SENIOR and assistant coaches risk burnout in the second half of the upcoming season if the industry doesn't pause and consider how to manage increased workloads, according to the AFL Coaches Association.
After securing new employment for 90 per cent of coaches who lost their jobs last season, the next challenge for the AFLCA is to support those left working in the industry with less resources.
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Outgoing chief executive Mark Brayshaw said coaches were doing more this pre-season and sacrificing their personal lives after the "traumatic" cuts within football departments last season.
Just under 60 coaches lost their jobs after the soft cap on football department spending was reduced by more than $3 million due to the financial impact of COVID-19, with the cohort reduced from 180 to roughly 120.
Brayshaw said feedback from senior and assistant coaches had been overwhelming that they were doing "much more" this pre-season in smaller football departments.
"The soft cap cuts have meant they are winding the clock back and are much more involved in the day to day," Brayshaw told AFL.com.au.
"The other feedback is their social life has been squeezed, so their hobbies and recreation, particularly at this time of year, they're not doing as much of that as they did.
"That's all consistent with a bigger workload.
"I think all coaches, particularly the senior coaches, need to pause and consider how they're going to manage this, because they run the risk of a challenging job becoming even more challenging.
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"They need to be aware of the signs of burn out, because in the second half of this coming footy season they'll be running on empty in my opinion if they're not careful."
Brayshaw said securing work for almost all coaches who left AFL clubs last year was an "extraordinary result", and the Association would continue to support those still seeking employment.
It became the Association's biggest priority when the pandemic hit last year and was made possible by the AFLCA's focus on professional development, building transferrable skills, and keeping an eye on life after football.
The AFLCA also assisted coaches with industrial relations advice and provided a hardship fund with roughly $400,000 available for members who needed support.
By the end of 2020, however, Brayshaw said the emotional toll of the cuts had been "immense".
"Almost without exception, the senior coaches said it was the most difficult year they have ever had," he said.
"And having to let good football people go was traumatic. (It caused) deep distress for the coaches and of course the members who had to leave.
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"The thing I have learnt in my six years in the job is that the job satisfaction for coaches is enormous, and it is a really tight, intimate group.
"They could see it happening in other sectors of the community pretty badly as well, so they knew they weren’t alone. But it was distressing."
Brayshaw warned that senior coaches in particular faced a delicate balancing act in the new football economy if they were to avoid burnout this season.
Supporting them through that challenge will be one of two major priorities for the AFLCA, Brayshaw predicted, when he finishes in April after six years as chief executive.
"During the lockdown, the overwhelming feedback was the coaches were enjoying the company of their family and they realised the work-life balance challenges were often out of whack," he said.
"So I think the challenge is to seriously grasp the nettle rather than paying lip service to wellbeing, both physical and mental."
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A continued focus on professional development will likely be the other priority, and Brayshaw said he had advised coaches that they should see themselves as future football managers.
Long-time assistant coach Danny Daly last year replaced David Noble as Brisbane's football manager, and former St Kilda coach Alan Richardson made the move from director of coaching to head of football at Melbourne.
While helping secure employment for so many coaches last year ranked as Brayshaw's best accomplishment with the AFLCA, he said the job had been rewarding in several ways.
Addressing their health issues was a proud achievement, with the AFLCA implementing health checks for all coaches every February, which had uncovered serious medical issues with a number of coaches and led to them to be treated.
The wellbeing of senior coaches remains a challenge for the Association, Brayshaw said, after several coaches in the past decade have fallen on hard times.
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"I don't see that in any other cohort in the game," he said.
"I think that is probably the biggest challenge, to reverse the nasty trend of coaches finding themselves in a difficult position.
"The Coaches Association is a small player in the overall scheme of the League and it's up to the boards of the 18 clubs and the CEOs to pick the right coaches.
"If you look back over the last 10 years there are coaches who have fallen on really hard times.
"I think the industry, and the CA, need to do a better job."