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Spit out your coaches

Hawks assistant coach Adam Simpson looks on during a Hawthorn Hawks training session at the Ricoh Centre, in Melbourne. (Photo: Lachlan Cunningham/AFL Media)
Hawthorn assistant and former North Melbourne skipper Adam Simpson
[For coaches] the door can shut pretty quick
AFLCA operations manager Paul Armstrong

COACHING turnover is expected to return to 2011 levels as the merry-go-round quickens now that the Grand Final is over. 

At the end of 2011, 28 coaches switched clubs, while 14 did the same last year. Ten men either left or were spat out of the system.

Paul Armstrong, operations manager of the AFL Coaches Association, said uncertainty is now the standard with about half of the 150 coaches coming out of contract at the end of every year.

However he admits there is a significant group of coaches waiting this September to see which way the cards fall in filling senior vacancies before their immediate future becomes clearer.

Much depends on whether Hawthorn assistant Adam Simpson lands a senior position at West Coast or the senior assistant gig at Melbourne.

Both positions are being keenly fought over with Peter Sumich among the candidates at the Eagles while Stuart Dew remains in the race for the Melbourne position despite the Sydney Swans declaring him off-limits.

For assistant coaches and their families, this period is a trying time.

"The door can shut pretty quick," Armstrong told AFL.com.au.

Much is being done, however, to up-skill coaches to create options if circumstances change.

Michael Poulton manages professional development at the AFL Coaches Association. He says it is critical coaches build their skills so they are transferable beyond one football club.

There are several elements to his role. One is making existing coaches better coaches within the AFL. Another is ensuring they realise many of their skills are useful in other sports or sporting bodies.

The third is making sure coaches have an awareness of what they need to make their skills transfer beyond the football scene – to what some might call the real world – in the corporate environment.

Poulton knows football clubs have robust, hard-working and professional people within but the reality is the set-up and culture they experience is different to many corporate environments.

The self-assessment of one former football person who moved into the corporate environment underlined the gap Poulton is helping coaches to bridge:

"He said 'I had all the skills but it was the nuances of dealing with the people, it was the understanding of the corporate world, it was the ability to shape my language'. They're subtleties. That robustness is something that has to change and modify," Poulton said.

Many people have done so successfully.

Todd Curley left Fremantle to join the mining industry.

Paul Williams is up and running as a business development manager while just last week Sean Wellman left Essendon to pursue business and career options outside football.

Hawthorn's Luke Beveridge coached at Collingwood while it won a flag then went back to the corporate world before returning at the Hawks who are in its second Grand Final since he's being there.

The coaches association provides funding to coaches that must be spent on professional development.

"They average 65-70 hours per week in season so they are going flat out trying to make an impression on the club and improve the players," Armstrong said. "That is great but we are really strong on making sure there needs to be some balance there too and they need to be investing on themselves."

Lions' assistant coach Adrian Fletcher is one person who has taken heed of that advice.

The 43-year-old is completing an MBA to complement the skills and experience he has gained at four clubs as a player and three clubs as an assistant coach under legends such as Mick Malthouse, Mark Thompson and Leigh Matthews.

Fletcher would be a perfect candidate for a senior assistant coaching role, having spent years as an assistant, but he could also take the path other coaches have taken into football administration, working as either a list manager or football manager. He has also completed courses on communication, performance management and has work in the media.

The skills are there, now perception is what matters. AFL Sportsready also holds courses that focus on football and list management, or leadership courses that might take people towards being football club CEOs.

Another former assistant and player Paul Licuria has moved into the corporate world, completed an MBA and is learning skills that will stand him in good stead if he chooses to move back into football at some stage.

Rodney Eade is the latest of a long line of former coaches including Neil Balme at Geelong, David Noble at Adelaide, Peter Berbakov at the Sydney Swans and Chris Bond at Fremantle to successfully move from coaching into football administration or list management roles.

He said its early days in the role at Collingwood but he sees the management skills he learned as coach to be most applicable in the new role.

Eade has a good strategic mind and receives strong support in financial management. His organisational skills are strong and he is used to maintaining team morale, addressing groups and giving feedback as well as dealing with the media and high pressure.

"A lot of the skills you learn coaching can be transferred across," Eade said.

A photo taken of AFL senior coaches at the start of 2009 demonstrates why coaches need to be ready to adapt as much as they ask their players to change.

Only Alastair Clarkson, a Grand Final coach for the second successive year at Hawthorn, and a quality operator at a strong, smart club remains at the club he was at in 2009.

Mick Malthouse and Ross Lyon have joined new clubs while Paul Roos will re-enter the fray next year at Melbourne.

Thankfully for the football business, most have moved into roles within AFL clubs, their valuable experience retained.

Poulton, who began in the position last year, helps coaches assess where they are at and what they need to build on their strengths: "we might need a business mentor, a strategic management course, and experiences beyond the football department where you are engaging with other professionals in their own areas of expertise."

This is critical for a profession that has concerns about burnout and operates within an increasingly complex regulatory environment.

It is also critical for those who, inevitably, fall off the roundabout even after performing well in a high stakes professional world that provides significant life lessons.