Quantifying running volume in elite Australian Football players: a method to quantify external training and match load in elite Australian Football players

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Dowell, Jackie E (2023) Quantifying running volume in elite Australian Football players: a method to quantify external training and match load in elite Australian Football players. PhD thesis, Victoria University.


Individual performance can be defined as a players ability to complete the desired task at a substantial quality whereby winning is the ultimate goal. It is very hard to predict performance through training in sports such as Australian Football (AF) given their dynamic and complex nature. Any training monitoring tool or data analysis technique that can provide any insight into match performance or correlation can substantially assist practitioners to get a competitive advantage over their opponents, ultimately leading to short term and long-term success. The primary aims of this thesis were to investigate the extent to which commonly used training monitoring tools demonstrate a relationship with performance when measured from both a subjective and objective perspective. Additionally, it aims to develop a novel approach to visually representing the accumulation of volume across the intensity spectrum for various comparisons throughout the pre-season and in-season phases of the highest level of AF being the Australian Football League (AFL). This new data analysis technique was implemented as it allows for quantification of the distribution of volume accumulated providing more practical insights for practitioners, compared to previous studies whereby the distribution has simply been modelled visually. The specific aims of each study are as follows. Study 1: to determine which characteristic/s if any, have a relationship with match performance identified through Champion Data© rating points and coaches subjective player ratings. Forty AF players from the same club (25 ± 4 yr) were monitored across the 2019 AFL season. Mixed models were used to compare each of these performance ratings with wellness scores and Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) metrics such as total distance, surge distance, sprint distance, total high-speed running distance, work rate and maximum velocity. There were two statistically significant relationships identified, wellness energy scores and coaches subjective ratings and wellness soreness scores and Champion Data© rating points. Neither relationship provided meaningful results given both relationships were in a negative direction whereby the findings are not something to be promoted with players. The lack of findings suggest more sophisticated analysis techniques are required investigating suitable metrics that assess performance. Study 2: to implement the new analytical approach and determine the cumulative distribution of volume across the intensity spectrum for an entire home and away season of AF, specifically investigating the accumulation differences between competition levels (AFL vs Victorian Football League (VFL)) and the duration of the match. Thirty-three AF players from the same club (24.4 ± 4.3 yr) were monitored across the 2021 season. The data collected was processed into absolute values with a one minute moving average applied whereby the observations were categorised into 10 m.min-1 and 5 m·min-1·s-1 zones for speed and acceleration respectively and the total distance in each zone was calculated. Quadratic models were then created for each player for each quarter which was then summarised by competition level and quarter of the game for analysis. A clear difference in speed and acceleration between the duration of the match and competition levels were identified. This study identified AFL is played at a higher intensity than VFL and within AF matches, quarter one is the most intense with a decline across the duration of the game in both speed and acceleration. Study 3: to expand on the analysis used in the previous study and apply this technique to examine the distribution of volume across an AF pre-season and investigate the volume during different pre-season phases and training drill modalities. Forty-three AF players from the same club (24.4 ± 4.3 yr) were monitored across the 2022 AFL preseason period, spanning November 2021 to March 2022. The same data analysis technique was used as in study 2, with the only variation being the data analysed. The data was categorised in three pre-season phases, pre-Christmas, post-Christmas and precompetition and four training drill modalities, fundamentals, structure, game plan and conditioning. Training drill modalities were categorised based on predicted work rates identified by the clubs high performance manager. This study identified that the post- Christmas phase exposes players to the greatest volume of pre-season at a high intensity. Within training drills, conditioning drills accumulate the greatest acceleration while game plan drills expose players to the highest intensity. Study 4: to continue expanding on the previously used analysis technique and apply it to in-season, specifically examining the distribution of volume between different match turnaround lengths and whether matches or training accumulate the greatest volume. Forty-three AF players from the same club (24.4 ± 4.3 yr) were monitored across the 2022 AFL home and away season. The same data analysis technique was used as per study 2 and 3, where the comparison was changed to three between match turnaround lengths (<7-day, 7-8-day and >8-day) and matches versus training. Within the week, matches regardless of the between match turnaround length accumulate the greatest volume. When examining match volume specifically across the different turnaround lengths, greater impulse is achieved in matches where the between match turnaround length is >8 days. General conclusions: Overall the data from this thesis builds upon the known importance of acceleration in AF and provides quantifiable results that can be utilised in training design, in designing drills based off of these findings. Through understanding the differences between match quarters this may drive a conversation around how training can improve to limit the decline observed between quarter one through four. It can also assist at the sub-elite levels by providing benchmarks for the top speeds and impulse achieved at the elite level, to allow players to train towards. These findings can also confirm training periodisation plans for practitioners whereby, intentions are proven or disproven to be true based on the cumulation observed as the analysis techniques used in these studies can be adapted and applied in many sports.

Item type Thesis (PhD thesis)
URI https://vuir.vu.edu.au/id/eprint/48045
Subjects Current > FOR (2020) Classification > 4207 Sports science and exercise
Current > Division/Research > Institute for Health and Sport
Keywords Australian Football; AF; Australian Football League; AFL; Victorian Football League; VFL; performance; Global Navigation Satellite System; GNSS; speed; acceleration; training design; drills
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