Huddled over a table listening intently to their mentor, six current AFL players with over 1000 games experience took the next step in their football education – the life of AFL coaching.
Chris Newman, Leigh Brown, Daniel Giansiracusa, Brad Miller, Dean Brogan and Stephen Milne have all been accepted into the 2011 Next Coach Program which prepares players for coaching while they are still involved in the game.
Led by coach and program mentor David Wheadon, the program has a 100% success rate with previous graduates Adam Simpson, Simon Goodwin, Steven King and Shane O’Bree all now employed in AFL coaching positions.
AFL Players’ Association General Manager Player Development Steve Alessio says the key to the program is identifying the right candidates to undertake the program.
“We have strict entry criteria and it is only available to players who have demonstrated a genuine commitment to a career in coaching,” said Alessio.
“To be eligible for this opportunity you have to have been in the system for more than 7 years and have either commenced or completed your level 2 coaching course.
“You look at the guys who have come through the program and they are experienced players who understand what it takes to make it at the elite level. This program gives them the opportunity to learn the craft of coaching while they are still involved in the game.
“They can learn and gain a greater appreciation of what happens behind the scenes at AFL level and prepare for the day their career comes to a close.”
The program starts between March and April and often involves more than twenty one-on-one meetings with David Wheadon which are completed within a 12 month window.
Wheadon has been an assistant coach for 24 years and says the most important thing for these players is to develop their own coaching philosophy.
“The course helps these guys understand the various roles they will be exposed to as assistant coaches. My role is to teach these guys about nine different coaching topics including understanding opposition analysis, developing players, understanding coaching principles and tactics and very importantly developing their own game plan,” said Wheadon.
“I focus heavily on teaching skills and people management which I think are the most fundamental skills a coach needs and should they take on a role will be one of their most important assets.
“I also encourage these players to analyse the elite coaches around the world and understanding why they are successful as this will help them with their own coaching philosophy.”
For Port Adelaide’s Dean Brogan, the education has been about not only analysing AFL coaching styles but focusing on coaches across all sports.
“The program makes you realise that all coaches are different and I find myself not only analysing my coach, but coaches across other sports like NFL and NBA and seeing what their personal style is,” Brogan said.
“I’ve been in the system for 11 years now and this program has helped me with my game because it gets me thinking about the tactics and how the game has progressed and then applying this when I run out on the field.
“I’ve also been involved with helping the ruck and midfield guys at our club because we have such a young group and it is something I love doing which is why I would like to follow a path in coaching.
“I would like to potentially get involved in a development role as throughout the AFL so many clubs have 4 or 5 ruckman these days and I think each club has a real need for a development ruck and midfield coach so maybe this could be a path I follow.”
Brad Miller’s story is slightly different having grown up with a rugby league background. But he says his admiration for Brisbane Broncos coach Wayne Bennett shows that the program is about understanding coaching more so than just understanding AFL.
“You look at a guy like Wayne Bennett who has experienced so much success and clearly has his own style and then the challenge for me is to try to understand what it is about him that has made him so successful and how can I learn from this when I’m creating my own philosophies,” said Miller.
“My passion for coaching began when I was in the leadership group at Melbourne and had the opportunity to help a lot of the younger guys and found myself passing on what I had learnt during my career.
“Transferring my knowledge made me think more about my game and start to analyse it from a coaches perspective and I think that has really helped me improve.”
For the Bulldogs Daniel Giansiracusa, it is a long term love for the game that has driven his desire to coach.
“I’ve been playing footy since I was about 9 and been in the system for 12 years now so it occurred to me some years ago that I want to stay in this great industry and coaching would be a great path,” said Giansiracusa.
“I’ve had Rocket as a coach for 7 years now so he has had a huge influence over me, but I’ve also had Terry Wallace, Peter Rohde, Kevin Sheedy and now David Wheadon and I try to pick apart pieces of each coaches style and develop my own philosophy.
“I’ve was involved down at the Northern Knights for a year and now am at (Under 18s team) Oakleigh Chargers one day a week for the past year and it is a great chance to see coaching at a different level and also put some of my theories to work.
“There are a lot of levels of coaching these days and not just line coaching, but also psychological and other types so it is important to get a grasp of what they all do while I am still playing the game so when I finish my career I can hopefully move straight into coaching at an elite level.”
Hands on education has also been important for Collingwood power forward Leigh Brown who completed his Next Goal Program with AFL Victoria in 2009 and began working with the Calder Cannons..
“I’ve been down at Calder for three years now and it has certainly helped me gain a greater appreciation of coaching and all the preparation that goes on during the week and after games,” said Brown.
“I’ve also been working as the head coach of the Victorian Under 17s Future Academy which has been great for my development.
“As the head coach I get the opportunity to do all the planning, training, player feedback as well as selection of assistance coaches and all the roles that come with being a head coach.
“I have been fortunate to have a lot of coaches during my career and have taken bits and pieces from each and am now trying to build my own style and philosophies which hopefully one day I can execute at the top level.”