After NPL competitions were cancelled in Victoria last year, it has been followed up with another rollercoaster season in 2021 for Western United youth captain Ben Collins.
The United defender reflected on the struggles he faced being away from the game and how he’s been able to stay motivated despite the uncertainty that surrounds the NPL.
Like most young players in the NPL, Collins has faced many obstacles but remains positive.
“Football is such a significant part of my life and COVID restrictions have presented many challenges over the past year,” Collins told The Inner Sanctum.
“One of the biggest challenges is being able to keep some form of consistency and regularity both in team and individual performances.”
After a year away from the game, Collins would leave Northcote City to join Western United’s youth squad in their inaugural NPL season.
Collins was keen to get back onto the pitch, though admittingly says he and his teammates struggled in the intial weeks of preseason after the year off.
“Obviously, I was very excited for training to be back and the games to follow,” he said.
“I think everyone, including myself found the return to training somewhat difficult as we had to adapt pretty quickly to the intensity and speed of the game.
“However, I think by the time games rolled around, I had a good preseason under my belt and had had the opportunity to play in practice matches.
“This meant back to business by the start of the season and I could just enjoy being back playing.”
Having undergone three state lockdowns before the commencement of 2021 NPL season, Collins – like all Victorians – hoped ‘snap lockdowns’ would be a thing of the past.
Though the state would enter a further three lockdowns, with 2021 NPL action suspended for six weeks in total.
Believing his development was impacted by not playing consistently, Collins remains optimistic saying his time with Western United has been invaluable.
“I think last season slightly slowed my development due to the absence of team training and matches,” he said.
“Although training individually throughout the year kept me fit, the lack of games and structured training sessions probably led me to lose some sense of the game and its intensity.
“However, I don’t think that the pandemic has impacted my development this year.
“Despite still having lockdowns, being able to train more consistently and play games throughout the year means that I have continued to improve and develop as a player.”
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Enjoying an impressive season with Western United, the side currently sit third on the NPL 3 ladder. Collins says the hopes of playing finals and possibly gaining promotion has kept him motivated for when the season picks up again.
“It’s been difficult at times,” he said.
“But I think given our team has been doing well in the league I’ve been motivated throughout the interruptions in the season, to come back and continue to win games in order to give us the best possible finish.
“I have also stayed motivated as I want to continually improve as a player.”
Collins also says the club has shown a huge level of support to both him and the playing group throughout the lockdowns, ensuring the squad are mentally fit as well as physically fit.
“During the snap lockdowns it has been a massive challenge for me as well as the club,” he said.
“Despite this, the staff at the club always ensure that all of the boys are well looked after.
“Not only does the club send out our training programs that we can complete individually, they also check in with us to make sure we are doing well mentally as it’s a big challenge for the players to be part of such an unpredictable and constantly varying season.”
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