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Inside features

It’s a long way to the top Junior footballers have several pathways to an AFL career, writes DR JODI RICHARDSON.

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HE biggest event on the AFL calendar is only days away but the week following the Grand Final will be all a select group of the country’s best young footballers can think about. Tuesday, October 2 marks the beginning of the AFL Draft Combine at Etihad Stadium. This first national combine comprises four days of testing and screening for 115 exceptional athletes. State combines will be held in Melbourne, Adelaide and Perth in the fortnight after the national testing. The combines will test and rank more than 200 players. Youngsters have only a few avenues to be drafted. Players predominantly enter the National Draft through the Draft Combine where they under­go four days of physical, medical and psychological testing. The combine has become quite the media spectacle, a chance for fans to get a first look at future AFL stars. By the time the combine comes around, many clubs have a good idea of who they are interested in, but irrespective of that, it is a prize opportunity for players to put themselves on the radar of AFL clubs. Darren Burgess is Head of Fitness and Conditioning at Liverpool Football Club and tipped to return to Australia next year to work at Richmond. He has published a study concluding that AFL career success had a strong association with a combination of match variables such as average speed and number of sprints per minute, and draft test results. He concluded that this data must be considered in the drafting of recruits. Other research concluded that the 20-metre sprint, jump, agility and shuttle run tests had small but important associations with the career progression of AFL players. Players are tested physically to determine their height, weight, skinfolds, flexibility, arm length and hand span. Fitness tests include a 3km time trial and the gruelling beep test as measures of cardiovascular fitness.

RISING STARS: The Draft Combine at the AIS in 2006.

handball test, decision give you a chance.” making, reaction This year’s AFL Draft Combine time and peripheral will see 10 international players awareness. taking part. One contender Test results are pooled from the AFL China Academy is for each player then a Chen Shao-Liang, who achieved rank is calculated. a standing vertical jump score Players who believe of 86cm and a running vertical they have what it takes jump of 99cm, near record efforts to play AFL but didn’t attributed to his basketball and quite make the AFL volleyball background. Draft Combine can There is another exceptional BIG JUMP: Jamie Elliott during testing at register for the DraftStar pathway in Victoria. The the Draft Combine last year. Combine. Maribyrnong Sports Academy, DraftStar also has part of Mari­byrnong College, The vertical jump test is used AFL authority to test players on boasts state-of-the-art facilities as a measure of jumping power, speed, agility, kicking, endur­ across a range of sports and is a key skill for marking, defence ance and handball skills. The fast becoming a talent factory. It’s and for ruckmen. The vertical top 180 players have their results not hard to see why. jump is measured from standing forwarded to AFL clubs. The academy engages athletes position off two feet, and off one Lin Jong, No. 9 draft pick for in comprehensive elite sporting leg after a few strides. the Bulldogs in last year’s draft, programs, one of which is an Trent Croad holds the record is testament to the success this AFL program, as they progress for his standing vertical jump pathway can bring. from years 7 to 12. of 83cm in 1997, whereas Nic AFL National Talent Manager As well as academic classes, Naitanui and Jarred Brennan Kevin Sheehan said that every athletes learn about diet, strength are joint record holders for year 2000 players nominated for and conditioning theory and highest running vertical jump the National Draft yet only about sports psychology. with massive leaps of 102cm. 200 got to test themselves at the The technical training for (Incidentally, the world record Draft Combine. AFL students takes place out of for running vertical jump is The DraftStar Combine school hours with training at 152.4cm and is held by Kadour is another opportunity to get the Whitten Oval on a Tuesday Ziani, a professional dunker noticed. after school and on campus on a from Slam Nation.) “Clubs are looking for a bit Thursday before school. To measure a player’s top speed of an edge, something special over a short distance and his … if you think you’ve got ability to accelerate over five that X-factor, something that metres, players perform three differentiates you from the other repeats of the 20-metre sprint players, get to the DraftStar where split times are recorded at Combine,” Sheehan said. five and 10 metres. “We know the stars at the top The ability to keep backing end, every club knows the top 30 up with sprints after short but after that the next hundred periods of recovery is crucial are pretty even. It could be just so the sprint recovery test was your work ethic that’s enough to introduced in 2006. Players repeat a 30-metre sprint every 20 seconds, regardless of how long it takes them to complete the sprint. So if a player sprints 30m in 5.1 seconds, they have 14.9 seconds recovery before starting the next. The score for this test is the total time of each player’s six sprint repeats. Other Draft Combine measures TAKE YOUR MARKS: Last year’s combine harvest. include an agility test, a kicking efficiency test, the “clean hands” Inside Football

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

‘Use the footy as a play tool – take it everywhere.’ Dr Jason Berry holds a position as a sport scientist with ISEAL and Maribyrnong Sports Academy, and as a specialist coach for the AFL program at the academy. He brings cutting edge sports science expertise to the program, as well as his experience as a skill acquisition and performance analysis consultant to the West Coast Eagles in 2006, skill acquisition specialist at Essendon for four years to 2010, and consultant to Collingwood in 2011. He explains that the reputation of the academy is growing and the demand for places means that screening is important. “All academy entries are through application and selection,” Dr Berry said. “A key focus area of mine is around talent identification because there is such an investment in the students who come into the program. “They are screened at the Grade 6 level to come into the Year 7 cohort the following year. Overall there are approximately 80 boys in the AFL program from years 7-12. “For 2013 we will take in 12 new students where there were over 80 students that screened for selection. For higher year levels, there may be only one or two spaces available for new students each year. “In many respects you could equate the AFL program to a mini AFL club. On a Monday morning physiotherapists are there for the kids to be screened after their Sunday games. “They have dedicated physical preparation staff that work just with the academy students. If they are injured, they get referred to the X rehabilitation coordinator, put

on an injury list and given a rehab program. It’s a fantastic program. “I’ve seen it first hand where some of the kids coming into AFL clubs are unprepared; the academy students will be so far in front when drafted into an AFL club. They’ll be at the top of their game at whatever level they end up playing.” Head coach of the academy’s AFL program is former Fitzroy player Leon Harris. He likens the program to that of the AIS on a smaller scale. “Some of the students from other sports are travelling overseas to compete so the AFL athletes are in a very professional environment,” Harris said. “I’m not sure at the moment if they have a full awareness of the opportunities they have been fortunate to get as part of this program.” For those who aspire to play AFL but are years away from nominating for the Draft Combine, Dr Berry has some advice. Two key focus areas are kicking and decision-making. “Use the footy as a play tool, take it everywhere; constantly practice with it and learn to manipulate the footy as much as you can,” Dr Berry said. “We marvel at what some of the AFL players can do on a Friday night under lights at the ‘G but it doesn’t just happen, these things take many thousands of hours of practice to pull off. “The other key focus area is games and we know from the research that it doesn’t have to be football, it can be basketball or other invasion type games. “To be in pressure situations with numbers around you and handling a ball, making decisions under time pressure, can have a powerful effect on AFL talent.”


AFL Draft Combine