loris bertolacci

Sport, Health and Fitness


Small sided games and fitness through games has really made its mark in team sports training. Lot’s of work filtered through from Hockey and other sports and in AFL we saw the Adelaide Crows pioneer this approach. Nevertheless they used other means (for example ergometer work) to supplement fitness, but less formal running. But has their high injury rate occurred due to high fitness levels and poor motor patterns? Who knows? This is a bad mix and at the base of my discussion. This approach has filtered through to many sports and recently we saw a research article by Gabbett on Volleyball with juniors. Obviously “bang for buck” in simplicity is far greater when things can be combined but my opinion is that there is a downside to what seems a simple solution to fitness. Yet I have seen many problems with this approach.

We have seen an explosion in sports science in Australia and a huge influence on sports such as cycling and rowing for example. Team sports have achieved enormous benefit due to sports science, with areas such as load management, heat management, hydration and many other areas receiving enormous backup. Huge factors and load management has been a big one with GPS and databases etc.

Sports such as soccer are now creating skill based TID schemes where kids are encouraged to play heaps of games and learn lots of skills early and then they are selected later on from a larger pool of skilled players. Simple.

But we have direct evidence that the relative age effect destroys the careers of many young players and only the gifted younger ones come through (and in fact succeed more often) coupled with kids with advanced maturity that sneak through. So many good kids are left behind. That is kids that are born early and who survive due to talent, do well at elite level. On the other hand the “bruisers” with no talent also do well as well as older kids. So many young (born early) players are lost and this is mainly a physical factor due to maturation and/or training.

And look at Tennis. We have a massive generation of players whose parents have mortgaged their houses for coaching and yet no result so far.

Sports Science has been little assistance to track and field. The scientists would say that the coaches do not want to listen. But my opinion is that the sports scientists have little to offer because very few really know how to create advanced athletes. Sports Science is awesome at telling us how to manage a player in Malaysian heat but has little idea how to propel someone over 2 45.

In team sports like AFL we simply aimed at the average. One needs to be good at many areas. Intermittent sports require a broad long term base of conditioning and good acceleration and a sufficiently developed aerobic system to assist repeat efforts. Average to OK in the gym and average to OK in power. All achievable and in the end injury management becomes a key as does talent. My experience in all these team sports is much the same. One usually does not need to create super athletes. But if a team has a core of players who have talent and also have developed all their fitness skills (running/jumping/change of direction etc) then that team should always beat a mob that can play and are fit but lack “fitness” skills. Always the same principle. All things being equal, one factor will make the difference.

Getting back to tennis, my opinion is that strength and conditioning and fitness are simply massive factors why we are falling behind in many sports.  And this needs to happen early. Puberty. And by then kids should be fully developed in all facets of running and jumping and change of direction and also have a broad base of conditioning. What we see in OZ is a huge number of skinny kids with good aerobic qualities and one sided bodies coming up against explosive “Europeans” and now Asians. Forget what happened 30 years ago. No one played tennis.

And with all due respects let’s not really consider many sports in OZ like netball and cricket and AFL because they are not played on the world stage. Our female basketball improved when they started all going OS. So there is nothing to compare here. Even Rugby League is limited in exposure. Rugby Union is only now starting to go PRO all over the world and we will see the effect of that in ten to twenty years.

In Athletics we do not have coaches for kids. Kids are not taught. There are other problems but it is difficult to change bad habits. In AFL usually paid and competent fitness personnel spend 2 to 3 years fixing up massive deficiencies in players from 17 to 20. And that works and we see a reasonable product by 21. That’s ok for footy and then add some skills based games for fitness and VOILA …Fit and at 25 yo the team wins games.

We have seen the push to work a lot on agility versus change of direction. But my experience was that the freaks (e.g. Gary Ablett) had it all. Ability to change direction, balance and then vision and skill.

