an opportunity to be seized.
"Just train hard and believe in yourself and be prepared to put the work in," he said.
While those selected for SAP can retain full involvement with their local football club, NCF NPL players have to focus on that format alone - and it's a challenging competition with travel and regular fixtures against the feted Newcastle clubs.
"It was a pretty big sacrifice (playing NPL), probably more so for my parents - but it was worth it and I was happy to give my time," Taj said.
The experience was so positive that the accomplished wing/back would like to give the NPL Under 16s one more crack in 2021: "I'll play down if they let me, otherwise I'll try and play men's first grade".
Overseeing the SAP and NPL pathways is NCF technical director Jack Dover, and he said the former program is aimed at nine to 12 year-olds where those successful will get expert tuition in the FFA-identified four core skills.
The youngsters will be exposed to two SAP sessions per week - and potentially a further two with their home club.
Those selected from the trials won't necessarily be the best players right at the moment.
"You might see some who have been playing for five years already, and others who have been playing for just one - two season's - but aren't too far behind. So we'll be looking at kids who have potential," Jack said.
"We'll be looking at players that we can develop across all four areas."
North Coast Football is now recruiting players for season 2021.
SAP trials are being held for girls and boys in under 10s to under 12s, and for under 14 girls. Players born in 2012 are welcome to trial. Register for the SAP trials visit HERE.
NPL trials are underway for boys from under 13s through to under 16s. Players born in 2009 are welcome to trial. To register for the NPL trials visit HERE.