Mark Bickley was an AFL captain who led his team to two premierships in a row, and went on to become a South Australian legend. But he was never the most talented athlete on the team.

Growing up in Port Pirie, an industrial town, there was an expectation that Mark would get a trade and join the workforce, like most of his other classmates. But he wanted more.

After a stint as an electrician, he decided to play Aussie rules football in the city and see how far he could go. And that’s when his now famous focus first appeared.

“I’ve always been a big person for goal setting,” Mark told Bushy Martin on the Get Invested podcast.

I think one of the things that’s really helped me was just trying to draw a road map of how I’m going to get there, and all the little signposts along the way that you need to tick off.”

After showing positive signs at local level, Mark was given the opportunity to join the inaugural Adelaide Crows training squad under coach Graham Cornes.

“He basically said I was the last one picked (in the team),” he said.

“One night at training they were going to cut (some) players and I was on the list to be cut. And one of the players that was going be kept got injured that night and they said, ‘well, he’s injured, there’s a little cloud over here and maybe we won’t cut Bickley tonight. We’ll just keep him on for another week’. And I was able just to hang in there and hang in there and in the end I made it to the final list of 42 and then I couldn’t believe it, because when I went out there I had no expectations.

“And the longer that went, the more I realised that these blokes were the same as what I was, and I had some traits that perhaps they didn’t have, and then I was able to get onto that list, and then that’s that little bite sized goal. And then the next thing was is I wanted to play one game. ‘Just let me play one game’. And then one game came, and then it was ‘I want be a regular player ‘and then ‘I want to be a leader’ and then all those little signposts, we just kept ticking them off.”

Mark learned that, despite not being the most talented player on the squad, he could earn his place by working harder and doing the things that weren’t ‘pretty’.

Valuable lessons that apply not just in elite sport, but in the workforce too.

“I just did everything that I could possibly do to give myself every chance,” he said.

“And even things like, I became a really good tackler and I did lots of the sort of un-sexy type styles of play and defensive stuff really well, because I thought ‘I can’t kick it as well as other blokes, I can’t mark it as well and I’m not as big or as quick as other blokes, so, I’ll do all the stuff that everyone hates doing’.

“And then that’ll keep me in the side, but what has come to pass is those things that are less sexy, they’re bloody effective and you become a really reliable player and a consistent player. And as you get older, and I went on to coach as well, blokes in a team that you can trust and you know what you’re going to get every time they turn up in the park, they’re really, really effective and valuable. And that was probably my greatest trait that I was a really consistent reliable performer.”

Mark talks about this and much more in the full interview with Bushy Martin, including his transition into media and business, failures, lessons learned and more. 

Listen to the full interview here.

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