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.
MAINTENANCE OF FITNESS THROUGH A SEASON
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.