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Clubs urged to get players' work-life balance right

Peter Ryan  May 31, 2013 8:28 AM

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Brad Sewell (l) and Sam Mitchell (r) were given time off by Hawthorn to attend an exam

FOOTBALL departments could be held accountable for players' off-field development as well as on-field results.

As part of a set of recommendations delivered to the AFL CEOs (in a conference earlier this month), clubs are being urged to make sure players have a life outside of football.

Some clubs are doing this well, but the AFLPA says there are stark differences from the clubs that are on the right track and those that are not.

Hawthorn, which has a reputation for being progressive in this area, allowed its stars Sam Mitchell and Brad Sewell leave from a pre-season game to attend an important exam.

By contrast, other clubs had their players report GPS results recorded on their watches during annual leave.

The Hawthorn board discusses player development at board meetings every three or four months and has established a player welfare committee.

The AFL and the AFLPA hope to create an environment where players and coaches at all clubs are able to maintain a life outside football.

There is growing belief the AFLPA has been effective in creating structures and resources to promote player wellbeing but the implementation of these is inconsistent from club to club.

Research from the Players' Association has shown a drop off in players completing courses, and only three of the 130 players who left the game last year did so with a university degree.

AFL Coaches Association research in 2012 found that 98 per cent of AFL assistant coaches experience high levels of psychological distress during the football season.

Richmond CEO Brendon Gale told AFL.com.au the industry had reached a tipping point and he supported further work to explore the issue.

He said the fact players were being paid more was making study or other work seem less attractive in the short-term, and that the all-consuming nature of the game – outside the club as much as in – was making it hard for players to find the energy to engage in other meaningful activity.

"We've got to be mindful that the game doesn't suck the life out of players, [that] they maintain their energy and maintain other interests," Gale said.

Every three or four months at Hawthorn board meetings, the club's player welfare and development manager Jason Burt goes through each player's progress in developing lives outside of football.

"[We discuss the] level of engagement outside of footy they do [and] what, if anything, they can help that particular player with," club president Andrew Newbold told AFL.com.au.

Newbold also oversaw the introduction of a welfare committee at the club, which sees directors working with the club's welfare team.

"We're pretty firmly of the belief that if they get their stuff right off the field, they're going to be better on it," Newbold said.

The AFLPA has commissioned research to examine the link between high performance on the field and engagement off the field.

The CEOs meeting resolved that a working party, to be led by AFL football operations manager Mark Evans, should be set up to explore the issue with a growing feeling that all clubs need to replicate those clubs with the culture and structure to support a work-life balance.

AFL CEO Andrew Demetriou has been clear since the player wellbeing summit in January that the AFL is taking the issue very seriously.