LEON Cameron has found himself more involved in drills again, with the ball in the Greater Western Sydney coach's hands regularly this pre-season. 

New North Melbourne senior coach David Noble has worked hard to include his players as much as possible in gameplan discussions, ensuring they know where to be and what to do without direction every time. 

At Sydney, premiership coach John Longmire has worried about a work-life imbalance in stretched football departments, hopeful that the mental wellbeing of players remains paramount.

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The squeeze on football soft caps as a result of the COVID-19 financial impact struck coaching panels like a shirtfront last year, with numbers of assistants and development coaches slashed across the AFL. 

But what has been the impact for clubs across a unique off-season, which saw full squads return to training in early January for a shorter, quicker preparation before round one? And specifically, what has it meant for senior coaches?

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Cameron has noticed a material change. 

"I find myself participating a lot more in training drills because you have to. I look forward to getting my hands dirty again instead of just overseeing and watching training," said Cameron, a star at the Western Bulldogs and Richmond before entering his coaching career.  

"No doubt you've got to evolve to what's in front of you. I think we're doing it pretty well, but time will tell."

Noble, who arrived at Arden Street from Brisbane, already a less resourced club than other powerhouses, hasn't noticed fewer people on the track. But he said the Roos had been mindful of having fewer voices and working at ways to instil the essential messages. 

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"In our club we've just prioritised what's important. I think you make the information that you deliver to the players more pointy. Not more relevant, but if you can capture a point you're trying to make in one or two clips then that's where it lands," Noble said.

"Including the players as part of the education process, so it's about them doing some research and education themselves on what we want to do and what we want to explore and capturing their ideas so that they become part of the solution and just working together as a really tight partnership."

North Melbourne coach David Noble at training in December. Picture: Getty Images/AFL Photos

Across the AFL, clubs have used their people in more dual roles: some mix development with welfare, others couple analytics, scouting or even commercial work with coaching. Longmire said the Swans had looked for broad skillsets as they underwent major change in their coaching group in the wake of COVID-19, including adding former Adelaide coach Don Pyke. 

"One of the key things that (football boss) Charlie Gardiner, (chief executive) Tom Harley and myself spoke about during last season as it was unfolding was that we didn't know where it was going to land, but what we did know was that there would be less people doing more work," he said.

"Therefore, the people you have around you need to be absolutely A-Grade and have a broad range of experiences. We were really fortunate in the off-season to pick up Don Pyke. There's probably no better example of doing a wide range of experiences and jobs than Don, whether it's being an assistant coach, a senior coach, or a board member in business. His attributes have been fantastic."

Players across the League have noticed the difference of fewer assistants to turn to, or sharing their line coaches with bigger groups. 

The Swans are aware of that, too, and have placed a priority on welfare given a majority of their list comes from outside of New South Wales, and Longmire said the club remains focused on that despite fewer resources. 

"Now, it's a lot more players for a lot less coaches. We've noticed that already, that our line coaches have a huge workload to keep on top of what each of their players are doing. It's not just in a football sense, it's quite often in an off-field sense and in a mental wellbeing sense," Longmire said. 

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"It's a broad range of roles that people in football departments are involved in, it's not just kicking a football and teaching them how to mark and teaching them how to defend better.

"It's been a wonderful development of the game over the last few years, but we've got to make sure we still allow time for that to happen. We don't want to go back from that and the competition won't want to go back from that. 

"The challenge is for us to get a work-life balance, because we've seen where it is and we want to get back there and still improve our program."

The Giants have one fewer on their playing list in 2021 from last year – a total of 44 back from 45 last year – but are two coaches down compared to the start of 2020. Cameron says the Giants are pushing their players to be more self-sufficient but he hopes the cutbacks won't diminish the game. 

"We're dealing with 44 players. We've got to be really careful we don't dilute the product. It's a fine line and they're used to that constant attention, that development, on the field and off the field," he said. 

"It's not just on the footy field, it's also in the gym, Pilates, all the things that make up a professional AFL player. We feel as though we're getting the right mix of attention, but also challenging our players to be self-driven."