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Burnout fears forced AFLPA to push for change

Luke Breust (L) and Alex Woodward (R) in action during a Hawthorn Hawks pre-season training camp at Maroochydore Multi Sports Complex, Sunshine Coast. (Photo: Michael Willson/AFL Media)
Hawthorn has been considered a leader in facilitating players' work-life balance during pre-season even before the latest AFLPA agreement
There needs to be greater quality over quantity. [We] want to make sure players develop themselves as individuals both personally and professionally off-field
AFLPA official Ian Prendergast
PROTECTING players from potential burnout is one reason a revised structure for the pre-season is necessary, according to the AFL Players' Association.

The AFL announced on Thursday it had reached an agreement with the AFLPA after consultation with all clubs for players to return to training on set dates.

Evidence to the working party suggested that players needed 11 to 12 weeks to prepare for an AFL season.

Clubs will not be allowed to enforce the use of GPS systems, heart-rate monitors or other devices during the break.

Clubs that breach the guidelines could be subject to stiff financial penalties.

However, players who return to training with their fitness below standard may have to undertake additional training before Christmas and there are sanctions available to clubs and their leadership groups if individuals fail to reach required standards.

AFLPA player relations manager Ian Prendergast said the industry had an obligation to young players – who often have a short career in the game – to create a structure that allows them to have balance in their lives.

"[We have] to make sure they develop themselves off-field in a genuine way and to ensure they can transition effectively out of the game as better people," Prendergast said. "[It's] important we all recognise that."

Many in the industry recognise that the threat of burnout is high for players, coaches and club administrators. Geelong and Hawthorn have been considered two of the leading clubs in this area in relation to players and they fill the top two spots on the ladder.

The AFLPA has been concerned about the declining level of engagement in activity designed to help players establish careers outside football. They have also been alarmed at feedback from players about the demands of clubs that eat into their designated time off.  

AFL football operations manager Mark Evans said the review was important to ensure the industry continued to maintain a strong balance between football commitments, other interests and family time.

Prendergast said the revised structure would be easier to enforce than the work-life balance arrangements that have been part of the collective bargaining agreement. 
 
That previous agreement included one prescribed day off per week and four hours per week for professional development free of football obligations. However there was not consistent buy-in to those measures across the competition. 

He said the AFL and the AFLPA would develop a strategy to enforce the guidelines and praised the level of commitment from the AFL towards the issue.

It was important to enforce the guidelines to ensure no team tried to work outside the system.  

"Clubs just need to take into account the impact bringing players back earlier has on them long term and even leading up to the season," Prendergast said.

"There needs to be greater quality over quantity. [We] want to make sure players develop themselves as individuals both personally and professionally off-field."

Nine clubs were represented on the annual leave working party, which Evans chaired, and all clubs were invited to submit feedback.

The working party then considered all viewpoints before developing the guidelines.

Players would still be required to attend their club best and fairest scheduled no later than one week after the Grand Final and club reviews and medicals should be finished within days of the season ending.