Trent Cotchin has battled through an injury plagued season.
Trent Cotchin has battled through an injury plagued season.

Trent Cotchin’s biggest mental challenge

It was on the brink of his return that the hamstring pinged again.

Richmond captain Trent Cotchin had been sidelined for a month and as he approached top speed at the end of April under the watchful eye of strength and rehabilitation coach Rob Inness, he felt the all-too-familiar shooting pain in the back of his thigh.

It had given way - again.




It was a setback that cost him another five weeks - on top of the three already missed after the initial blow in Round 3. The re-injury hit him hard.

"That was the one that really challenged me, just from a mental point of view," Cotchin said.

"It wasn't one of those ones where you'd have one or two weeks off. I'd had a pretty fair-dinkum build and crack leading up to week four or five and thought I was really confident and close to playing, if not could have played that week.

"It was probably just a reality check, really."

Another came in late July when his left hamstring failed him again, early in the Tigers' Round 19 Friday night win over Collingwood.

It was a slightly different injury, but enough to miss another three games as the team cemented its top-four spot.


Trent Cotchin had doubts over whether he could return to the Richmond side. Picture: AAP
Trent Cotchin had doubts over whether he could return to the Richmond side. Picture: AAP

The doubts swirled in his mind - and still do.

But that's where the head, his history and his overwhelming trust in the "unbelievable" fitness staff at Punt Rd has had to trump the hamstring.

"It's probably impossible not to think about it," Cotchin said.

"It's more about trusting the work you've put into it. Not, 'Oh, what if I do this?'.

"(You have to think) 'No, you've done this, this and this and you had that moment the other day where you really tested it'.

"It's more about the evidence that you've built up - like anything, I suppose, whether it's goalkicking or anything else. You've just got to go back to the positive experiences rather than the ones that have challenged you."

His rehabilitation became more targeted in an attempt to balance the load on his hamstring, with pilates and an eye to strengthening his glute muscle in conjunction with a tailored weights program to alleviate the stress on the muscle.

He also credits his wife, Brooke, who despite being heavily pregnant with their third child and first son Parker - who was born in late July - Cotchin says "desperately" tried to minimise his responsibilities on the home front to give him his best chance to heal.


Trent Cotchin’s wife, Brooke, helped take the pressure off her husband while heavily pregnant with their third child, Parker.
Trent Cotchin’s wife, Brooke, helped take the pressure off her husband while heavily pregnant with their third child, Parker.


The selfless Tiger had battled an Achilles injury in his first years at the club after he was drafted to Punt Rd at the end of 2007. But he had been relatively free of soft-tissue trouble in recent years.

He's been durable, with this year marking the first time since 2010 that he has not played at least 20 games in a season.

He wasn't captain then.

This time was different. The injury challenged not only him but the team as he navigated the uncharted territory of the recurring hamstring.

Fellow leaders Alex Rance and Jack Riewoldt were both sidelined with knee injuries as Cotchin also watched on, but as the trio nursed their wounds it was the development of those left to carry the team's hopes that impressed the skipper most.

"There's been some challenges along the way, just from a personal point of view at times not having full faith or trust in your body, but also from a team point of view we've been challenged," Cotchin said.

"But there's a great saying that your greatest lessons come from your darkest times, and that's been the story of the year for us.

"We had the ability to blood some guys that probably wouldn't have got opportunities had we not had the injuries. We've seen an amazing part of our group continue to grow.

"The thing it shows … there was a big chunk of the year where Jack, Rancey and myself weren't playing. And it's nice for guys like Shane (Edwards), Lambo (Kane Lambert), Dave Astbury, Grimesy (Dylan Grimes), Dusty (Martin) … the list goes on, but it validated how important and just how much of an influence those guys have."

Their ability to step up when they were so required has been the ultimate validation of his own leadership, Cotchin says.

"My leadership is a reflection of the way those guys behave and the way they lead - that's the reality of leadership," he said.

