Some moments in sport seem larger than life. However, there are also certain people who really are.
Shane Hillman is a futsal and soccer coach based in Adelaide, Australia.
At face value there’s nothing that particularly stands out with that sentence. Yet, Shane’s story is full of twists, turns, and a history that makes him an inspirational figure in the sports of futsal and soccer.
Detailing the daily struggles of Shane’s life, his wife Deborah speaks of the issues that Shane has had to battle through in his incredible story that will see five of his coached players heading off with the Australian squad to Brazil.
“Shane has incurable brain cancer and has had two biopsies. He’s unable to work or hold a licence yet continues to coach futsal.
“He suffers cognitive issues and now has epilepsy ailing with radiotherapy side effects. He’s also had 30 doses of radiotherapy and one year of chemo.”
The issues Shane has had to cope with in life have only increased his urge and desire to coach futsal – which have now led to him ready to plan ahead for the AFA nationals with his under-15s side, thanks to the help of Spiros Simeonakis and Simon Talford.
So how did a man with the ailments Shane has, become the inspirational and successful figure he is today?
It all starts when Shane’s son Josh was invited to join a futsal academy in South Australia.
“He loved it so much that he did a coaching course, and then started a team at a local Saturday morning competition in the off-season of soccer,” Deborah explained.
“He then assisted with state selections and became an assistant coach/manager at the 2016 National Futsal Championships, with an under-14 side that reached the semis.”
Shane’s meteoric rise through the ranks of futsal was a credit to his dedication to the game.
“Futsal is the only thing he has in life, so he’s pretty OCD about it” Deborah continued.
“In May 2016, he was appointed coach of the FFA under-12s state side for the 2017 National Championships.”
It was after here that Shane’s knocks started to hit him. A seizure in June led to his diagnosis, and the resulting year saw him battle through two biopsies and more radiotherapy sessions.
It would’ve been easy to sink at that moment and quit the sport altogether. However, Shane was made of sterner stuff.
Refusing to quit on his under-12s, they ended up making the semi-finals of the National Championships as Shane battled on.
However, the following year provided a real set-back. Shane applied for a coaching position (with FFSA (Football Federation South Australia) and was rejected without explanation.
Long-time friend and colleague Simon Talford, who works with Shane in bringing through more juniors in the South Australian camp, believes that Shane has been dealt with unfairly by too many in the past.
“Shane was dealt harshly by the FFSA (his coaching rejection) and so have many others. Shane doesn’t see it as a road-block, he just found another way around to still coach and live his life to the fullest.
“Shane’s a positive person who only sees answers and believes nothing can’t be done. He is calm, supportive, and trustworthy. He connects with his players really well, in a positive way. He’s extremely respected by his players due to his manner of coaching.
“He teaches by instruction and game-play, so players are always having fun and enjoying themselves.”
Simon had been friends with Shane when both of their children played in the same side. After going their separate ways in 2017, they met up again through futsal after Simon’s son got into the Australian side.
Deborah describes Simon as “Shane’s sounding board”, and both now work together as assistant coaches with their sons’ under-15s side.
Deborah didn’t mask the disappointment Shane suffered after his rejection from the FFSA, as she expressed the bemusement of the decision as well as the depression Shane showed afterwards.
“Shane was a little down in the dumps when he was rejected last year. He thought his days of coaching had been dismissed.
“They didn’t come out and say it, but we all know it was because of his illness.”
It was a real low point in Shane’s life.
All of his previous successes with the under-14s and under-12s at the 2016 and 2017 Nationals respectively were in the past, and a bleak future looked in store with regards to his futsal career.
It was here he was provided with a life-line in the form of Ross Montelone.
Montelone was involved with the White City under-14s division one side, and invited Shane in to assist him with his coaching.
It just so happened that this was also his son’s Josh’s team.
It gave Shane a platform to start enjoying his coaching again, before his big break arrived in the form of Spiros Simeonakis and the Futsal Super 5s.
“He met Spiros a few years ago at reserves level. They have always got along. Spiros’ passion is futsal and his enthusiasm to bring futsal full-time to South Australia is contagious,” Deborah said.
“He’s been part of the AFA with his futsal 5s competition here in Adelaide, and wanted to take a junior team to the nationals.
“He asked Shane if he could hemp him make this happen. So Simon, Spiros, and Shane worked together with the juniors, and got an under 12s and under 14s team together.
