Life In The Fast Lane

Clubs have made a terrible mistake. In a bid to validate existence and under the guise of improved performance they have made players fully professional. 

I am yet to hear proof that the move has worked.

Sports science guru’s have taken control of the game. Staff and team support levels are horrendously high. The guru’s use their qualifications and penchant desire to be a part of the seducing system to convince unknowing coaches and executives that their roles are vital. In a vain bid to be seen to be improving or doing something they appoint qualified and unqualified support staff. In essence throwing resources at the group and hoping something works.

What we now have is an over-developed, over-managed full-time system that is painstakingly boring for every player. 

Here’s the kicker: On the downside we have players with little or no skills outside the unsophisticated, unrealistic, protected environment called AFL. 

Further to that and as an extension we have coaches with not a single skerrick of real world experiences or normal (practical) working skills or abilities. Their own lifelong experience revolves around a playing career, followed by an assistant coaching role for a few years. This leads to insurmountable problems.

You will not hear a player speak encouragingly about their weekly activities and I have first hand references. Players refer to their week as boring, uninteresting, draining and demotivating. They are particularly savage on coach meetings which seem to be constructed for the development of the large entourage of coaches rather than the benefit of the players. Player/coach game video analysis is dreaded. The coaches go through the vision forensically – because they do not have much else to fill their week with. Assistants I have spoken to all relate the same problem; “too much time not enough things to do”. 

Every disposal is analysed, ever contest discussed. It leads to paralysis by analysis. We often wonder why players take the safe sideways option, well the answer is still ringing in his ears from the Tuesday review – “don’t turn the ball over”. Coaches are rated on their specific areas and kicking efficiency is very high on the bragging board. 

Coaches always promote taking risks until the risk causes a turnover. The player is then ridiculed. Coaches wonder why he becomes safe and measured and refuses to take risks?

There are too many coaches, too many assistants, too many development staff (I’m yet to understand the difference), too much sports science, too many everything. The only element there is not enough of is life skilling, the real world, working in a job with community people, understanding how Jenny and Chris go about their working day. Dealing with situational management, being part of a sales team, learning how a budget works, stimulating their minds with problem solving, working in a project team or a call centre.

The AFL environment has exploded with consultants, with specialists, with guru’s all of which who take up valuable player time and effectively – on exposed evidence – lead to very little improvement.

Players should still be in the workforce – at least partially. I understand this will be seen to be radically off the mark and a ridiculous opinion however I am convinced it is right. Over and over again I am being confronted with players approaching the end of their career completely pannicking about life after football and what they can do? If they were working throughout their career – even a few days or hours a week – they would be connected to society (humility), learn about something important (experience), get a skill (knowledge) and have a better idea about what they want to do after football (confidence and direction).

The wasted time at football clubs is horrenderous. Players’ enjoyment factor is at an all-time low. The system has decreed that players should be able to be accessed 24/7. So they have made them full-time professional and filled the time with wastful, irrelevent, debilitating sessions to validate the decision. Its called player control.

What we have is “life” uneducated, wealthy, bored, unstimulated sportsmen who sit around twiddling their thumbs in the down time waiting for another assistant coach to concoct a meeting as to why a certain piece of the ground wasn’t protected from a fast-break forward 50 entry or where a player was standing at a clearance in defence.

The “real” issue here is that most of the guys constructing the sessions or providing the advice have little knowledge or skill apart from having been in the same situation recently as the player in front of them reputedly learning. Lets be clear about this – AFL coaches learn on the job ( at the playing lists’ expense). The week is more around coaches (read all support staff) developing their own skills (career’s) and learning on the job, than it is about what is best for a naturally talented footballer who has experienced two things in life; school and football. This is hardly the level of experiences and development that conjures up a lot of confidence in maturity and decision-making.

These are the reasons we have so much gambling, drinking, illicit drug-taking in the AFL and amongst elite sportspeople around the world. 

AFL players have only ever been to school (usually praised and lauded) then at an AFL club (more of the same). You give people heaps of adulation and praise all their life, give them loads of money and heaps of spare time – there can only be one outcome.

11 thoughts on “Life In The Fast Lane

  1. I agree GT, but I have a question. If a new coach came into a club and had similar thinking to you, could he conceivably give players an extra day off, added to their single day off they already have off thanks to the CBA, if he thinks it would be beneficial or is it too hard to get this ticked off?

    • Hi Jamie, Im sure if you enlisted the support of the AFLPA you would be able to structure the week in a manner that provided great benefit to players.

  2. It’s hard to disagree with any of it.

    Leaving aside your opening points about there being far too many ‘charlatans’ masquerading as sports professionals at a footy club justifying their obscene wages for chipping their ‘university-degree’ bib in, and pissing in their uneducated coach’s ear … the following point goes to the heart of the matter in terms of the players:

    “Players should still be in the workforce – at least partially.”

    You’ve covered nearly everything in relation to players having jobs, but the word I would bracket in relation to a person having a real job is (structure). A real job gives a person structure. In turn, that structure gives the person a foundation, and sense of natural discipline (towards himself and others) in order to acquire the type of humility you refer to in order to function within your place in society, rather than deem yourself above it due to your bank balance and media mentions.