In Volleyball all I see is skinny little frail kids jumping around and getting fitter BUT reinforcing very poor “fitness” and neuromuscular habits. Once ingrained hard to change. And Volleyball is a real sport. Played everywhere. Lot harder to succeed in than cricket and netball and AFL. So strength and conditioning at an early age is now in my opinion an absolute priority. We must have players ready at 16 to 18 to explode on the world stage. In AFL they usually cannot squat with a broomstick at that age and it doesn’t matter. One has time in the cloistered environment of AFL. But in tennis and athletics and volleyball and soccer, there is no time. Be good early or perish. So know how to play the sport, make decisions on court, do the clean and jerk and bound through the roof. Not balance on a swiss ball.

I have spent 15 sessions with an elite junior soccer team (12 yo) and have done 45 minutes a week of running technique and core and balance work. The results have been great and now many players are starting to challenge other players in state teams from other clubs. The coach says they are more explosive, balanced and change direction. Add skills and decision making and a talented player assumes their right position. And the young boys like doing it as long as they are not being flogged and they are learning and having fun.

The skills based approached in my opinion can be lazy. Simply get heaps of kids doing the sport and see who comes through. Chuck them a ball and let them play. Of course they will get fit.

It is obvious that one has to learn the sport early and learn to make decisions. We know that multi lateral development is the key at least till puberty. But the missing link is strength and conditioning and movement education at an early age. And core development and balance.

Of course if I get kids to play all day at 100% pace in the backyard chasing dogs and jumping fences they will improve in their vertical jump and 5m tests. But we need to slow down and realize that life aint that easy, and ask the question why we struggle in so many sports.

I think sports science has to slow down a fraction and ask the question “Can I get a male volleyballer to vertical jump 95cm?” or a tennis player to explode sideways and drop their centre of gravity and smash a forheand back to NADAL. Having good salt balance in a drink at Wimbledon will not help if you cannot get to the ball.

Let’s remember that the best coaches are ones that combine ART and SCIENCE.

I love sports science and in fact if we can attend to the strength and conditioning issues at a young age and have skilled kids ready to go at 14 to 16 we will dominate the world. My opinion.

So in summary.

Do everything in development. Zero shortcuts.

And forget non-international sports and non eccentric sports (circling/ rowing, swimming, kayak etc) when comparing and or using sports science.



July 18, 2008 Posted by | AFL, Development, General, Soccer, Strength and Conditioning, Tennis, Track and Field, Volleyball Strength and Conditioning | 2 Comments

Brisbane Lions and Development in the AFL


Here you can see the changes that occur in 2 to 3 years. Whilst Brisbane had a good average age in 2005 their distribution was poor with too many young players and too many old and no warriors. In 2008 we see a team that is too young on stats to win a flag but developing perfectly with a core of players coming through and when that BELL CURVE or PEAK hits 25/26 and 100 games they should be very close. So this seems to be the model required for success in the AFL unless one is lucky or simply has heaps of older or younger champions. Geelong fits this model perfectly and in 2004 had too many young players. So this type of analysis and planning is the key it seems plus add good players and all the other factors mentioned in the previous article on development.

July 7, 2008 Posted by | AFL, Development | Leave a comment

Development in the Australian Football League AFL

I recently listened to Kevin Bartlett and Peter Daicos on SEN talking about development in the AFL. Daicos spoke about the importance of development. It was interesting but still missed the real factors involved in long term development in any sport really. In the end the discussion focussed too much on one or two years.

The AFL is a sanitized and manipulated sport. And so one cannot buy teams it seems. We have seen teams try to mix and match in the past few years and develop on the run by recycling some players. This simply has not worked. Most teams that have won flags recently have stuck with a core of players and worked through almost 10 years of development. West Coast Eagles started a restructure in the late 90’s with their list. Sydney had been though a lengthy period with a mature group before crashing through. Port Adelaide the same with a very mature group. Many years of pre seasons and heartache. And more so waiting till the core group was an average of 25 to 26 years of age with really good proven veterans and quality young players mainly from 21 to 25. Thats it. Add to that what seems to be a need to have some money floating aound to service the team with needs such as medical, fitness, massage and other critical needs. Clubs such as North Melbourne have certainly not delivered given they simply have not had resources in my opinion and yet have been thereabouts. I always use a seemingly trivial area such as massage to point out the need for resources. I am sure the power clubs have massive budgets for massage whilst North would have very little. This is not a 1% but may be a .25%. All adds up by finals.

