Sports Science Introduction

As requested by @hambo I’ll share some sports science information for people who may be interested in it. Some may know this, some may be logical when reflected on and hopefully most people get some insights into at least one or 2 things.

I will also disclose that whilst I am sports science trained, have worked in and out of the field. I HAVE NOT worked in sports science within the football industry. I do however, have close connections with some that do.


Sports Science as it relates to players physical health can be broadly split into 3 categories. Physical Development (fitness building), injury prevention and injury rehabilitation.

Depending on which phase a player is in at any given time will depend on what branch of the staff they will work with.

Aerobic (endurance) vs Anaerobic (power).
Basically all athletes will genetically be pre-disposed to being unique athletes on the continuum of power vs endurance. However, training will enable them to adapt physiologically.

The most glaring example of this is NBA basketballers vs Nigerian marathon runners.

For example you will have a player like Laverde, Francis, Tipungwuti etc who are very much power athletes. They can show quite exciting levels of athletic ability whether that be a crunching tackle, 15m dash or a strong vertical leap. In the cases of these players what makes them unique and impactful is the fact they can perform a short burst of effort that creates an advantage of their opposition.

Now these players often have had success at varying levels of competition due to their power. To get them fitter and be able to perform repeat efforts more effectively you can run, run, run them. This will get them aerobically fitter. BUT, if managed poorly you run a very real risk of diminishing their FAST twitch muscle fibre abilities which deliver power efforts. So in Stringers case he is a rare powerful athlete. Trying to build him into a pure midfielder in one pre-season would be unlikely but it would also diminish the physical prowess that makes him special…his power. A good example is Richmond taking so long to build Martin into a dominant midfielder, Dangerfield at Adelaide the same.

This is also why I feel the criticism of Francis is too harsh because he will never be a supreme endurance athlete and if he tries too he won’t be good at footy anymore…he will undermine his skill set.

This are the beep test animals. With a reduction in rotations inevitaby coming these players will become more important. They run all day. Think Zaka, Stants etc. We mostly assoociate fitness with these types but if you have a midfield of all of these types you probably arent going to have the right dynamic.

Due to the length of a season teams will go through variable training loads over the course of the year from high, moderate and low. This will often depend on ladder position as well. But it is not uncommon for teams to really train very hard toward the back end of the season just prior to finals and then back off. This maintains there levels but then freshens them up for the big stuff. Ross Lyon teams are pretty famous for woeful losses late in the season when they had secured a strong ladder position. Only for a week later play like a completely different side. Its toying with form and can cut a fine line but it can be very effective. Getting it wrong can be catastrophic though. During pre-season games especially the difference in energy and effort can be profound. Because in reality many training sessions or internal match simulations will be considered just as important if not more so than a practice match and as such the pre-season match is just part of the the overall picture and not something to “peak” for.

This is highly medical and fairly well understood. Basically without going into the details the clubs will have a good baseline on how fast Kobe Mutch can complete a 20m effort, how high he can jump, flexibility, range of motion etc and as he recovers from injury the rehab staff will place increased load on him to build him back to 100% functionality. Obvisouly surgical efforts etc are interesting but that is largely outside my knowledge.

This is probably the most interesting. At least to me. Without disclosing IP basically some studies have been shown that teams who have the higher availability of their best X players available will stand a signifciantly higher chance of winning. Teams that have their 19, 20, 21 and 22 ranked players all injured wont be as susceptible to player 6 & 9 out.
So some clubs will be even more conservative with their mgmt of the big dogs. Hence we saw Hepp, JoeDan play half games and we didnt even see Hooker, Hurls or Fantasis. This may be for other reasons but it is not uncommon. Clubs are super conservative with these types. (Not related to fitness but they will also assess other clubs availability of their best players and then use this data to develop predictive match day win / loss margins…really. So a 3 goal loss to the swans at the SCG may be a comparatively better performance than a 3 goal win against FCFC at the MCG)

Players who have been at a club a while will have individual predictive data that shows injury history and individual training loads. For example, we should have amazing data on what David Myers body can and cannot cope with session by session week by week to understand how not to break him. However, a player is often more susceptible to soft tissue injuries in the same spot recurring once this trend occurs.

The clubs will also have data on overall training cycles week by week including the bye rounds and will adjust the broader load (km, intensity, duration) considerations based on previous years. But there is a fine line between injury prevention and maintaining fitness. That is why often clubs will have a shortened match simulation during the bye weekend just to ensure the body stays in its optimum cycle.
Clubs will also assess every injury and analyse whether it was fatigue related, over-exertion or an impact injury issue. Obviously fatigue and exertion injuries are considered preventable and as such a sports science department will be asked to explain their findings.

Player will also have a responsbility to report general feelings of physical wellbeing and fatigue. These will also be used as a guide in injury prevention.

When it goes wrong?

