It’s a great time of year for football. The AFLX, whatever that was, is over. The AFLW is in full swing, and we are nearly as far as it is possible to get from the horror that is the yearly trade period.
Even for those of us who really like football, the AFL trade period is terrible. It consists of 11 days of waiting for something to happen followed by about four hours where you might see a few trades completed, and then it’s over.
If you follow the trade period each year, I’m sure you always ask yourself the same question as I ask myself, which is “How can we use the lessons we learn from this to improve the way we do mediations?”
Here’s three things I think we can learn from past trade periods that might be useful next time you need to negotiate a settlement. I apologise in advance for using a whole bunch of examples involving the Collingwood football club, but those are the only trades I really care about.
It’s possible to find a win-win solution
On a good day (usually around 1pm on the last day of the trade period) it’s possible to spot a good outcome. Perhaps the best one in recent history was the Heath Shaw/Taylor Adams trade in 2013.
Collingwood had a rare talent in Heath Shaw (we will never forget that smother in the 2010 Grand Final replay) but it seemed pretty clear that he was no longer happy at the club and he needed a fresh start. Meanwhile, Collingwood seems to have taken the view that that the premiership window had closed much sooner than they expected so it was time to recruit some younger players.
Taylor Adams for Heath Shaw was a great deal for both clubs. GWS got a talented, experienced player who could provide leadership for their developing group. Sure, it is sometimes painful to watch Heath Shaw in All-Australian form and possibly playing the best football of his life for the Giants, but we all know he wouldn’t be playing like that if he was still at Collingwood.
Meanwhile, Collingwood picked up a solid midfielder and future leader who will, one day, probably play in a Grand Final.
Comparing apples and oranges is never a good idea, and it’s almost equally hard to compare Taylors and Heaths. However, you will get much better outcomes in mediations if you worry less about a direct comparison between the value of what you get and what you give away, and more on how the agreement directly benefits you.
Don’t judge the outcome too soon
In 2014, Dayne Beams needed to get back to Brisbane for family reasons. There was no point in trying to force him to play out his contract, knowing he wanted to be elsewhere, so really, Collingwood had an awful bargaining position and just had to make the best of it. In that situation, picking up draft picks 5 and 25 wasn’t a bad outcome, but they also picked up young midfielder Jack Crisp.
At the time, reaction to this trade was not particularly kind to Crisp, with the term “steak knives” getting thrown around a fair bit. However, at the end of his first season at Collingwood, Crisp finished third in the Club’s best and fairest, with more votes than anyone expect Dane Swan and Scott Pendlebury.
Meanwhile, Collingwood traded pick 25 for Levi Greenwood and used pick 5 to recruit Jordan De Goey. At the time of writing, Levi Greenwood is battling injury and Jordan De Goey has managed to get himself suspended again, this time indefinitely.
In hindsight, picking up Jack Crisp in that trade was a great outcome.
It’s not always so clear cut. Injuries aside, Levi Greenwood has clearly been an asset to Collingwood. Meanwhile, North Melbourne used the draft pick they received for Greenwood to recruit Daniel Nielson. I only know this because I looked it up while I was writing this article. It turns out Daniel Neilson has played seven games for North Melbourne since making his debut in 2017. Is he better than Greenwood? It’s far too early to say.
It’s important to accept that in any mediation, there will be some degree of uncertainty. If you will only accept a deal when you can unequivocally say that it is better than the alternatives, the deal will not get done. However, if you use your best judgment at the time, there’s a pretty good chance that the eventual outcome will turn out to be better than the alternatives, even if it’s not for the exact reason as you initially thought.
Focus on key goals, not trivial side issues
The main reason why I hate trade week is that it can take forever for really obvious deals to get done. I can’t really say why this happens, but I suspect that it’s often because both parties are trying to get a few extra concessions so they can say that they “won” the trade. Often, those concessions are actually worthless.
Adam Treloar’s trade to Collingwood was described in The Age as the most prolonged and acrimonious of the 2015 trade period. In the end, Collingwood got Treloar and pick 28 in exchange for pick 7, a first round pick for the following year, and pick 65. What did the Giants do with pick 65? Nothing. As far as I can tell, they literally did not use it.
There are many more examples of absurdly high draft picks being traded to get a deal done. I didn’t even mention that the Dayne Beams trade also involved Collingwood giving Brisbane Pick 67, because it really didn’t matter. For the record, Brisbane used it to recruit Josh Watts, who never played a senior game for them.
I don’t have any data on how many trades have fallen over because people were arguing about late round draft picks. It does seem like a lot of big trades get held up until the last possible minute, which probably means other deals can’t get done before the deadline. The whole process could be improved if less time was spent on trading draft picks that will probably never make any difference to the club that receives them.
I strongly suspect that the 2018 trade period will play out exactly like every other trade period before it, and this article would make no difference to this even if every club in the AFL reads it. However, I hope that if you go into your next mediation knowing what you want and what it’s worth to you, keeping an open mind about the potential benefits of a deal, and determined to focus on what really matters, your mediation experience will be better, and quicker, than an AFL trade period.