Time and time again we point at reviews or culture or other totally nebuluous and subejctive concepts. If the team has a core of hardened players that have an average of 6 pre seasons and some finals experience one has a chance. If they average 100 games of AFL footy the chance increases. If the club is well financed the chance increases. If there is some relative and current political stability then the chance increases. We have seen recent examples of clubs winning flags with supposedly poor cultures so I query that one.

We are talking about young men who represent these clubs, but with mature bodies. Every club has a leadership group now but someone has to finish last. If the club can get on a winning role then usually everyone is happy including media and supporters. Added to financial stability this helps . Then clubs make good decisions when in a positive frame of mind and the positive cycle continues. Teams that lose a lot usually meddle and overtrain inseason. More disasters. Young bodies. Old bodies. Stress. Crash and burn.

When teams are firing, bodies are mature, but still vibrant and fresh, less injuries occur. It simply is less stressful. And when less injuries occur there is less drain on the current list and so again less wear and tear occurs and the load is evenly distributed. So less injuries.

Without talking about the science of it all, there is no doubt that a positive frame of mind can assist the avoidance of injury and illness so the whole cycle becomes “virtuous” and one is on a roll.

It takes a glut of injuries or total political instability and some losses to upset this “happy” cycle. Does happen and recent events have demonstrated this. Or in the end your best players are too old and young players too young and there are no warriors in between. By 2005 this was Brisbane. And did Adelaide lose their opportunity to win in 2006 with an injury glut at the end of the season Maybe? But now they seem to have old players and young players. So do they make a decision to go into a long term development phase or do they keep trying to have a crack by mixing and matching given they are so weel resourced and well coached. Tough eh! And is the Bullodgs now reasonable well resourced and with a quality core gorup at the right age? When I did my consultancy on their ACL injuries in 2006 at the Bulldogs I can assure readers that their resources were light years behind those of Geelongs without elaborating. It was tough for the players I thought, after having worked at Essendon. Colingwood and Geelong.

So development means that over time players have pumped weights, run miles, made heaps of decisions on the ground, learnt their skills from coaches, grown up socially and been involved in a vibrant well resourced club. After all there have been some excellent cultures with clubs that are poorly resourced and they do not seem to win.

Remember it takes time and in the highly controlled AFL compettition, 9 times out of ten one simply has to get the best players together at a young age, train them properly for 6 to 8 years and make sure the business is ok. You won’t win with a bunch of 23 years olds or a bunch of 28 year olds and it seems you won’t win with a paupers budget. And this is the AFL not Premier League Soccer where the best can be bought so the AFL’s contolled environment allows for objective analysis.

And then those 25 year olds have to be good players with the odd star. And really the 22 games is the accurate reflection of development. The finals are a slight lottery. And yes other things have to be ok, But get long term development wrong and fight nature and forget it.

Simple. HA.

Loris Bertolacci

July 5, 2008 Posted by | AFL, Development, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Development and the AFL Draft

This is an old powerpoint that I also presented many years ago at a few lectures and conferences. Very general and a few errors but I really wanted to understand the reality of elite sport and development.


So instead of using dogma from maturation and so on I simply went to ranking lists and winning teams. ( and losing!).

August 5, 2007 Posted by | AFL, Development | Leave a comment

Baby Bombers, Grand Finals , Optimal Age and Experience.

Below is an approximate look at Grand Final Winning Teams from 92 to 2001 that I compiled at a few years ago to see how long it might take to develop a team. ( Yes me HA!) Not much has changed.


Thus the 25.5 and 100 games average comes from this and GF’s since then have not changed that general trend. Also there seems to be a need to have about an average of 6 to 9 finals games and teams generally carry 70% of players between 22 and 29. Those below 22 either have 30 to 50 games or are really good players. IE Essendon 1993.( Hird / Mercuri / Misiti / Fletcher / Wanganeen etc ) And the average was pushed downwards with a core of players that were very experienced and successful in that game ( Harvey / Thompson / Salmon / Watson etc).

August 5, 2007 Posted by | AFL, Development, Uncategorized | Leave a comment


This word doc below has a profile of the RD 18 Lions team.


