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Coaching Contracts or Employment? No Easy Answer in Sport – Part 1

Recent debate has focused on whether AFL coaches ought to be on a fixed term contract or in a permanent employment relationship. The club’s desire to lock in a top coach, but without knowing whether they will deliver this season or the next, is part of the complexity, as is the coach’s need to make the most of a limited professional opportunity to coach a top club, and build their long term reputation.

Intense media speculation over poor performance has also been blamed for creating unnecessary uncertainty in the club-coach relationship.  

There are six points to consider, whatever type of legal relationship is chosen by the club and coach:

  1. There is only one ultimate winner at the end of the season – do the maths on the probability of any coach being successful, one, two or three seasons in a row is not that great in any sport!
  2. A coach needs long term certainty to build the right team – a club needs goals, now!
  3. No goals reached, and a club is always unhappy!
  4. A sacked coach is always unhappy!
  5. The legal remedies never satisfactorily provide justice to a club’s or coach’s reputation and long term prospects in the AFL;
  6. The media will always speculate. It’s their job.

There is no magic in simply converting from a contract to an employment relationship. Negotiating a contract requires trust and compromise. Only a foolish club executive will put faith in a coach making wild promises to turn around a club’s fortunes. A contract must provide for when things go wrong, with a clearly defined exit strategy, including the management of media comment.

Kicking a goal in this debate first needs recognition of the above tensions. Negotiation, point by point, is a precursor to a well-drafted agreement that benefits both club and coach, and ultimately the AFL Code in the long term.