Steven May and Daisy Pearce. Pictures: AFL Photos/West Coast FC

MELBOURNE star Steven May and West Coast AFLW coach Daisy Pearce headline the new intake of the Next Coach Program, run by the AFL Coaches Association. 

May turned 32 in January and is contracted until the end of next season, but the two-time All-Australian is starting to prepare for life after football, which could see the key defender transition into coaching. 

Pearce was appointed as the Eagles' new head coach in December after calling time on her decorated playing career earlier in the year, ending her time as a development coach with Geelong's AFL program and pausing her burgeoning media career. 

Sydney defender Harry Cunningham and Melbourne key defender Adam Tomlinson are also part of this intake that includes 24 participants. 

The Next Coach Program was launched in 2009 and has helped develop the next generation of coaches in the AFL system, as well as training coaches from NRL clubs, Super Netball and Gaelic Football. 

Richmond star Dion Prestia did the course last year, alongside former North Melbourne captain Jack Ziebell, who is now one of Adem Yze's assistants at Punt Road. 

Jack Ziebell during a Richmond training session at Punt Road Oval on March 7, 2024. Picture: Getty Images/AFL Photos

New Western Bulldogs AFLW coach Tamara Hyett and Gold Coast AFLW coach Cameron Joyce also graduated from the program in 2023. 

Premiership coaches Simon Goodwin and Adam Simpson have previously completed the program, along with Hawthorn senior coach Sam Mitchell and former Essendon coach Ben Rutten. 

Geelong great Joel Selwood is another graduate, before joining the football operations department at the AFL and Channel Seven, while current veterans Scott Pendlebury and Travis Boak have also done the course and are both understood to be contemplating careers in coaching when they retire. 

The Next Coach program typically runs over the course of 10 weeks and is run by David Wheadon, who has more than 30 years of coaching experience and has worked under 11 AFL senior coaches during his time. 

David Wheadon during his time as assistant coach at Collingwood in 1998. Picture: AFL Photos

Under the leadership of CEO Alistair Nicholson, the AFL Coaches Association is determined to adequately prepare the next wave of coaches entering the system, while dealing with a challenging financial landscape in the aftermath of the pandemic. 

The impact of COVID-19 has been felt most severely by assistant coaches and development coaches due to the cuts made to football department spending. The soft cap has been reduced from $9.6 million in 2019 to $6.1 million in 2020, before being increased to $7.3 million for this year.  

After the AFL and the AFL Players Association signed the new collective bargaining agreement last September, the players are set for a 37 per cent pay rise over the course of the deal, with the average salary rising from $387,000 in 2022 to $519,000 by 2027. 

But unlike the players, assistant and development coaches took another pay cut in 2023, with the average salary $172,000.