The Lions beat the Kangas and have won 5 in a row. That is a real form line. As I said in another article, last year they had a “boob” distribution with young players of 19 to 22 and older players of 27 and above and not many in between. And remember that I have found a trend towards a “Bell Curve” for champion teams skewed slightly to the left. IE More young coming in but balanced around 25.

So when I did the Lions age and experience for RD 18 2007 , they were young. 23.8. But a redeeming feature was that there is some form of bulk in the 21 to 23 age group and the older players are up and running. Also there is a semblance of a proper curve where one can see that the bulk will be in the middle with the only problem being how long can Lappin and Black keep producing. ( if they have to?).

Obviously they have Bradshaw coming back so that next year their curve would look OK and their age and experience would be OK.

If they get in the finals and do well with this distribution curve then that is a real pat on the back for their development programs especially when they lacked draft power.

They have hit their peak now so the cynical ones may suggest that a few “youngies” will drop off soon OR a few oldies might lose form and expose the “youngies ?

All subjective assessments based on some data but worth an analysis.

August 4, 2007 Posted by | AFL, Development | Leave a comment


It is often surprising to look at teams and do profiles on their age and experience. I did this in 2002 as a backdrop to studying development in sport and teams. As expected there was a real trend with teams and different sports and I have added a lecture I did on this blog that explains the trends. It is in the section “Lecture Development AFL Grand Final Conference Optimal Age” on this blog. Here it is also below.


I copied the Kangaroos team that beat the Hawks and same again…..25.7 years of age and 97 games as of RD 17. This is a distribution curve of the Kangas on word doc.


Obviously there are some teams that sit a little bit outside the trend ( EFC 93 and Carlton 95) but the trend exists and both were not far out. Takes years to develop a team.

How many teenagers in the Kangas team? But they seem to have a good group coming through at 23 to 24.

Geelong has 2 or 3 teenagers playing at times but their team you will find is very experienced and balanced around the 25 to 26 age group. Almost perfect really.

By the time Brisbanes reign was over their distribution looked like a boob. Heaps of young kids and heaps of oldies and nothing in the middle.

Also the draft system has made things equal and as we know one cannot buy a team anymore like in soccer in the UK.

So as I said this is only a trend but when teams play heaps of first years………….. OUCH!

August 2, 2007 Posted by | AFL, Development, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Secrets of Loris Bertolacci

This is from 1988 and I wrote it at Essendon Football Club so all history now.

Also I am not sure if anyone read it. I would write these things then shelve them. I must admit I was always very impressed with Brian Donohue who was Sheedy’s right hand man. He always listened intently to what I had to say and really embraced concepts like 3 weeks hard and one easy. Also he was computer literate and kept strict statisitics well before John Orchard did anything. And they were very well organized. He was ahead of his time.

These sheets are a bit like the dead sea scrolls, really but I hope of some historical interest given the development at the time of the 1990 team and the 1993 flag and the implementation of these concepts in those days long gone now that Hird and Sheedy are ready to go.

Hard to read but if of interest have a look. In a way all stuff volleyballers should do in theri development anyway.

I was giving Mateyev a bad wrap in 1988. And functional cycling then was hot off the press from Bondarchuk. Track and Field training techniques were miles ahead in the 70’s and 80’s. In fact all that has changed now with sports science and the information revolution is that lots of fine tuning needs have been studied that help the specific needs of individuals and situations like heat stress and osteitis management for example. These developments are fantastic but the basics remain.

And long term physical development of juniors. HA. Big business now!


August 1, 2007 Posted by | AFL, Development, General, Strength and Conditioning, Track and Field, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Plyometrics and Volleyball

Plyometrics and Volleyball seemingly go hand in hand. But Volleyball itself involves a lot of “plyometric” training in skills. Plyometrics really works. Olympic Weights really work. High Intensity anything works. But progressions and adherence to individual needs and training ages requires coaching. And the need to individualize and progress becomes greater with females.

When athletes measure loads with plyometrics they usually don’t do extra jumps in their training as happens in volleyball.

