What’s the most physical AFL position?

What’s the most demanding position in modern AFL? New research is providing greater understanding about the physical demands placed on Australian rules football players in their positions and roles on the field.

Edith Cowan University and Flinders University health scientists compared physical demands on Aussie rules football players while linking their efforts and technical ability to their team’s outcome during offensive and defensive phases of play.

The results were able to highlight how the different positions each had varying physical outputs. Interestingly, midfielders performed greater distance and high-speed running in attack, without significant differences elsewhere on the field and defenders worked the most during defensive phases while forwards worked hardest when attacking.

The findings also reveal successful offence and defence are directly linked to a team’s overall output, with the technical skills of midfielders and forwards during important passages of play dictating scoring success, while marks and tackles at the right moments determine if you can keep opponents at bay.

The researchers analysed GPS data from 32 male players in a West Australian Football League (WAFL) club across 19 games in the 2019 season – collating 370 match samples during competitive games.

Lead author Chris Wing, from the ECU School of Medical and Health Sciences, says player data regarding positional play enables coaching and staff to design elite training sessions that incorporate specific physical requirements, while also helping prioritise key statistics during player performance evaluations.

“For example, our data in the WAFL shows successful phases of play demonstrated a higher kick-to-handball ratio compared to losing teams. You can argue it could just be the team we studied but they experienced a winning season, which suggests you’re better off kicking towards goal rather than hand balling.

“This information could, for example, be used to benchmark player performance, where a desired kick and handball ratio (number of kicks relative to number of handballs) may be targeted by coaching staff.”

Dr Nicolas Hart in the College of Nursing & Health Sciences.

Study co-author Dr Nicolas Hart in the College of Nursing & Health Sciences at Flinders University says understanding the physical demands on players will improve their preparation techniques and help develop training drills more in tune with real game intensity.

“This may have important implications for training, where drills aimed to improve a team’s offensive play, such as ball movement drills, should replicate the intensities from successful match performance to promote positive transfer to competition, increasing a player’s physical capacity in order to match these demands.

“Increasing a player’s physical capacity in order to match these demands may also prove beneficial and is particularly important amongst the midfield and forward groups.”

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