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Why player development is key to success

Any article or report concerning how to compete and win in business today will raise the concept of talent management. High performing teams and effective talent management go hand in hand. AFL Club CEO’s and Executive Leaders now mention the ‘war for talent’; the need to find and retain the best people, including players. The Hawthorn Football Club’s vision is to be the Destination Club, where the very best people aspire to join their pursuit of excellence, unity and success.

We are starting to see Player Development (PD) take a more prominent role at Clubs.  Previously, it’s often been seen as an ‘add on’ to the football program, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. Player Development is the bedrock of retaining talent, and the core enabler of many other talent processes. In the context of modern football Player Development has become relevant to:

  • On-boarding: inducting new recruits and reducing time to competency;
  • Performance: both on and off the field;
  • Skills development: developing existing and future skill sets;
  • Career advancement: during and post football;
  • Club capability: where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts;
  • Wellbeing: optimising player thriving and life performance;
  • Diversity: building inclusive environments that promote diversity and respect differences;
  • Ethical leadership: ensuring players are capable and compliant in their ability to make good decisions on and off the field, and champion the interests of the game; and,
  • Retention: providing environments players want to be a part of.

PD pays dividends for people, clubs, and the greater game; but still holds such little regard when it comes to perceptions of ‘high performance’? Everyone accepts the game is changing, and the role of PD has changed too.

Through discussions with our members I know PD has already taken a lead role in contributing to high performance; but it still remains to be told that way.  It’s time for the language of football to catch up – for PD to be openly identified and acknowledged for the central role it plays. For PD has never truly been considered a strategic tool, but this lack of strategic identity is potentially holding it back from the impactful role it can play in driving high performance and effective talent management in the AFL.

‘Everyone accepts the game is changing, and the role of PD has changed too.’

In the not too distant future we may see increased player movement through free agency, more career opportunities for players, and consequently more clubs actively recruiting. The time is ripe for PD to take a more vocal and visual lead, especially given this increasing importance on recruitment and retention.   For all businesses; people are what sets them apart and differentiates them in the market place.  AFL clubs are no different.  Attracting, developing and retaining people will become even more critical than it is today.

The risk for clubs without effective PD strategies in place is that they face the triple whammy of not only losing their best players, but also not having well-developed players to replace them, nor the employer brand or reputation to attract other players. In our industry PD is one of the central elements of the employer’s value proposition; and recent ACU research found that it’s also a central pillar of on-field performance.

So whilst player development is often perceived as a junior player in the overall football program or hierarchy, there has never been a better time to recognise its wider role.  But for this to happen all clubs need to start recalibrating what they do in the high performance (Football Program) space. If players’ feel empowered in regard to their football program, they are more likely to ‘buy in’ and embrace the professionalism and demands of the AFL. If players aren’t empowered as professional individuals with a healthy disrespect for authority and ability to challenge the status quo, clubs risk institutionalising players where apathy and even resentment can have a negative impact on PD and inevitably performance.

Whether it’s about empowering players’, on-boarding new players faster and more effectively; raising current on-field performance; or developing capabilities to succeed in the future; Player Development is key.

The Players’ Association aims to deliver a First Class Sporting Workplace for AFL Players’ – ensuring that players’ work in an environment that promotes sporting excellence, and long term personal growth and wellbeing.