A study by Myer and Hewitt (The Effects of Plyometric Versus Dynamic Stabilization and Balance Training on Lower Extremity Biomechanics) proposes that balance training and plyometric training both will assist in the proper development of landing mechanics and good biomechanics of the lower legs. A weight program was done by both groups. Pretty much this study throws the lot at you. Balance training, plyometrics and also resistance work. But the good thing is that it seems balance work with strength work will assist proper lower leg mechanics in female volleyballers. Thus a conservative program of balance work and weights coupled with Volleyball training can get results.

A few snippets below from the medline abstract below:

The Effects of Plyometric Versus Dynamic Stabilization and Balance Training on Lower Extremity Biomechanics
Gregory D. Myer, and Timothy E. Hewett,

The American Journal of Sports Medicine, Vol. 34, No. 3

Methods: Eighteen high school female athletes participated in 18 training sessions during a 7-week period. The plyometric group (n = 8) performed maximum-effort jumping and cutting exercises, and the balance group (n = 10) used dynamic stabilization/ balance exercises during training. Lower extremity kinematics were measured during the drop vertical jump and the medial drop landing before and after training using 3D motion analysis techniques.
Results: During the drop vertical jump, both plyometric and balance training reduced initial contact , maximum hip adduction angle , and maximum ankle eversion angle . During the medial drop landing, both groups decreased initial contact and maximum knee abduction angle . Plyometric training increased initial contact knee flexion and maximum knee flexion during the drop vertical jump, whereas the balance training increased maximum knee flexion during the medial drop landing.
Conclusion: Both plyometric and balance training can reduce lower extremity valgus measures. Plyometric training affects sagittal plane kinematics primarily during a drop vertical jump, whereas balance training affects sagittal plane kinematics during single-legged drop landing.
Clinical Relevance: Both plyometric and dynamic stabilization/balance exercises should be included in injury-prevention protocols.

The article on loads for plyometrics (PLYOMETRIC TRAINING LOADS FOR YOUTHS AND BEGINNERS By Phil Lundin, Ph.D., Assistant Track Coach, University of Minnesota) is old but comes from track and field and is a good read on all types of jumps and training protocols and loads.


A summary from this article is quoted below

“The number of contacts recommended for mature athletes in Depth Jump training ranges from 40-100, generally in a series of 8-10 contacts with rest periods of 1-3 minutes which include light running and stretching. Training loads for beginners should be 30 contacts per session twice weekly according to Verkhoshanskiy (1973).
For children and youths, training loads are not completely understood. It appears, however, that conservative jumping programs which follow accepted training principles may enhance leg extensor power among children (Mekhonoshin, 1983).
The choice of exercises should allow for a gradual increase in load during the year. This can be accomplished by: 1. Gradual transition from general to specific jumping exercises; 2. Gradual increase in the number of contacts per session, per week, etc.; 3. Increase in number of sessions employing jumping exercises per week; and, 4. Testing for BDJ on a regular basis allowing intensity (height of DJ) to increase as adaptation occurs.
It must be remembered that DJs are intense and should be used sparingly among beginners, children and youths. Multi-jumps appear to develop leg strength and improve motor effi ciency in jumping movements. It seems
reasonable that such activities should constitute the bulk of exercises for such a population”

What I am leading to is the huge stress that occurs with plyometrics if young volleyballers are not ready for big loads or high impact or are training hard with skills.

Thus the article (Strength and plyometric drills with Penn State volleyball 13 plyometric drills) on the STACK fitness site suggests plyos can take your volleyball game to new heights and seems simple stuff and all things being ok it will . Crank the plyos up and off we go. A good read and all ok in it but if a junior coach uses it with weak biomechanically inefficient players one could have “Osgood Schlatters City”.


The planning of strength work and plyometrics within the training loads of volleyball training is a complex issue both for youths and elite players.

Basic strength work, core strength, balance work and landing mechanics need to be addressed before the next stage is achieved with young players.

Food for thought but development takes years and many kids get burnt by Internet experts. There is doctor google now and nurse google and judge google. Now Coach Google!. Now just look up an internet site and start jumping on and off boxes.


July 30, 2007 Posted by | Development, Strength and Conditioning, Volleyball Strength and Conditioning | 1 Comment

Malthouse , Old Coaches and Young Players.


