loris bertolacci

Sport, Health and Fitness

The AFL Fitness “Arms Race” and equalization. Is there a better way?

Recently much has been spoken about the Fitness Arms Race and also equalization. Patrick Smith wrote an article about this issue and link is below. But is there a better and smarter way to develop a winning AFL team?

Patrick Smith: Secret to an even AFL Competition is limiting money spent on Football Operations.

I have been out of the cut and thrust of AFL fitness since 2007 but have worked in elite sport since. Much has changed in the AFL and the explosion in spending has been massive. Staff costs has spiralled and ‘gurus” have come out of the woodwork. Clubs in my opinion have panicked and simply jumped on the “arms race” train.

There is no doubt that having quality facilities is critical. And also having large patches of grass without cricket pitches is an obvious. Pristine medical and recovery areas, well set up gym and then the “other”. Even to the point of attracting players in the new free market.

But so many “gurus” have jumped up above $250,000 a year now and given the Sports Science meltdown recently, we have seen Demetrious resolve to up the presence of medical staff. On the one hand that is an honorable aim but cynically it will mean budgets have to be stretched further to accommodate medical staff increases. And someone still has to do the hands on rehabilitation and fitness and that won’t be these new staff additions. Maybe that may be counterbalanced by more physiotherapists with sports science qualifications also to allow double dipping for clubs. Otherwise more money! Or less to fitness staff & more to medicos. But  off we go again with another cost addition and more people drinking coffee in the footy dept reading the Herald Sun on a Monday morning!

One area of great discussion is spending on Sports Science and it’s relationship to success. Where I become a squeak cynical is when I see research papers spinning out of pre-season programs. The FOR argument is to ascertain whether initiatives work for specific sports IE Altitude & AFL. The AGAINST argument is that Sports Scientists are keen to get their name on papers maybe more than winning games & universities crave elite athletes for research. Big call maybe and research is critical but I always was of the opinion that if “research projects” got in the way of a quick change needed in a program due to fatigue, injuries or losses then “research projects” went first.

And I do not want to discuss the physiological gains of altitude and heat adaptation training. But when someone writes that one advantage of going to ARIZONA for such and such a physiological benefit is also TEAM BONDING blah blah I say crap. That is simply an expensive method of TEAM BONDING. Have a comedian come in and then go to Lorne and have a camp. Geezus that is such bunkum.

And recently I wrote about the need to assist players <25 in general on lifestyle issues. To me a 1% gain in endurance and a little increase post ARIZONA in fitness when back in OZ is totally squashed with 4am late nights and smoke filled clubs and alcohol and maybe a little bit of ice.  Spending huge amounts on 1% ers in Sports Science programs when the 5 and 10% ers have not always been addressed yet ( from fitness to lifestyle)  is where I am heading. And the law of DIMINISHING RETURNS is a huge factor in how to decide how much to spend on certain Footy Dept spending needs. Simply what will give the biggest bang for buck!

I think that is what is need is some smart consultants developing some protocols for what will actually assist a club win games relative to money spent. Questions need to be answered such as spending on quality rehabilitation staff and soft tissue therapists/massage. Does one invest massive amounts on very specific and expensive camps and sports science initiatives OR spread the funds around so that many experts and consultants can be accessed and contribute to the needs of the team. From massage to yoga to pilates to speed development to biomechanics to accessing the best rehab specialists one off etc. My last foray into AFL was when I presented a consultancy to the Western Bulldogs on their ACL injury problems and their Strength and Speed programs. I thought I was in a good position to actually deliver a very specific report/s to the club on where they should head in the future.

My gut feeling is that if a club did a lot of research and said we only have $X to spend on medical and fitness and want to maximize every dollar and get maximum effect in it’s relationship to winning games and maximizing individual athletic performance then some clubs could save 30 to 50% on their budgets and still win enough games. Too many managers have never managed elite athletes in a variety of sports and have little understanding of what goes into the long term development of elite athletes and teams. Yet they are often the ones that panic and get sucked into the ‘arms race” vortex. Rich clubs are just that, rich clubs and overall this will help. But there are ways of saving money and achieving maximum performance on the ground.

Coaching is still a hands on process and clubs have to be strong and not get sucked in to paying massive salaries because a team that did, won the flag or improved. Too simplistic.

The whole of the Geelong “super” list was developed on a total shoestring budget. Would not cut it now but the lesson is that coaching is not just about throwing money and stepping into chambers willy nilly. Those players endured till 2011.  It is about that delicate balance between science and coaching. Sports science and evidence based research is critical. But teaching someone how to jump properly and run properly also is.

At AAP we are big on our sports science with GPS,  Biomechanical analysis, and relationships with cutting edge medical and sports science staff and businesses. But we also strive to coach elite athletes hands on.

Jamaica’s sprint supremacy has come about because they realized that they needed to train in Jamaica and stop going to US colleges which have amazing facilities. A few great coaches set up in Jamaica and they often train on grass ovals and in basic gyms. But their method is cutting edge. And they do source expertise world wide for specific rehab and training needs. But still pretty amazing what has happened.

So all I am saying is that  maybe, maybe AFL success is not simply linked to more money spent. Great coaches, elite training methods and maybe less gurus. And remember the LAW of DIMINISHING RETURNS!

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March 22, 2013 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment