Benchmarking kicking skills across the talent pathway in Australian football

Bonney, Nathan (2020) Benchmarking kicking skills across the talent pathway in Australian football. PhD thesis, Victoria University.

Abstract

In Australian football, effective kicking is a critical technical skill to maintain ball possession and more importantly, score. Despite the importance of kicking in Australian football, for talent identification purposes, no assessment of technical match play kicking performance has been developed with sufficient validity. This thesis used notational analysis of match play kicking actions to guide the development of a valid and reliable Australian football field-based kicking assessment and an Australian football small-sided game kicking assessment. These two new field-based assessments contribute to the current array of technical skill assessments to help provide a more sequential skill Performance Assessment Model. The first study (Bonney, Berry, Ball, & Larkin, 2019; Chapter three of this thesis) reviewed current Australian football technical skill assessments using the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses statement as a guideline. A structured framework for practitioners was developed to consider when assessing, or developing, assessments of technical game based skill. The study proposed a 5-Level Performance Assessment Model for athlete assessment. The model applied match play notational analysis to separate technical game skill on a continuum comprising of Level- 1 (i.e., laboratory test), Level-2 (i.e., static field-based test), Level-3 (i.e., dynamic field- based test), Level-4 (i.e., small-sided game field-based test) and Level-5 (i.e., match play). These levels incorporated a step-wise progression of performance demands to more closely represent match-play conditions. The proposed model was suggested to provide researchers and practitioners with a better understanding of the potential technical performance demands and key outcomes associated with each level of the performance model. Study two (Bonney, Berry, Ball, & Larkin, 2020; Chapter four of this thesis) developed a valid and reliable Australian football kicking proficiency assessment comparative to match play kicking performance. Youth male Australian football players (n = 251) from different stages within the Australian football talent pathway were assessed for kicking proficiency and physical performance outcomes. The developed Australian football field-based – dynamic kicking assessment considered particular constraints of match play kicking demands such as the distance of the kick; the speed and running direction of the player kicking the ball; the speed and direction of the player receiving the ball and the type of kick being executed. Content, logical and construct validity and test re-test reliability were assessed. Findings suggested the kicking assessment could distinguish across and between the under 14, under 16 and under 18 age groups (U14; U16; U18) and club, sub-elite and elite skill groups. Kicking proficiency increased from U14 to U18 and as skill level increased from novice to elite. The timeframe between U14 and U16 had the greatest increase in kicking motor pattern development and was identified as a potential key period where kicking skill acquisition may be most impressionable; however, further research was recommended to support this. The developed Australian football field-based – dynamic kicking assessment was the first Australian football specific kicking assessment to consider and apply match play kicking constraints to make a more representative, valid and reliable assessment. Furthermore, this dynamic field-based assessment provides an example of a Level-3 assessment from the Performance Assessment Model where kicking proficiency can be evaluated from a more representative performance environment. The fourth level, of the Performance Assessment Model, required the implementation of a field-based small-sided game assessment. With numerous small- sided game conditions available and limited small-sided game research conducted in Australian football, it was important to investigate how different player number conditions may influence skill involvements and physical responses in Australian football players. Study three (Bonney, Berry, Ball, & Larkin, 2020; Chapter five of this thesis) contributed to this gap in the literature by investigating the effect of four different small- sided game player number conditions (5v5, 5v6, 6v6, 7v7), played in the same 50m zone, on the technical (kicking) and physical (distance travelled total and per minute, maximum velocity and percentage of high intensity running) performance outcomes in 22 sub-elite youth Australian football players. Player number configurations were chosen in consultation with elite U18 Australian football coaches and by considering match play starting configurations (i.e., 6v6 in the forward 50m zone) and then manipulating player numbers around this. Particular constraints were applied to the small-sided game to ensure the focus was on kicking (i.e., after each handball a kick must be performed). The results demonstrated when more technical events are required under more pressure situations (i.e., physical and time) the 5v6 condition appeared to be most appropriate. However, when the focus was on kicking to a contested possession balanced player numbers would appear optimal. Alternatively, when the small-sided game focus was on increasing physical demands lower player density conditions appeared more suitable. These findings were considered with an expert panel of coaches, retired elite players, sub- elite junior players and sport scientists. It was decided the technical and physical performance outcomes in the 5v6 small-sided game were the most appropriate to investigate further in study four. Study four (Bonney, Berry, Ball, & Larkin, 2020; Chapter six of this thesis) developed a valid and reliable 5v6 Australian football small-sided game kicking proficiency assessment. Youth male Australian football players (n = 145) from different stages within the Australian football talent pathway were assessed for technical and physical performance outcomes. Logical validity was determined from player, coach and skill acquisition expert opinion. Construct validity was determined by conducting a one- way analysis of variance to compare between age and skill groups and within an age group. Test re-test and inter-rater reliability were also assessed. Findings suggested the Australian football small-sided kicking assessment was a valid and reliable Australian football kicking proficiency assessment tool, providing an appropriate technical assessment for Level-4 on the Performance Assessment Model. The assessment considered and applied match play kicking constraints to make a more representative assessment of match play demands. The Australian football small-sided kicking assessment was 97% successful in identifying players as either novice or sub-elite. These findings may provide worthwhile information to coaches regarding kicking performance along the Australian Football League pathway, to profile player strengths whilst identifying specific areas of improvement. With the results of study four suggesting the 5v6 Australian football field-based small-sided game was a valid and reliable assessment tool, it was important to investigate the extent to which the small-sided game compared to match play performance. The final study (Bonney, Ball, Berry, & Larkin, 2020; Chapter seven of this thesis) investigated sixteen youth Australian football players to see if the technical and physical match performance outcomes could be replicated in a 5v6 small-sided game. Players were assessed in the small-sided game and then two days later were assessed during match play. Both the testing session and match play analysis occurred at the same ground. The results suggested kicking proficiency, the number of kicks executed, meters travelled per minute and percentage of high intensity running were all higher in the small-sided game than during match play. During match play, players had less time affordance to execute a kick and achieved higher maximum running velocities than during the small-sided game. These findings provided further insights to Australian football youth coaches about the technical and physical performance outcomes of the 5v6 Australian football small-sided game kicking assessment and the technical and physical performance outcomes of match play in youth Australian football players. Understanding these responses could enable Australian football youth coaches to apply more representative training programmes. Overall, results suggest the 5-Level Performance Assessment Model could provide sport coaches with greater clarification of the benefits and limitations of the technical assessment tasks they are using. When players are assessed from a holistic approach the tracking of player development and the display of player strengths and limitations may become more meaningful to coaches and recruiters. Furthermore, the results of studies two, three, four and five provide coaches with alternative options for technical Australian football kicking assessment and training methods. The results from studies two and four indicate that kicking proficiency improves from U13 to U16 and then appears to stabilize; however, as skill level increases so too does kicking proficiency. The greatest percentage of improvement was between U14 and U16 suggesting this may be a key developmental period where kicking skill is more susceptible to development. These results may assist coaches in developing specific technical skill programmes for particular age groups.

Additional Information

This thesis includes 3 articles for which access is restricted due to copyright (Chapters 4, 5, & 7). Details of access to these papers has been inserted in the thesis, replacing the articles themselves.

Item type Thesis (PhD thesis)
URI http://vuir.vu.edu.au/id/eprint/41837
Subjects Current > FOR Classification > 1106 Human Movement and Sports Science
Current > Division/Research > Institute for Health and Sport
Current > Division/Research > College of Sports and Exercise Science
Keywords thesis by publication; football; Australia; Australian football; kicking; technical skill assessments; match play
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