The whole reason I volunteered at Be Active 2012 (okay, maybe about 95%) was to attend a specific session: Evidence Informing Change In the Australian Football League. I was beyond excited for it. It turned out to be… educational. Yea, that’s what I’ll say. “Educational.” Here are some things I learned.
1. Hamstring injuries have changed. It used to be that clubs watched the old dogs for hamstring injuries because the young’ns are pretty much made of rubber and magic. But recently, the younger guys have had trouble with it, too. There are two explanations. One: country footy (or the leagues before the AFL like SANFL or WANFL or NEAFL) are not as physically demanding, so men’s bodies can’t handle the pressure which results in hamstring issues. And two: after recruiting or drafting (or however the player is obtained) a guy, they don’t prepare him enough while he’s on the senior or rookie list. This is a serious problem because once you injure a hamstring, you pretty much need to be watched for the rest of your career.
2. The Laws of the Game Committee is a bit one sided. No, no one said this. But it’s got one lawyer and the rest are ex-players. Now, that’s all well and good because they consult with doctors and physios and the commission and current players and coaches and… you get the idea. I also have a lot of respect for them because they have to reconcile the whats best for the players, clubs, league and the fans. That’s pretty difficult. I just wonder… when it comes down to it, who are they most concerned about? And do they let their experience as players color their decisions?
3. The AFL has only recently begun to understand defense. Players today say that it’s a different game than it was just 5 years ago because of all the focus on defense. It’s much more challenging to move around or gain speed. It was compared to dodgem cars – you’re stuck for ages, but when you get out, you’ve got a straight shot. Defense changes things.
4. But other than that, not a lot has changed in AFL. Player height, weight, speed, maximum and overall heart rate are all the same as they were 20 years ago. I’m particularly interested in this because of the recent debate of the Dream Team v the 2012 Olympic team. Simple science dictates that athletes improve due to better knowledge about health and fitness, better facilities, better education for trainers, nutritionists and trainers, and all that other good stuff. But for some reason, AFL athletes are the same. Why?! I am befuddled (that’s a word that doesn’t get used nearly enough).
5. The AFL tries to fix things, but they’ve not been so successful. This is especially evident when it comes to injury prevention. What I gathered from the symposium is this: injury recurrences are down, but severity of injuries are up. The number of hamstring and ACL injuries hasn’t changed much. The number of head and neck injuries has decreased but shoulder injuries and concussions have increased. To me, it’s not improvement if it the cost is higher than the benefit. Seriously? What’s the point?
As always, I’d love your thoughts. What do you think about the AFL’s injury prevention efforts? What do you think the reason is behind the lack of advancement in players? And what is your opinion on the trade off between injuries?