MILLER: Why 12-month AFLW contracts are a must

THE AFL Players Association is determined to see AFLW players become full-time athletes by 2026, but in the interim there is an urgent need to address player contracts.

The current situation, where we are signed to six-month, part-time contracts, is simply not sustainable if the competition is to continue to grow and develop.

I believe it’s time to introduce 12-month, part-time contracts, which would ensure greater financial security and transparency for both players and their daytime employers, along with better access to facilities and support, and would lead to players and staff being paid accordingly for the work we put towards each AFLW season.

In contrast, the current six-month arrangements create uncertainty for players and employers, they don’t recognise all the unpaid work we do in our long “off-season”, and our access to club facilities, support staff and coaches is significantly reduced in this time due to both the short contracts and other work commitments.

Fremantle's Hayley Miller in action during round 10, 2022. Picture: AFL Photos

Employers of AFLW players need to juggle their availability and be incredibly flexible in this ever-changing environment caused by the pandemic. To have some consistency over a 12-month period would be a lot easier to deal with for both parties.

You’d be hard pressed to find an AFLW player without another job of some form, especially during our six-month off-season, because it’s virtually impossible to make our small AFLW wage work across an entire year.

My personal situation is a case in point.

In 2017 – the first season of the AFLW – I was entering the last year of a pretty intense physiotherapy degree and I delayed my practical placement to play AFLW. Consequently, I had to squeeze 12 months’ worth of the hardest part of my degree into just seven months.

In 2018 I worked full-time for the first time, while playing my second AFLW season.

In the world of private practice physio, you are expected to work early mornings, late nights and weekends. Due to my training and playing commitments, I would work an 11-hour day mid-week to make up hours missed at night and on weekends.

Being new to the workforce, I was excited by the challenge and took everything head on. I loved it, until it started to take a toll on my mental and physical health.

I learnt first-hand the importance of work-life-football balance, so in 2020 and 2021 I made some necessary adjustments to my work schedule. With the help of my supportive employer at the time, I reduced my hours, working part-time during the season and full-time in the off-season.

Late last year as this AFLW season approached, within a week of starting discussions with my employer around reducing my hours for the in-season period, I found myself out of a job. My employer and I had come to an agreement to part ways.

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As a business they could no longer support my position in the AFLW, especially with the prospect of extended travel and hub situations, and I didn’t want to increase my hours during the intensive in-season period.

It was difficult to come to terms with at the time, but it was actually a blessing in disguise. I was burnt out.

Fremantle's Hayley Miller leads her team out onto the field ahead of the game against Gold Coast during round 10, 2022. Picture: AFL Photos

After weighing up my options, I decided to take some time out of physiotherapy to focus solely on my football for the first time in my life.

I was lucky to have that option. Although I’m sacrificing a lot of coin on a very healthy full-time salary and I’ve put my physio career on hold, I don’t have kids or a mortgage to pay, and I have enough savings to support this lifestyle for a few months. Meanwhile, most AFLW players simply can’t afford to take time off or reduce their work hours; and even if they did, they would need to have the flexibility in their work to do so.

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Further to this financial impact, it’s very difficult for us to secure a home loan – or any loan or rental for that matter – using AFLW payments, even if it’s not your primary source of income, due to the on/off nature of our contracts.

As a result of my sole footy focus, I’m no longer constantly worried about upsetting my boss if training times change at the last minute, or if games are rescheduled, or if – as has been the case this season – we are away interstate in a hub for a month.

Fremantle's Kiara Bowers (left) and Hayley Miller fist bump ahead of a game against Collingwood in round four, 2022. Picture: AFL Photos

I don’t need to rush from work to training, and I no longer have to message our team manager: “Sorry, might be late. Traffic.”

I can do proper recovery post-game. I have time to re-watch our game, and the games of our upcoming opponents.

I can jump on the phone or head to the club to do my individual game review with our coach Trent Cooper at midday or before training.

I can seek massage and physio treatment throughout the week, and I can see my performance psychologist, and still have plenty of time to rest and recharge.

I have time to explore opportunities such as writing columns like this one, making public appearances, doing interviews on radio shows and podcasts, and to plan and host my own podcast.

My mental and physical health has never been better, and I believe it directly correlates with an increased output on the football field. I have had a taste of what full-time football would be like, and I love it. Imagine every AFLW player having the same opportunity.

I won’t speak for other teams and their situations but imagine, for instance, the performances of my Fremantle teammate Kiara Bowers, the reigning joint AFLW best-and-fairest, if she didn’t have to work eight hours on a roof in 38-degree heat every day leading into a game.

So although the evolution to professionalism is the ultimate goal, it’s far more important in the short term to stretch contracts from six to 12 months. It would not only make life so much more manageable for AFLW players but it would also improve the overall product.

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