    It’s difficult to write on these matters without writing a thesis-length document, so I’ll stop.

  3. I agree but if, hypothetically, you were approached by the AFLPA and/or AFL with a requested way of realistically introducing and implementing your suggested changes, what would you say?
    I am skeptical that players currently actually take their one-day-off-a-week. For one, what would they do, and with whom? Also, I assume they want to be seen to be ‘serious about their footy’ and so turn up to do extra weights etc on their day off. Once one player does this is the implication that others who don’t are less ‘serious’ about their footy? Are clubs obliged to ‘not allow’ players to be at the club on their day off? This should be the case if it’s not already (that they’re not allowed at the club on their day off). Also, I love the salary cap but is that not what originally led clubs (successful ones at least) to spend their profits in ways other than buying/keeping the best players? (like buying/keeping sports-science guys and extra assistant coaches).
    And as someone else asked here earlier, how long would a coach attempting to demand part/full/time jobs for all players last? (if was ever given a job in the first place). The AFLPA and the AFL would have to drive the shift in perspective. Or… if the players find the current daily grind so miserable (forget working a day job for a sec) could/would a club ever be able to entice an in-demand free agent to their team, above the other suitors, by offering less ‘meetings’/less days at the club per week as part of their pitch? Some might say this would be unfair on his team-mates but already there are players (at GWS for example) on way more money than their (sometimes way better) team-mates and those players all get-along together ok. Or some older players train less without the younger ones being resentful.
    Anyway, you’ve pinpointed a problem Grant, so how do you apply the solution? 🙂

  4. Great thought leadership Grant. Do you have an ideal ‘Club’ blueprint to share?

    If you were to create a contemporary Club, how would you set up governance, coaching, players, conditioning, employees etc. to provide a competitive advantage over the current cookie cutter approach?

    Too many robots – lack of visionary and innovators in industry.

  5. Mr Thomas.. i couldn’t agree more with you.. I am an organisation and coaching Psychologist working with top end Corporate’s.. the biggest single issue I deal with is the capacity to be effective within a complex system.. their capacity to adapt.. make decisions on the run and get buy n where there are inane systems and processes that serve no end but to slow the effectiveness down.. my understanding of Football environment is it is a over engineered environment and by definition is oscillates everyone to the mean..I am not aware of evidence of the efficacy of Sports Science at the expense of individuality.. and if there is it certainly does not prepare them for the unstructured corporate world..

  6. Great read Thomo.
    I remember you saying to me once when you were coaching the Saints that it wasn’t as hard (or time consuming) as everyone made out. It seemed obvious to me but you were chortled down at the time. I wouldn’t have wanted my sons drafted, for all the reasons you’ve given plus conversations with players about how miserable it was to be reasonably badly injured and having to get up on the weekend when they could barely get around the house during the week. Which coach was it that said ‘no job no game’ a decade or two back? Pagan?

  7. Hi Grant

    Spot on with the article… but good luck getting an industry ear!

    I have (and still do) worked in numerous executive/sales/senior management roles for various national and international companies. In that time I have assisted in (I hope!) raising a now adult family of 4 kids, I have been involved in coaching 16 to 25 year old young men in aussie rules at a reasonably high suburban level. And in this time I have been amazed at the blatant lack of care in personal growth an AFL club affords to its “employees”. I have had numerous kids come through our junior programs, head into the TAC competition (now TAC comp is worth a totally separate subject to discuss), to watch a few get drafted to AFL with a sparkle in their eyes only to see them return jaded and disappointed.

    I am amazed that the only people that are seen as good enough to “develop” these young men are insiders that have “played the game”. How often are real life people with multitudes of life skill sets even given the opportunity to sit down in an interview situation to table what real business development managers can do to motivate and stimulate.

    I have applied dozens of times to jobs at “club land” but to no avail. I do get a nice letter… not this time! Why would they not at least take that risk to see what this guy could do to show us what it is really like out there. Teach players what really happens. We don’t all have managers to pay our phone bills, water rates, car rego, budget for a holiday, squeeze in some social stuff while doing un paid hours to advance the career and on top of this do around 20+ hours of unpaid community work running a footy club for young blokes that want a kick.

    The AFL clubs simply do not care. As you said, meeting upon meeting until the flair, talent and youthful enthusiasm has been suppressed in the name of “defensive acts” and other American-isms that the so called development coaches can inject into them. All this money stuffed in their pockets, but all this non personal time seems to be very production line. In one door and very quietly out the back door 4.6 years later.

    When asked the question by Andy Maher on 20/05 on SEN (Andy referred to your article), current StKilda senior coach Alan Richardson fumbled and farted his way to answer… “I think they have some fun”. Hardly a convincing statement from that organizations senior manager.

    Anyway good luck with the article. I did enjoy reading of someone with a similar frustration and viewpoint . I look forward to reading more


  8. Grant, what do you think the ideal week should look like for an AFL footballer from a training, work and social perspective

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