AFL coaches experience high work stress

It’s grand finals season – and many football fans take an extreme interest in every twinge and ache of players in their favourite AFL teams.

AFL football matchBut what about the health and welfare of those behind the scenes, people like assistant coaches, who also make critical contributions to match outcomes? 

La Trobe University Public Health expert Dr Mandy Ruddock-Hudson says the finals campaign can be equally stressful for assistant coaches.

‘Assistant coaches are on contract and this year there has been a lot of movement of senior coaches in the AFL industry, with senior coaches stepping down, contracts not being renewed or coaches moving on, therefore assistant coaches potentially face uncertain times. 

A specialist researcher into occupational well-being in the sporting industry, she has found that assistant coaches, often ex-players with a passionate love of the game, are particularly susceptible to work place stress. 

AFL assistant coaches usually have a lower level of job security with little of the compensating public recognition. Yet, she says, they face the same pressures because of the finals season’s heightened focus on outcomes.

Dr Ruddock-Hudson says stress is one of the most common health issues of the 21st century. Chronic job stress is associated with a range of physical, psychological, social and behavioural health problems. 

‘There has been a lot of research into occupational stress in other workplaces, but until recently there has been limited information on sports coaching and no data to represent the AFL coaching population.’

In a detailed study Dr Ruddock-Hudson collected data from 85 per cent of assistant coaches in the national AFL competition, a highly significant sample.

The study found assistant coaches had very unbalanced lifestyles, working an average of 69 hours a week in-season with a small percentage working more than a hundred hours per week. Only about half had a designated day off during the week, with the rest working 7 and 14 days straight. 

The results identified that 98 per cent of assistant coaches reported high psychological distress during the football season. More than a third said they suffered emotional exhaustion. 

The next phase of the research is now in progress investigating AFL senior coaches. Currently, 12 of the 18 senior coaches have participated.

With sport now big business, Dr Ruddock-Hudson says the number of paid coaches has increased worldwide ‘exposing them to a complex, ever-changing environment that imposes a range of professional pressures’.

Her studies into occupational stress, health and well-being of football coaches have been supported by the AFL Coaches Association and AFL Research Board.

More information 

Watch Dr Ruddock-Hudson discuss her work through La Trobe's Big FAT Ideas program.

Media contact 

Dr Mandy Ruddock-Hudson: E

Ernest Raetz, Media and Communications: M 0412 261 919

Image credit: Jimmy Harris