AFL Coaching Pathway

AFL coaching is an elite profession, which enjoys exalted status in Australia. This Pathway is hard work. It is a blueprint for how best to become a successful coach at an AFL club.

In late 2014, a Working Group of experienced coaches - including three senior coaches who had won AFL premierships - determined the ideal preparation for a coach coming into the AFL system. The conclusions reached by the Working Group have guided the Pathway. Subsequently, there has been wide consultation with members and industry experts.

Six key trends have emerged in modern AFL coaching:

• Growth in coaching numbers has been strong, but has plateaued;
• AFL coaching is a volatile profession characterised by high turnover;
• The days of 10% annual growth in non-player football costs are over;
• AFL coaches are well paid;
• More and more AFL coaches have not played AFL at the highest level; and
• AFL coaches are becoming formally qualified.

The context of the AFLCA’s recommended Pathway is important:

• The Pathway is not compulsory;
• Many very successful coaches have recently entered the AFL ranks without adhering to the Pathway’s guidelines;
• Several AFL clubs will hire coaches without the experience set out in the Pathway; nevertheless
• The AFLCA believe that following this Pathway will give a potential Assistant or Development Coach the best chance to get a job as an AFL coach and then succeed.

The AFLCA’s Pathway is based on 4 criteria.

1. Coach your own team

This is the most important experience for a new coach. At the start of season 2015, 10 senior AFL coaches had senior coaching experience and, of the immediate past 10 Premiership coaches, only Paul Roos (2005) and Chris Scott (2011) won without having coached their own team.

For AFL Players, opportunities to coach a team require initiative and enthusiasm. It also requires the modern AFL Player to accept the wisdom espoused by the majority of their successful predecessors to embrace the challenge of coaching a team, rather than trying to gain employment with an AFL club straight after retiring. Remuneration is also a challenge for AFL Players, who are likely to earn a fraction of their final year’s Player salary when they are first employed as a coach.

2. Develop an understanding of pedagogy

The skills required to be a great coach and teacher are complementary. Many of the great AFL coaches were also school teachers, including Alastair Clarkson, David Parkin, Robert Walls and Mark Williams who also coached Premierships. Ideally, a coach would have a Bachelor of Education or Masters in Sports Coaching.

Teaching courses are widely available; however, there are meaningful alternatives to becoming a trained teacher including the Next Coach Program for AFL Players.

3. Gain experience managing people

Incoming AFL coaches are thrust into a high performance workplace characterised by ruthless accountability, so experience in managing a team of people will help. There are many opportunities to gain meaningful People Management experience, including volunteering at a community organisation, in the workforce or at university.

4. Complete the AFL’s High Performance Coach (Level 3) accreditation

The AFL Level 3 Coaching Course is designed to prepare coaches to work in AFL clubs and is likely to become a mandatory requirement for all AFL coaches. The course is conducted annually for a maximum of 24 candidates, however, access is restricted to those aspiring coaches with potential to coach at elite level or at an AFL club.

Click here to read the full AFLCA Pathway document. It will be updated on an ongoing basis.

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