"Yeah, there's times where you need to have conversations or find a way to motivate someone or get the best out of them, but the reality is that I'm only as good as the people that are underneath me."


Richmond players lifted without some of their brightest stars this season. Picture: AAP
Richmond players lifted without some of their brightest stars this season. Picture: AAP


Cotchin, who has led the team since 2012, knows what it's like to have his leadership questioned.

He has previously spoken of the "dark times" he endured as he desperately sought his leadership identity in 2016.

He was, by his own admission, "in a pretty average place" before leading the team to its drought-breaking premiership the following year, when he was also voted by his peers as the game's best captain.

While the Tigers have remained in firm contention and are favourite to claim a second flag in three years, a lot has changed since then, including the way Cotchin approaches his leadership.

He's found himself.

"It's funny, because I've changed, but I'm the most authentic that I've ever been," he said.

"I think I had the perfectionism mask on. I was trying to take the best bits of Luke Hodge, Nick Riewoldt and Matthew Pavlich, and what I thought was the best looking captain and I tried to act in that way.

"But the reality was, you're voted in by your peers because they see something in you that they love and respect and want from you.

"Once I took that mask off and was just truly myself, I've thoroughly enjoyed the experience. I think it gives permission for others to do exactly the same. That's why we have so much fun together."

He credits performance coach and leadership mentor Ben Crowe with helping to ditch the "mask".

Crowe, who is currently in the US as part of tennis star Grigor Dimitrov's unit after a stint with French Open champion Ash Barty, said Cotchin had to learn how to embrace his foibles in order to be freed.

"Trent went through a process in 2017 to find out who he was and secondly what he wanted in order to help his mindset on the field as his perspective off it," Crowe told the Sunday Herald Sun.

"Through leaning into that emotional exposure, he learnt that playing football is what he does but it's not who he is. It doesn't define Trent Cotchin the person, and separated the person from the persona."

It also, according to Crowe, led to the "real" Cotchin shining through and a recognition of his worth.

"He learnt that perfectionism isn't real, and by celebrating his imperfections he could take off his mask and just let himself be seen - the real, raw, imperfect, vulnerable, shit scared, laughing, storytelling Trent," he said.

"And that's beautiful because it's authentic and is pretty much the difference between trying to fit in and knowing that you already belong. That you are worthy.

"It's hard to do though and takes courage. But that's why the players love him so much. Imperfection connects. He's Captain Imperfect.

"The most powerful thing he and Damien Hardwick did in 2017 though was unlock his life purpose which created an environment to help others realise their own potential."


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The Richmond skipper was lost in 2017 before he embraced his imperfections. Picture Michael Klein.
The Richmond skipper was lost in 2017 before he embraced his imperfections. Picture Michael Klein.




Being forced to watch on for 11 of Richmond's 22 games this season has also provided the 29-year-old with an entirely new perspective of the team - and wider club - with which he has shared so much.

It forced the Brownlow medallist to find a new way to lead, away from the contest where speed, his hard edge and relentless tackling pressure have become a trademark.

"It threw up some challenges, but it also gave me an amazing opportunity to see things," Cotchin said.

"When you're playing, you tend to have the goggles on, so you could be more aware of what's happening behind the scenes or even my relationship with coaches and the way I saw the game or had conversations. Sitting in the box was a really good experience as well."

Next Friday night has all of the hallmarks of last year's preliminary final - Richmond the home team, clear favourite, a 7.50pm start at the MCG.

Cotchin admits he has thought about the 2018 hammering at the hands of Collingwood and dealt with it.

This marks an entirely new chapter, and while the Tigers bear the expectation, he is adamant that they can carry the weight.

"Our group's in a really good place in regard to maturity and accepting that we will be spoken about," he said.

"It's just knowing exactly what's required for us to perform at - or if not closest to - our best.

"There's only expectation when the focus is on the outcome. If you focus on what you need to do and what you can control, then you just need to execute.

"They're different years. There's a different feeling, there's different personnel, and it'll be a different opposition.

"We're just excited about being there and giving ourselves another chance."