James Tedesco - NRL - AthletesVoice
James Tedesco - NRL - AthletesVoice


The best motivational speech I’ve ever heard

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The best motivational speech I’ve ever heard


I’ve heard my fair share of motivational speeches. One of the best was from my dad, John, a long time before I became NSW Origin captain.

He coached me for a year in under 11s at the Camden Rams, and that was probably the highlight of my time in junior footy.


We had too many players for one team at the club, so we had to split in two. Dad took one of them and we won the grand final against the other Camden side – that was pretty cool.


A lot of my mates played in that team and I’m still close friends with them today, and they love to tell this story when they’re having a drink.


We were losing that grand final when we came off at half-time. Dad got us all in close together and, holding up a mobile phone, he said “these things don’t last forever, look at this phone – it doesn’t last forever”. Then he hurled it way across the field, looked back at us and said, “but winning a premiership does!”.


We were standing there in shock, watching him throw whatever it was, probably some old Nokia, across the field.


At the time – remember we were only 11 – we thought he was throwing an expensive phone away, so we felt that winning a grand final must have meant a lot to him.


It revved us up and we ended up winning the game. We found out later it was a fake phone, and he’d planned the whole thing the night before.


For some of my mates who haven’t played a lot of footy, it’s a story that gets repeated often, especially when there are some new faces around and they want to tell a good yarn.


Family values

I grew up in Menangle, about 70kms south-west of Sydney, on 250 acres. It was the property where my mum grew up and we moved there from Ryde when I was really young and built a house there.


For as long as I can remember, I was out on the property kicking footies around. I was into all sorts of sports – union, league, cricket, and athletics as well, which came in handy around the farm when it was time to round up the cattle.


I’ve got an older brother, Matt, and he’d come for a kick a fair bit, but he wasn’t as passionate about it as I was.


But where I am now all started with the Camden Rams. Our colours were red, white and blue, the same as the Roosters, and so they were my favourite team and I loved watching them.


We had a lot of beef cattle and dad grew flowers as well. Dad’s dad had owned a farm up near Ryde way and grew flowers and sold them at the markets.


There were a few times I’d kick the footy into the flowers by accident and get into a bit of trouble for that. Matt and I weren’t really farm boys, even though we grew up on one.


When I started playing, Nonna didn’t know anything about footy at all but now she’s really into it. She watches every game, every footy show on TV.


Dad would be out there fixing the fence or rounding the cows up and we felt like we had to go and help him or we’d cop a spray.


So it was never something I loved to do, but it’s what we grew up with and my main job was to use my speed to round up the cattle and get them into certain paddocks or a grid so we could tag them.


When it came to doing the work we had to do, I wasn’t that helpful. I was standing around a lot of the time. But I think dad just enjoyed us and our company no matter how much work we did.


As long as we were there with him, giving him a bit of support, he loved it.


Family has always been important to us.


My dad’s side is Italian and I’m really close with my Nonna (grandmother) and Nonno (grandfather).


We used to drive down to Ryde every Sunday and have family dinner with all my cousins and Nonna would cook up a feast for us. I stayed with her a bit during my Tigers days, coming through the younger grades when I was trying to save on the travel from Menangle to Concord every day.


I was really close with my Nonna through those times. My grandfather has passed away but my Nonna is still around, and so is her mum, who’s 101. My great-Nonna can’t speak any English, and I don’t speak Italian so I just smile and nod most of the time. My Nonna reckons when I was younger I could understand it pretty well but I didn’t really follow up on it. Sometimes, though, she’ll start a conversation in English and end in Italian and I kind of pick it up and follow it.


When I started playing, Nonna didn’t know anything about footy at all but now she’s really into it. She watches every game, every footy show on TV, and I know she takes great pride in watching me do what I love.


She does get upset if I get hurt or something happens to me, and always prays for me to be healthy. If something happens during the game that she’s not happy with, she will definitely let me know. I take it on board, but I don’t always want to get into a whole thing with her!


I’m pretty honest with everything in life. That’s how I was brought up. I never wanted to take any shortcuts. I’d always do extras and everything I could, especially in sport, to be the best.


I’m sure that comes from my family and I think it’s a good trait to have.


I met with a publisher and we discussed the idea of writing some books – Hat-trick Teddy – about my 12-year-old self. Nonna’s amazing meatballs get a mention as well.


I felt it was a perfect fit because I have a connection with kids. Growing up I always had younger cousins and I’ve always loved kids’ energy, and I’ve always loved it when they’ve got excited seeing me and wanted photos.



