Most important skill for being drafted into the AFL?

Selecting players to be part of a sporting team is a challenge for all sports. In Australian football, there is a draft before the start of each pre-season. The draft represents an opportunity for the best young players to be recruited into professional football.

Obviously talent scouts aim to select the players that they think will have the greatest impact at their club. But what skills do these players possess? Are there any particular skills that drafted players possess compared to non-drafted players?

The study

Carl Woods, Christopher Joyce and Sam Robertson assessed match play performance of 55 players during the National Under 18 Australian football competition. The National Under 18 competition is comprised of a cohort of players who are most likely to be drafted. These players were then classified as “drafted” or “not drafted” following subsequent draft periods.

Match play performance was assessed with GPS technology and Champion data statistics. GPS provided information regarding physical performance. This included absolute running distance, relative running distance, distance running at high speed (> 15 km/h), and time spent running at high speed (> 15 km/h). Champion data provided information regarding skills. This included total disposals, total marks, contested possessions, uncontested possessions, inside 50’s (i.e., delivering the ball into the attacking area) , and rebound 50’s (i.e., removing the ball from the defensive area).

Results revealed that drafted players were superior to non-drafted players in 2 skills:

  1. Contested Possessions (i.e., “winning the ball”)
  2. Inside 50’s

Notably, there were no differences between drafted and non-drafted players in the their physical performance. The significance of this is apparent when we consider that drafted players typically display greater aerobic capacities and faster sprint times compared to non-drafted players. The authors speculate that “perhaps the drafted players possessed superior tactical skills (e.g., contextual decision-making) and as such, are strategically able to place themselves in advantageous field positions; thus not having to exert themselves physically to remain within game play.”

Implications

The authors made two suggestions for Australian football coaches:

  1. Design training so that drills emphasise contested possession.
  2. Adopt a game plan that focuses on winning contested possession and delivering the football inside the attacking 50 (for coaches in the U18 competition).

Reference

Woods, C. T., Joyce, C., & Robertson, S. (2016). What are talent scouts actually identifying? Investigating the physical and technical skill match activity profiles of drafted and non-drafted U18 Australian footballers. Journal of science and medicine in sport, 19(5), 419-423.
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