Guest Writer: Jake Giannakis | Collingwood Magpies VFL Assistant High Performance Manager
Note: This post was originally published May 11 2018
Bridging the gap from amateur to Elite
As a young aspiring footballer, the dream is to always play at the highest level. While the main emphasis is on skill development and game understanding through amateur ranks (which it should), there is little emphasis placed on the physical preparation aspect. No matter how good your skills are, if you are not fit and healthy to train, perform and then repeat on a daily and weekly basis, it is impossible to showcase your skills and perform at the highest level.
A fantastic quote I always refer to is “Fitness will never win you a title, but it will certainly lose you one” Darren Burgess -former High Performance Manager of Port Adelaide Football Club. This means that fitness is only one piece of the puzzle, but a crucial one at that.
Obviously, there is large differences between professional and amateur footballers, but if we can continue to bridge the gap between the two, we not only see greater improvements in football performance, but reduce the potential risk of injury. The main differences between the elite athletes and the majority of those below the elite level is a lack of education and understanding of the physical requirements of the game. Typically, for a lower level athlete, a gym session would involve some form of bench press, possibly some leg press and the remainder of the session dedicated to arms. While this is not “bad”, time could be much better invested into movements and exercises that have been proven to transfer (or partly) to football performance.
Strength and fitness is not going to have a huge influence on being drafted, as the main reason AFL clubs draft players is for their football abilities. But as soon as you’re within the clubs four walls, if you’re not fit and strong enough to match the demands of the game and your fellow team mates and opposition, you’ll be out of there in no time. The main thing developed in 1st-3rdyear AFL players in the gym is a strength and movement foundation. Training movement patterns under different loads through different planes of motion over a long period of time sets this foundation.
From my experiences, the main areas up and coming players tend to miss are good quality strength sessions with an emphasis on whole body movement and coordination. If this can be developed from an U18’s or even U16’s level, the chance of potentially being drafted increases because the chance of you performing more consistently over a long period of time increases. It also allows you to settle into the elite environment better as you already have a training history. From experience, Strength & Conditioning Coaches love inheriting new players with a previous history of strength and conditioning training.
At the end of the day, AFL footballers are there to play football to the best of their abilities. But because football success is very multifactorial, each part of the puzzle piece must be invested in. For some, it might be working on goal kicking or improving lower body strength to tolerate 2x body weight in certain exercises, while other may need to improve their contested handballs or repeat speed efforts and aerobic recovery rates. By treating qualities such as the abovementioned like metaphorical buckets, you can work out which buckets (football qualities) need to be filled (improved) and which ones need to be “topped up”.