It was also a great opportunity to talk about my childhood. A lot of kids aren’t big readers, and neither was I, but it was different if I found something I was interested in.


If kids can read about someone they look up to and want to be like, and that can resonate with them, that’s great.


I’ve had a lot of great feedback with parents telling me their kids are spending more time reading and less on their phones or PlayStations. I’ve got a lot of footy tips in my book because I know kids have got a lot out of that.


Chase your dreams, that’s the main message. Chase your dreams and never give up, and if that can inspire a few kids then that’s what I’m looking for.


The books are about me and my childhood so it has been a cool and special process to involve my parents in it. They’ve had a lot of input, helping me look back on my childhood and remember what it was like.


Becoming a leader

I was a leader through my younger days back at Camden and then at St Gregory’s College in Campbelltown. But I think back to how I was then and I was more just the best player than a captain. It’s an area where I’ve matured and developed.


I never felt I was leading with my words, more the way I played and trained. I showed leadership qualities, I guess, in the way I approached the game.


Coming through the grades at the Tigers, I was pretty quiet and just tried to focus on myself.


My first three years of NRL, I struggled a bit. I had a lot of injuries and surgeries. I wasn’t mentally confident and I felt really down a lot of the time. I carried a lot of worry about getting through games and suffering bad injuries and things like that.


In 2015 another player suggested I talk to Joe Wehbe, who is now my manager, but had helped other players and has been my mentor ever since then.


We spoke, and still do, every single week, usually a few times a week and we’re really close now we’ve built that relationship over six years.


As a captain, I want to get the best out of myself and get the best out of the whole team.


When we started, he was just someone to talk to and he helped me regain the confidence that I needed in my game. it wasn’t just about footy, but also life itself.


There are plenty of things that can go wrong in life and having someone to talk to you about that and share some positivity and some advice is something I can’t thank him enough for.


If I didn’t talk to him for a few weeks – which never happens – I would feel a bit lost. His guidance has really put me in a great position.


I trust him with everything, he tells me straight up and down. He’s a guy who, along with my family, I trust.


The year I started talking to him frequently, 2015, I had my first full season and played every game with no injuries. A lot of it was just having those conversations and getting my confidence back.


He’s had a big impact on my career and the person and player I’ve become. I wasn’t really an outgoing person when I was young and coming through and I’d happily just listen to the older boys and that was it.


The more games you play, the more experience you get and the more you have young guys come through, I got into that role of being a leader and it came more naturally. I found myself wanting to lead by example and be a role model for the rest of the team and the younger guys.


Trent Robinson spoke about my leadership recently and he said, “captaincy has a weight to it, you can start thinking about what other people are doing, but Teddy leads by example”.



I think he’s right. There is a weight you feel and that is a sense of responsibility for the whole team. You feel that how the team performs is a reflection back on you.


As a captain, I want to get the best out of myself and get the best out of the whole team. I want all the players to play their best footy. You feel that responsibility, and when it comes off it’s a great feeling.


It’s during the week, in the lead up to a game, where you can make the biggest impact. if I’m not captain I can just focus on myself but when I am I feel like I want everyone to train well and I want us all to be sharp and focused. If we’re not training well as a team, I feel I can influence that and take more ownership and responsibility.


You’ve got to find that balance between getting the best out of yourself but getting the team to play the best together as well.


Before a game, I’ll only address the team a few moments before we go out onto the field. In the sheds it’s more individual talks with people about their things to remember, personal combos and what I want to see from some players. That is more back and forth, not me telling them what to do, but more an open conversation.


Before the game it’s just a reminder of little things to get the boys prepared – make sure they’re connected and focused and ready to play 80 minutes.


Robbo is the most influential coach I’ve ever had. We have honest conversations, and he gives me positive feedback on how I’m going, how I’m holding myself as a person and as a player. He got me into the Roosters leadership group last year and learning off all those guys we’ve had there has been a big help.


Leading New South Wales is a huge honour and I never thought I’d be in this position, but I think it’s come from me as a person getting more mature; growing as a person and a leader.


Boyd Cordner was an awesome example to learn off, how he captains. Following in Boyd’s footsteps at the Roosters and Blues is really special for me. There was a lot of disappointment with how last year’s Origin series ended and I went into this series wanting to help the team make up for that, for me to make up for my role in it, and to produce for the whole state.


We’ve got a great team – a bunch of guys who’re playing at the top of their game. The guys from last year knew that we can play better footy than we showed, and the fresh new faces have been playing outstanding, so we carried a lot of confidence into the series.


We knew we could be better and we decided to take that responsibility as a group. What happened in Townsville, though, was only the start.





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