A team is only as good as its leader, and a leader is only as good as the respect they command from their teammates. Leadership is a critical component that needs to be addressed if struggling AFL clubs seek premiership success.

There appears to be a distinct correlation between successful AFL playing groups and the quality of leadership at each respective club. Success is not only measured by how many games a club may win or lose, but also rather the club’s culture and desire to achieve, believe and trust in one another.

As achieving AFL success becomes increasingly allusive to many clubs, the role and impact of leadership, and good leadership, is undervalued in the current AFL playing climate.

When we think of leaders, or captains who have a positive impact on their respective playing group, club culture and the dynamics of the game, there are several names that spring to mind. Chances are that if you have to think about who captains a certain football club, the leadership group has some serious work to do.

Good leaders offer different things to their respective clubs, for instance, true leaders have the capacity to lift a side when they are down. One example is Matthew Pavlich, whose six goals against Geelong in the Elimination Final last year inspired the team to lift and match it with the best.

Jonathan Brown, as captain of the struggling Brisbane Lions, has instilled a ‘never say die’ attitude within his growing side. This will serve the young Lions well as their list matures.

Chris Judd is a miracle worker down at Carlton, uniting teammates and fans alike with the Blues boasting some of their highest membership figures in recent years. Judd also leads by example off the field. Putting aside the whole chicken wing incident, Judd has been instrumental in developing the Blues midfield into a force to be reckoned with.

Let’s not forget the positive on-field influence Gary Ablett is having on the Gold Coast Suns. Although the Suns are yet to reap the rewards of attaining some of the most talented youngsters from the National Draft, Ablett’s on-field performances provide something for the maturing Sun’s to aspire towards. Who can forget Ablett’s 53 possessions in his sides 97-point loss to the Magpies back in Round 10 of 2012.

Nick Maxwell, the elephant in the room, has been often touted as being the ‘worst’ or most unlikely premiership captain in AFL/VFL history. It’s true; Maxwell is far from the Magpies’ best and will always go for the two-fisted spoil rather than just go for the mark. It is also true that Maxwell is generally unlikely to play as a direct opponent against some of the games best. That being said, Maxwell offers something different to the Collingwood Football Club. What he lacks in on-field talents he makes up for in intelligence and his ability to speak and present. Maxwell arguably heads the most powerful club in the AFL and he wouldn’t captain such a side without having something redeeming to offer.

The future of leadership within the AFL is headed for some exciting times. With Richmond’s developing list and the appointment of Trent Cotchin as captain, there is no doubt that Cotchin will offer something special to his playing group like the many captains before him.

The same can be said about Essendon’s Jobe Watson. Aside from being a much- deserved Brownlow Medallist, being an incredibly hard worker and one of the games most dedicated players, if Watson can instil these redeeming qualities into his young and developing Bombers side, there is no doubt that he has the capacity to captain the Bombers to greatness.

Then there are captains who seem to go by the wayside. Unless you are a diehard football nut, one could only but assume that if one asked who captains Port Adelaide, Melbourne, GWS or the Western Bulldogs, it’s not a fact that can easily be rattled at the top off your head. Perhaps this is because captaining struggling clubs does not provide the platform for the coverage of successes more often than not, which is what good captaincy is usually based on.

The issue with struggling clubs like Melbourne for example is the process of rebuilding. How can a captain expected to lead a side that still hasn’t learnt to work together?

Ultimately, the stronghold of the AFL have collectively established strong leadership groups with respectable on-field and off-field captains who command the respect of their playing group, peers and supporters.

Although success isn’t directly linked to good leadership, the attributes that a good leader can offer their respective football club is invaluable. Sometimes, the true value of good leadership is lost in amongst a sea of wins and losses.


  1. An interesting angle on leadership. Well written! I certainly would struggle to name the captains from those clubs deemed ‘less successful’!

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