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



Available on my website now

Loris Bertolacci Site


This E Book is a complete resource for anyone that needs to devise practical programs for hamstring rehabilitation. It delves into the current research on this area to back up the programs.

This 120 page manual includes over 150 Exercises and 8 different programs including specifically designed Running, Agility, Stretching and Weight Programs to help any athlete get on the road to a safer and more sound recovery.

Section 1: Hamstring Theory

  1. Introduction

  2. Anatomy

  3. Overstriding and Hamstring Injury

  4. New Studies Implicates the Core in Hamstring Injury

  5. Other Muscles that Impact on the Hamstring

  6. Hamstring Exercises

  7. Why Injuries

  8. Trunk Stability and Hamstrings

  9. Different sports and Hamstring Rehabilitation

  10. So what do you do if you hurt your Hamstring?

  11. Healing Times and Rehabilitation

    Section 2: Practical Section

    Program Advice

  12. Sample Sessions

  13. Mobilization Sessions

  14. Running Sessions

  15. Mobility Drills

  16. Running Drills

  17. Running Sessions 2

  18. Strides

  19. Agility Sessions

  20. Weights Sessions

  21. Stretching after Training

  22. Plan your own rehabilitation

October 14, 2007 Posted by | AFL, General, Rehabilitation, Soccer, Strength and Conditioning, Tennis, Track and Field, Volleyball Strength and Conditioning | Leave a comment


Soon I will publish an E Book on strength and conditioning programs after a hamstring injury. Specifically soft tissue and not back related etc. One area that seems to cause problems is athletes working too intensely too soon after a muscle injury is diagnosed and taking gambles. Jarvinen’s review emphasizes the need for 3 days immobilization to allow healing as a critical phase. Respecting the stages and phases of healing in soft tissue injury is vital. Some researchers categorize these stages differently. From acute ( inflammatory) up to 7 days to proliferation ( 7 to 21 days) and maturation and remodelling ( >21 days).

Not respecting healing dogma is fraught with danger given that means trying to beat nature. Programs in my e book are based on this dogma. And Jarvinen is very clear about the processes involved.

I was lucky to work in the AFL for 20 years and since 1999 till April 2006 I was operating at approximately half the average games lost for hamstrings in the AFL. I coached sprinters in the 80’s and simply spent a lot of time researching and working this area.

Muscle Injuries: Biology and Treatment: Järvinen
The American Journal of Sports Medicine, Vol. 33, No. 5

This study emphasizes the need to immobilize in the acute phase which as minimum from healing studies should be 3 days.


Even slight use of the injured muscle in this Acute Phase needs to be avoided according to Jarvinen. He also talks about reruptures at the same site if mobilization is too soon. By resting in this phase less scar is put down.


PARADOX: Use it or lose it!

The rest in the immobilization phase allows the scar to get some strength. In fact after 10 days the scar is quite strong

After the immobilization phase is over then active mobilization enhances the penetration of muscle fibres into the scar tissue, limits the size of the scar and aligns the regenerating muscle tissue.

“If immobilization is continued past the acute phase (first few days) of muscle regeneration, the deleterious effects become particularly evident during the remodeling phase of muscle healing”

September 4, 2007 Posted by | AFL, General, Rehabilitation, Soccer, Strength and Conditioning, Tennis, Track and Field, Volleyball Strength and Conditioning | 1 Comment

Article ok for Volleyball basics

This is a simple article that has nice pics of some good foundation exercises or even ok for inseason maintenance for volleyball. After all a muscle doesn’t know if it is saving a penalty or doing a massive block! It just contracts maximally.


July 25, 2007 Posted by | Soccer, Volleyball Strength and Conditioning | Leave a comment

Do fitness tests reflect speed on the ground

Recently I was asked whether the 20m test generally used as a speed test is reflected on the ground. To be honest most times yes. Some players just read it better so in games dont look as slow as their tests suggest. Watching Pearce from Port Adelaide run at a draft camp a few years ago one could see he would explode later. The 20m test obviously doesnt measure max speed and/or many other variables. But in reality if one strips the science away from it I have always found that players who test quick generally look quick on the ground. Agility as researched by Young and Shepherd is a complex mix of speed, acceleration, change of direction abilities and many other attributes, with the ability to see what is happening and process it a crtiical factor. So players such as Harvey from St Kilda may have just reasonable tests results ( don’t know his speed) but due to decision making and change of direction abilities can get on their bike and scoot away from supposedly quicker players. Players like Dustin Fletcher at Essendon tested very quick and with his tennis background and football ability has been the package deal. Of course in his prime a player like Saverio Rocca at Collingwood was the best over 5 metres, a reflection of his ability to power clean nearly 150 kgs and throw a discus 60m plus. Wanganeen was simply the quickest I have measured over 10m ( 1.54) and I saw him run 11.1 sec for 100m at Aberfeldies one day without blocks and untrained. Again the package deal and like Fletcher these two were fast twitch animals with not so good aerobic qualities. In fact that day he ran 11.1 and Michael Long ran 11.2 and I think Lachlan Ross 11.3 and the next one home was a guy called Mick Symons who ran 11.6 ( 2,75 for 20m in gates). So yes test in a straight line and then test change of direction but as Warren Young and Jeremy Shepherd found in their research on reactive agility , getting away from players requires quite a lot of variables to come together. Then put it together at game speed in enclosed areas. And get strong in the gym and powerful with plyos in both legs. Some quick players can run one or two repetitions but after a few repeat speed efforts “slow” guys run past them. This is why rotations have had a big effect in footy allowing the fast guys to come on and smash it and why limiting rotations coupled with the new rules from 2006 will even more bias aerobic “slower” players and possibly stunt the explosive bursts from “fast” guys as the game goes on and even maybe limit their careers.

July 22, 2007 Posted by | AFL, Soccer, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Green Gully Soccer

I have been very lucky to work at Green Gully since August 2006 under Ian Dobson who is a great coach and calls a spade a spade. It is a very professional club and gets criticized by many because it is in fact that, professional. It sent all its players to the AIS for a camp in February to expose the boys to an elite environment. Great stuff. This state league is a very tough competition with lots of very good players. And the more boys coming through because of the soccer boom means it becomes even tougher day by day as they mature. Given there are not many A League Clubs and they have small lists and notwithstanding some good players are overseas there are still heaps of quality ( AFL standard) soccer players floating around in this league given the large pool of soccer players in OZ have to play somewhere. Hopefully in time the standard of facilities improves because some are ok ( Bob Jane / Whittlesea and GGSC) but overall it is quite pathetic given the standing of soccer in OZ. We played at one ground and changed in small construction style rooms with one dirty plugged up toilet! A few clubs like Green Gully service the players very well , but in general the poor facilities and the lack of medical services and general backup has simply shocked me given the standard of players involved. The soccer and coaching and competition is great but the infrastructure is often archaic. The TAC system needs to examined closely also by Soccer because the pathways are all over the place for young players and the AFL know this in my opinion and thus are probably banking on this weakness in the soccer development pathways. If I said anything else I would be lying. The sport is booming and I love it. Now is the time to make it attractive to kids and parents by getting some of these things right. I saw the transtion from the Windy Hill / Moorabin days and only the “pie munchers” and “head butters” would want to go back to those days. I think! It would of course be tough to cut the ethnic roots of some of these clubs because that is why they exist but this second tier needs to head in a non ethnic and business based direction otherwise in my opinion it wont have broad community appeal at the senior level as distinct from the large numbers playing junior soccer. Hope it does because I am hooked now to the game.

July 21, 2007 Posted by | Soccer | Leave a comment