“The under 14s team had four boys that had previously played futsal, where as the rest had never played before. Shane took them once a week for around 15 weeks prior to the nationals.
“We came 9th in the 18 team competition and we played for the Silver Cup and got runners up. The team was playing in 47 degree heat and Shane never complained.
“Spiros and Simon had his back and those kids just kept him going.”
Simon has had a front-row view of the success Shane has had on his players and how he connects with them. After all, Simon himself is a top futsal coach who has worked with Shane over the recent past.
“The players that have been picked (for Australia) all came together due to Shane’s connections. His ability as a coach now and in the past have contributed to so many players making the team, and he’s had a few that would only have missed out a little.
“He’s a very capable coach. He knows a lot about bot futsal and outdoor soccer, plus other sports. Like myself, Shane has not come from a soccer background, so everything he knows he has learned along the way.
“I would feel confinable giving Shane any age group in either sport to coach, and even with everything going on in his life he would do it 120%.”
It’s not just Shane’s ability to coach and willingness to make time to do it that makes him such an inspiration, but it’s his ability to keep his players happy and full of enjoyment that gives people such a positive opinion of him.
Harry and Jack are both brothers who will both be heading overseas with the Australian under-14s and under-12s respectively, having worked with Shane in the past.
It’s no surprise given Shane’s history that both players have an overwhelmingly positive outlook on their time working with him.
Harry said: “Shane is an inspiration – he has the confidence and he doesn’t let cancer stop him from being the best coach he can be and teaching us the game.
“He’s really well-mannered and doesn’t let knowing he has cancer stop him from doing what he loves – which is being an amazing coach.”
Jack backed this up when he said that he “just keeps on going and doesn’t give up.”
Both Deborah and Simon have known Shane for a long time, as a wife and friend respectively.
Yet what do his players’ parents feel about his coaching ability? Jody and Ian, who are the parents of the talented Harry and Jack, can’t help but heap praise on their son’s coach.
“Shane is a great role model to our boys”, Jody stressed.
“He treats kids with respect yet still has high expectations. He was firm but fair, and mistakes were sorted out in the changing rooms after a game and then moved on from.
“He expected kids to behave appropriately and modelled appropriate behaviour himself. I think this is hugely important when dealing with teenagers. Sport is important, but nothing trumps manners and courtesy.
“I love that he just gets on with it. No pity, just let’s play futsal. That’s an awesome thing for any kid to learn from Shane.”
Ian was just as expressive in his praise, claiming it’s important that kids “have someone in their corner they can turn to when things aren’t going so well, and trust that he will be there to back them up.”
Moving on to the future is something that Shane hasn’t had the luxury of doing in the past given his harsh set-backs.
However, after an impressive showing at the 2018 AFA titles in Sydney, Simon laid out the plans ahead for himself and Shane ahead of a mightily important year for Australian futsal.
“Both Shane and I will be at the next nationals – coaching and helping the South Australian camp to bring more juniors and get success. We are already in the planning and coaching process for Shane’s team, which will be the under-15s.
“For myself – I’m taking a more manager role this year and helping all junior coaches, as at South Australian futsal, we have a plan which we want all coaches to follow, and that will be my role for the next nationals.”
If there’s one thing Shane has proved in the past, it’s his ability to dust himself down and pick himself back up again.
Through the help if Simon and Spiros, Shane now has a future that he’s built for himself to help develop young up-and-coming futsal players for the coming years.
His success in bringing players through to their respective Australian squads cannot be underestimated, and despite being a cancer carrier – he certainly isn’t one to look for sympathy about it.
“As a mum/wife I’m in awe at what my son has achieved. Because of his dad’s love of the game – our son’s confidence has grown.
This is a kid who has the worst couple of years and been there for everything his dad has been through. Not many 14-year-olds witness first-hand what he sees and still be the kid he is.
“Shane’s attitude to life is amazing. He has shown that even if you’re knocked down you can still get back up. He never yells and screams at the kids, and never criticises others.
“I have seriously learnt a lot from this man. He has some very rough days, and he will never return to work. However, he gets up and he just does it.
“What he has is incurable but he won’t let it defeat him”.
A fitting conclusion to an inspirational story. However, thanks to Futsal Super 5s South Australia and AFA, Shane’s story in futsal is no doubt only just beginning, with a big year ahead both for him, and Australian futsal.