Player development is a relatively new priority of the industry and as such continues to evolve and shape in relation to the influence and contribution it has on both performance and the lives of players.
It was only identified as a priority less than 15 years ago and up until that point, player development was based around footy clinics or work experience with a club sponsor.
In the professional era, where the average career length is less than six years and players are accountable for more than just their on-field performance, developing the ‘person’ as well as the ‘footballer’ is vitally important.
Recent research conducted by Australian Catholic University proves that if our industry is prepared to invest in the holistic growth and development of our athletes and help them establish balance in their lives through study, work experience, financial or wellbeing support, then they’ll get greater return from the footballer.
However, the incentive to provide holistic development and care for players must go beyond the lure of better on-field performance.
Players place significant trust in their environment once they make the transition from high school to an AFL club, and in return the industry has a moral obligation to ensure that decisions regarding the pursuit of on-field success are done so in the best interests of the player.
The services and support to players have certainly grown in sophistication over the past decade and through the previous CBA (2012-2016) it was mandated that every club must employ development and wellbeing staff.
While structural change started to elevate player development within club football programs, it also created a landscape with 18 clubs operating under different philosophies and programs and varying levels of commitment or collaboration. Some clubs ran strong programs where player development was embedded as an established part of the football program, but others didn’t and players have slipped through the cracks as a result.
In order to take player development to the next level, it was crucial to evaluate the way it has been delivered to the industry and identify an innovative and structured approach to create greater alignment and accountability between the key stakeholders in the game.
A successful outcome of this new CBA is the formation of an Industry Governance Committee comprised of representatives from the AFLPA, AFL and clubs that will develop and then drive an industry-aligned strategy for player development.
These three key stakeholders will work together with players towards common goals, with clear action points and shared accountability, and ensure the industry maximises and streamlines industry resources.
Importantly, this aligned strategy will be designed to ensure best practice is employed across the industry. Players don’t get a choice of where they’re drafted, so it’s vital the industry provides equal, standardised and bespoke opportunities for all players.
AFL footballers are provided with generous opportunities that if harnessed in the right way can set them up for life. Right from when they enter the game, players need to consider how they want to leverage this potential and have an industry that’s prepared to help them along the way.
There’s an African proverb that says, “if you want to go fast go alone, if you want to go far go together” and it rings true with what our industry is trying to achieve in player development. We must all abandon our own agenda in favour of a common agenda, shared measurement and alignment of effort.
We’re all in this together and we’ll have far greater and lasting impact on helping players to really maximise their time in footy if we truly collaborate.