Ask the expertPodcast Interviews

Sam McKenzie (The Australian Football League): The rise of professionalism in youth sports.

Sam’s coaching background includes multiple coaching roles for AFL New Zealand, however, he has primarily been a skills coach in Rugby Union and League, specialising in kicking and high ball catching. He has worked across the youth, community and professional ranks, including the Auckland Rugby Academy and the New Zealand Warriors NRL team.Sam completed a Masters of Sport & Exercise at AUT University researching 1st XV rugby players’ perceptions of their coaching environment.

He also worked for Auckland Rugby and was influential in changing their structure of youth sport, shifting the focus to the player experience rather than performance. In March 2020, he relocated to Melbourne becoming Coaching Content & Learning Lead for the AFL, leading the design and delivery of the coach learning content across Australia.

Sam is passionate about the humanistic approach to sport and coaching, spending the last decade in national and regional sporting organisations across both player and coach development. As a coach, coach developer, and researcher, he brings academic research on coaching pedagogy to practitioners through adult learning strategies.


In this episode Sam discusses:

  • How negative experiences in sport shaped his own sporting journey.
  • Remembering who you’re there for.
  • “The reason adults should look as though they are having fun, is to give kids a reason to want to grow up.”
  • The bias of coaching pathways towards senior level coaching as a measure of success.
  • The rising professionalism in NZ Schoolboy Rugby and it’s impact on the player experience.
  • His research on the perceptions of 1st XV schoolboy rugby players in terms of environment, culture and coaching.
  • The demands and pressure this places on the on kids’ time, schooling and other commitments.

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