This is speculative, but I’d suggest Mark Harvey was essentially fired from Fremantle one season for player mismanagement. He reportedly undertook the most ridiculous pre-season where the km run per player was off the charts. That year they kept having soft tissue injuries. He also played players underdone and brought them back too early. It was a disaster. This also demonstrates that although we like to blame fitness staff in the end the coach is ultimately accountable and can overrule the fitness staff… at their peril. Which was apparently happening.

I also have heard that Bomber Thompson didn’t have a high regard for sports science for what it is worth.

Hypothetically, a real example of the JLT game would be…

  • Heppell can only complete 6.5km running.
  • Hepp reaches 6.5km of running irrespective of the game situation and performance and he is pulled off.

Also interestingly sports science departments will also provide injury predictive data for potential draftees and recruitment teams will be well informed of this prior to making selections.

Just some minor insights but hopefully it clears up the idea that the reason a player isn’t a midfielder or isn’t as fit as Shane Crawford is not becasue they are lazy. There are signifcant Genetic and Physiological determinations as to why an athlete performs the way they do.


Are you one of the good phys edders? Demetriou wants to know.

Because he’s fat.


So, is AOD legal?


I know a bloke who played under Harv’s and he doesn’t have a good word to say about him. To be fair he was a fringe player so he probably thought he deserved a better shot at it and is a bit bitter about it.

But of course if you have an effective supplements program, you could bypass the genetics and change/develop players quicker?


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Francis is Dustin Martin so we should be patient

Once made a man jump from ground level TO LEVEL 1.


Thanks for the post.
Will read again later on.

To clarify…
He does have a regard for it, but he doesn’t believe it should be as dominant in the injury.

His way was that you get better by predominantly continually training and playing footy. There shouldn’t be a priority against a full forward practising shots at goal.
He believes a high majority of drills in a training session should include a footy.

I understand how important running and fitness is, but it is useless if the guy can’t kick accurately or that running speed doesn’t translate when he has the footy or when he needs to make the decision to leave his opponent to spoil a contest.

Back when Harvey was coaching, the coach a big say in what occurs. I’m not sure that occurs as often anymore. He is responsible, but he wouldn’t be considered an expert in fitness and completely overrule expert advice.

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To answer you about Bomber. He virtually gave very little time to science expertise whatsoever. It’s also probably indicative of why the Weopon was employed as the top fitness guy at Essendon…As a bit of a yes man. The weapon was not highly regarded at all in the industry and was virtually a weights / muscle bulk expert.


Smarter new age coaches know better. But I think I heard Sheedy lamenting sports scientists like a caveman recently.

Humans don’t evolve to run faster, further and jump higher in a couple of decades…dinosaurs should remember this instead of making off hand comments they don’t really understand.

Vlad is a good example. He hated “phys edders” yet by changing every rule including interchanges, kick ins etc he changed physical demands and made sports science more critical. Guy is a complete…But we all know that.


Thanks L2L.

  1. Any comments on the washup of the Collingwood soft tissue cluster of 2014 or , for that matter the Essendon soft tissue cluster at the end of the season in 2012. These were similar, and probably relate to an excessive strength program.
  2. S&C seems to be moving away from endurance running this year, apart from 1 baseline 2-3 km time trial.
    Are we moving to more crossfitness and or interval training or just do the real thing and play more match simulations.

Collingwood actually spent less time doing weights through 2012-2014ish than they had previously.
Doveron(?) came in and basically doubled the amount of running they did from day 1 then he and a couple of physios started pointing their finger at Girvan as he was training a lot of the guys external to the club.
There’s a few other examples of the fitness sector at Collingwood being at odds with current scientific literature as well as expert opinion.
Source: one of those physios and Girvan himself

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Hmm, interesting. Must have been different at Essendon. I had the impression Robinson had a massive weights program trying to turn our players into power athletes like ARL players.

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I remember our guys got massive quads / calves and couldnt fit into their skinny jeans under Robinson(the Weapon).

Both cases simply prove what everyone in the S&C community should already know; acute changes to training load is never a good idea

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Or in some cases their orange capris.


@Eastie_Boi1 covered Collingwood better than I could.

Regarding Essendon, at a surface level @Houli_Dooli is actually pretty close.

Players got too heavy and were not able to carry there body through a full year. Basically weapon was incompetent and has a very limited understanding of physical conditioning and should have been limited to running the weights program under instruction. A good example of a player destroying the back end of their career because they bulked too much is Daniel Kerr. He ignored advice and had soft tissue injuries for many years.

I cannot speak to Essendons injury prevention or rehabilitation programs back then though. I simply don’t know. But physical conditioning was a debacle.


Honestly I don’t know. I’m not connected with the club except my membership…

Thanks L2L.

Modelling of fitness data vs performance is becoming a big deal in EPL, NBA and US football - most notably the application of data mining techniques. And I know that some AFL clubs are starting to get into it. I don’t expect you to have the lowdown, as you’re not associated with the club, but I wonder whether we’re heading down that path at all.

I dont know either I just get the impression they are moving that way. I always had the feeling that footy was a series of sprints and jogs , so interval training would be far better than doing time trials. I think they call it HIIT now.