SPORT PROFILE FOR AN MALE AFL MIDFIELDER
KEY PERFORMANCE INDICATORS
The AFL elite male midfielder position demand can change due to many factors such as dimensions of the ground, rotations, weather, and even if the player is playing inside or outside midfield position.
However, there are similarities amongst this playing position, especially when compared to other position game profiles like a key forward and or defender. (13)
This sports profile will dive into detail about the recent changes in demand for an elite midfielder playing in the Australian Football League (AFL) over the last decade.
Due to the dynamic nature of the midfielder’s position and the sport itself, this report will look at four key areas of performance for a midfielder. These four key areas are Physical, mental, tactical, and technical, leaning on the most up-to-date research to back our claims and ultimately provide insight into how to optimally prepare a midfielder for high performance!
The AFL game is certainly getting faster and players particularly midfielders are required to cover the further distance in the same amount of game time.
This article will take a closer look at recent scientific research conducted on AFL players and look closely at the physical, mental, technical, and tactical key performance indicators for midfielders.
Part of this is the fact that AFL midfielders are playing on after a mark a lot more regularly during a game. Due to the demand for the game to ‘flow’ better and allow for more scoring rule changes like less time taken for umpires to restart play or take a shot for a goal. Reducing the rest periods for the players and increasing the demand for midfielders to set up at a stoppage in less time, all while reducing the total rotations allowed by the team.
Compared to other positions on the field midfielders covered on average cover more total distance (4) and still, produce a high amount of high-intensity efforts 2nd only mobile forwards (10)
Midfielders’ aerobic capacity and repeat accelerations are critical for midfielders to be able to handle the high volume of total distance and repeat high-intensity efforts. The current research suggests programming high-intensity aerobic interval training to improve aerobic power, match running performance, and greater involvement in the play. (12)
Midfielders’ ability to recover between games is crucial to preventing injuries while ensuring players are recovering appropriately. Varying the load from week to week as is recommended from a team perspective is important, we also need to factor in each athlete’s profile. (12)
Fitness testing ie 2km time trial and repeat sprint test we can identify which of the squad midfielders are aerobic and which are anaerobic dominant. With this information in mind, we may look to adjust the training load by reducing the total volume run for the aerobic midfielders and look to maintain or increase running volumes for the aerobic-based midfielders.
This graph represents the effect fatigue has on the players as the quarter goes on from the start to the 10-minute mark players start to reduce their work rate. On average the midfielders and the mobile forwards ran the furthest for total distance and high-speed running.
Research like this one gives us confidence that improving a midfielder’s running capacity in a traditional conditioning manner in conjunction with specific football drills like small, sided games will increase the likelihood of increasing the player’s ability to express repeat high-intensity efforts in a game for longer. (10) Potentially giving the team a winning advantage over the competition.
Psychological reactions to injury
Team behaviour can influence the tactical, technical, and physical side of performance. The key focus of Sam J Robertson’s research: Collective team behaviour of Australian rules football during a phase of math play investigated the difference in team behaviour with regards to possession and location on the field. (13)
Mental health which unfortunately is growing in its effect on AFL players and therefore key management practices from sports doctors at AFL clubs are critical. (14) Thirdly looking into the psychology of AFL players with regards to the reaction to injury. (15)
Although the sample size is small for the team behaviour article the findings were interesting, utilizing notational analysis methods to assess the effects players were positioning themselves during different stages of play. Clear differences were recorded with regards to length, width, and surface area were all typically greater during offense when compared to defense and contested phases. Team B pattern of greater values of length, width, and surface area during all phases of play when compared to team A. (13) Creating this extra space from an offensive point of view may be to help clear space for the forwards, from a physical point of view this style of play may increase the high-intensity efforts of the midfielders through creating space and being able to get back if the ball was in the contest as reported in this study both teams would aim to close space during contested situations.
AFL like many high-performance sporting codes have many mental health issues and the key to good management is the primary care providers the sports doctors. (14) This research conducted a questionnaire of best practices from experienced AFL sports doctors (96%) with 39% having worked for more than 10 years.
The findings fell within nine domains, 1. Prevention and mental health promotion activities 2. Screening and Risk identification 3. Engaging external specialists 4. Duty of care 5. Assessment, treatment, and case coordination 6. Communication 7. Confidentiality 8. Sleep management 9. Substance use management
A key takeaway is to ensure the club has an experienced sports doctor to look out for the players with best practices in conjunction with a multidisciplinary team to ensure the whole club approach to optimise prevention, identification, and treatment to manage players mental health. (14)
How do AFL athletes respond to injury?
For all those involved with working with AFL players understanding this concept is critical to the mental health of players. The results found in this study showcase how important it is to support AFL players going through rehabilitation. A Player’s response tends to depend on the severity of the injury if its short term it can fall under the normality of injury as ‘all part of the game’, however, long term and stress can be high due to losing connection with their teammates, contract’s expiring, and not returning in the same physical shape. (15)
AFL players reported fluctuations of negative emotions during a longer-term injury such as shock, anger, disappointment, and the sense of feeling flat. Common for players to experience fear of missing out on games, and team structure resulting in feeling anxious, depressed, and moody.
A key takeaway is how often players reported feeling unfit and ‘rusty’ with their ball skills when returning to training and games.
The practical implementation of this is the importance of including cross-training, and plenty of touches either with a skills coach or another rehab player to ensure the midfield-specific skills were incorporated while the player was in rehabilitation to improve self-efficacy. Encouraging maintaining coach connection with the player is key to preventing players from feeling isolated, perhaps using video footage of a player’s high light reel, and mentioning a positive performance post an injury would be helpful in also building players’ confidence and feeling connected to the club. Furthermore, during the early stages of rehab, it’s important for medical and staff to incorporate plenty of variation to prevent boredom and for players to be involved in team activities wherever possible. (15)
Passages of play for offense play
A longitudinal systematic review looked at the average physical output changes in AFL players from 2005 to 2017 and found rule changes and game style to be the most significant influence on the match demands of AFL players. (1)
What does this specifically mean for AFL midfielders? How does the game style have an effect? Well, the research shows AFL midfielders are required to work the hardest during offensive plays, compared to defensive and contested phases. (10)
This finding is consistent with the research on positional demands and field location found. (12) When team a team intercepts the ball, it is more likely that the opposition will not have their defensive zone structure in place. Allows for a greater opportunity to score and hence why midfielders get rewarded when they work hard during these passages of play. Key takeaway the ability of midfielders to work hard when the ball is turned the ball is key to team success due to the increased probability of a clearer path to goals. (3)
Ball in play
While work rate is important for team success, effective technical actions are most important. (6)
Successful offensive plays resulting in a shot on goal appeared to be dependent on both physical output and technical skills. (5) As the table 2 when a team with high short kicking effectiveness on average win more quarters by a larger amount.
Table 4 shows how important handballing skills are for midfielders ranking the highest percentage of key position players
Players are likely to have increased workload and decreased skill proficiency when their team is less successful. (3) Having a program that focuses on developing kicking effectiveness is critical for team success.
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Jack McLean is the founder of Prepare Like a Pro. He loves coaching people so that they can reach their personal/professional goals and become the best that they can possibly be. He is currently the Strength & Rehab Coach of Melbourne Football Club and has worked as Strength & Conditioning Coach at Hawthorn Football Club. Jack is a Level 3 Australian Strength & Conditioning Association and Professional Coach and a Level 1 Australian Weightlifting Federation Coach.