IT'S BEEN 12 months since Daniel Giansiracusa applied for the North Melbourne coaching position, but last month he suddenly found himself pitching for the role again. 

There was no Paul Roos, Glenn Archer or Ben Amarfio on the panel this time, however, as the highly rated Essendon assistant made his case in a thorough 25-minute online presentation.  

Instead, a five-person panel including Gold Coast coach Stuart Dew and Melbourne football boss Alan Richardson listened to the 39-year-old before asking questions and providing feedback. 

It was an exercise that concluded formalities for Giansiracusa and the latest participants in the AFL's Level Four coaching course, a program designed to prepare the next wave of senior coaches for the top job.  

"I'd presented before to an actual panel, so I used that as an opportunity to present a little differently and got some great feedback I'll take away and be able to implement," Giansiracusa told AFL.com.au.

"These are the things that get you as ready as you can be, and I feel I am getting closer to that, if not ready right now."

Essendon assistant coach Daniel Giansiracusa at training in May, 2021. Picture: AFL Photos

Other coaches to graduate from the latest intake of the Level Four course were Ashley Hansen, David Teague, Henry Playfair, Craig Jennings and Ashley Prescott

It's a course that started for the group in March 2019 and included collaboration with national coaches Brian Goorjian (basketball), Rohan Taylor (swimming) and Justin Langer (cricket), as well as speakers from fields as diverse as the SAS and the business world.

For Giansiracusa, the course embedded his coaching philosophies and provided him with a valuable mentor in British applied psychologist Pippa Grange, who is now head of people and team development at the Football Association in England. 

It also gave him lessons he could apply immediately as the Bombers' defensive coach. 

"You're now in partnership with the athletes, rather than being a teller and telling them what to do, so you work together and you problem solve," he said. 

"There's definitely more discussion than there was when I was coming through as a player … which is a good thing."

A former colleague of Giansiracusa's at the Western Bulldogs and a new Carlton assistant, Hansen was viewed as another standout in the Level Four program. 

New Blues assistant coach Ashley Hansen on October 19, 2021. Picture: carltonfc.com.au

The highlight for the West Coast premiership forward was the work the group did with professor Cliff Mallett at the University of Queensland, each mapping their life story and how they had been led to coaching. 

"That was really impactful for me. It was a deep dive into your pathway, your upbringing, and understanding why you coach," the 38-year-old said. 

"I'd never really thought about it, but there were probably little moments along my childhood and playing career that was probably drawing me towards coaching that I didn't realise. 

"I didn't understand how fulfilled I was going to be in coaching, so it reinforced knowing yourself and who you are so you can be an authentic leader."

The program also underlined for Hansen the importance of not being in a rush, despite his ambitions to coach an AFL team.   

"At the start of enrolling, I was starting to entertain and pursue the idea of being in that senior coach role one day," he said. 

"I've got an open mind around that now and that's important, because when you put a timeline on things that you don't control, that can be quite challenging and disheartening at times. 

"I'm not knocking on every door trying to get in front of an interview panel. I'm just really enjoying being in this next phase of my development and seeing where it leads."

The Level Four course has played a role in the development of four of the AFL's current senior coaches, including 2021 premiership coach Simon Goodwin, who was part of the first intake, graduating in 2017. 

Melbourne coach Simon Goodwin with the 2021 premiership cup. Picture: AFL Photos

Dew, Matthew Nicks and Justin Longmuir are the others with the highest accreditation available for Australian football coaches. 

The course has evolved over its six years and is now under the stewardship of Julia Lawrence, the AFL's national coaching development and education manager. 

Lawrence arrived at the AFL three years ago from Netball Australia where she was general manager of coach and international development, having previously held senior roles with Netball Singapore and Netball Victoria.    

Among the changes implemented for this Level Four intake was a formal partnership with the University of Queensland, giving the coaches an opportunity to gain certificates in applied sports psychology and quality sports coaching. 

"That essentially gave it more academic rigour and broader recognition in terms of the status and gravitas of the Level Four program," Lawrence said. 

"That aspect was great. It meant coaches could network and connect with coaches from other sports who were often dealing with very similar issues and challenges."

The coaches played a role in the types of workshops they were able to complete, requesting additional time speaking with industry figures on mental health and wellbeing, and the relationship between a senior coach and football manager.  

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"They wanted to hear from former senior coaches and Ross Lyon was one of them. He spoke a lot about the importance of that relationship with the GM of footy," Lawrence said. 

"We recently did a session with Neale Balme, Tim Livingstone and Chris Davies, and that was hosted by Dan Richardson as a former GM of footy. 

"You could have heard a pin drop in that session, it was just fantastic." 

COVID-19 presented its challenges for the course, which was scheduled to finish in March this year but had to be paused for seven months last year. 

The pandemic also meant a lot of the work was done remotely, but the coaches still developed strong relationships and were open under the program's Chattam House Rules, also taking opportunities to catch up as a group outside the Level Four schedule.  

"They were some of the key moments of the course, when we were sitting down and talking through our experience and what has worked for us as coaches and what hasn't," Giansiracusa said. 

"We'll definitely be keeping an eye on each other and supporting each other on the WhatsApp group through good times and making sure we're all going OK, because you build a bond and coaching is a rollercoaster."