Quote in Real Footy Coaching veterans pay the penalty
Dan Silkstone | July 28, 2007


“Malthouse, who turns 54 next month and has coached three clubs across three decades, remembered that in 1984 he coached at Footscray alone. Now he commands a football staff of more than 20. Still, he says, he can communicate well with young men such as Scott Pendlebury and Dale Thomas.”

Have young players in the AFL changed? Do old coaches not have the ability to communicate to young ones? Why did Hiddink at 60 have such great success?
People in 1754 were much the same as now. They ate, they argued, they cried and they had egos. That young people are soft or have changed totally is a crap argument. Life is very tough now. Circumstances have changed and kids do want more variety and employment choices but what i am talking more about is psychology not sociology. There are changes and coaches have to be aware of what this generation wants for the future but emotions and psyche and ego. Nah………..Have people from 1971 changed so much to people now.? What has happened of course are things like the information revolution and parents having to work a lot and so on. But the psychology of growing up and socialization is really much the same.

My father coached young kids and in fact the last kid he coached was Saverio Rocca in the discus. He was awesome with kids in his 60’s . Why? Because he made the whole thing enjoyable and progressive and didnt overtrain them. But still he wanted results and he got them.

What has changed in the AFL?

Specifically what has changed is that AFL players play for a living. Probably only since 200o really. IE Many players didn’t work before that but still didn’t need to be at a club 24/7. Now they get to work at 8am and leave at 6pm. They interact and eat with their coaches. They see them all day and realize they are human becuase of that. In fact this is a worldwide trend. Rugby Union went professional in the late 90’s. Soccer was all over the place til the 80’s and 90’s.

It wasnt in the 80’s. Even the 90’s. Training would start late in the day and one could almost do a full days work. Then get to training and walk into a meeting and cop a “roast” from the coach. Train. Go home and back to work for the day or university and switch off and get “kudos” or simply interact with the real world. Have lunch with a friend and “spray” the coach. In the main a young mans “persona” often was not totally linked to his sport and there were outlets. The player simply expected to go to training and cop a belting both in the rooms and on the track and so often just created a veneer.

In the old days ( early 90’s!) the player would leave the club at 8.30pm and buy a drink on the way home and just shake his head at what the coach had said. The coach would call them the next day and explain the roast and see you at 5pm tomorrow.

But now there are so many pressures. Add peer group pressures because in sporting clubs “winners are grinners” and there is a bit of “peer group” follow the leader stuff. So in a full time environment if you have been belittled and somewhat ostracized then sometimes others do the same until they see a different “nurturing” attitude emanating from the leaders. Its called “keep your job”.

I saw the transition from the VFL to the AFL. I started in AFL at 32 from Athletics and so was not a football person and what I saw amazed amd amused me with regards to a coach having the right to abuse and berate people. Didn’t make sense and still doesn’t. Hard nosed home truths are ok. IE ” You didn’t do what I told you to do etc ” or even an animated 3/4 time address that “rams” home what has been and hasn’t been done to an individual. We all like honesty in the end. And yes the coach is allowed to swear!

For those directly involved, the AFL scene is a workplace and  an environment where young men grow up and socialize. That is what changed. Professional full time sport is very new in the worlds history as we know it. Of course I dont know how the gladiators were employed or the spartans , but I presume there was a big dropout then so we are talking World War 2 onwards here!

These days coach  has to be aware that 30 minutes after ripping a player to shreds he has to eat a sandwich with him in the canteen and talk about politics or family or anything. Player might just look at him and think “f&%k off”.

Sure a few things have changed in the world but I think much more has changed in the AFL. Maybe just as an example 15% the world and 65% AFL since 1984.

Coaches that are “infected” by the past ( ie VFL and suburban footy) often struggle to realize they are just at work. And so age is not the variable here. Of course most coaches in all sports probably peak in their late 40’s? Not 60’s. But that doesnt stop a 60 year old coach knowing how to manage a team. Just like it doesnt stop a 31 year old athlete winning a gold medal. Just doesnt’ happen as much. Games will be won and lost and only one club wins the flag and I dont think a coaches rantings and ravings will have hardly anything to do with it whether young or old.

July 28, 2007 Posted by | AFL, Development, Uncategorized | Leave a comment