Association Between Pre-season Training and Performance in Elite Australian Football

McCaskie, C.J., Young, W.B., Fahrner, B.B., Sim, M.

Purpose:
To examine the association between pre-season training variables and subsequent in-season performance in an elite Australian football team.

Methods:
Data from forty-one elite male Australian footballers (mean±SD: age=23.4±3.1y; height=188.4±7.1cm; mass=86.7±7.9kg) were collected from one Australian Football League (AFL) club. Pre-season training data (external load, internal load, fitness testing, and session participation) were collected across the 17-week pre-season phase (6-weeks pre-Christmas, 11-weeks post-Christmas). Champion Data© Player Rank (CDPR), coaches’ ratings (CR), and round one selection were used as in-season performance measures. CDPR and CR were examined over the entire season, first half of the season, and the first four games. Both Pearson and partial (controlling for AFL age) correlations were calculated to assess if any associations existed between pre-season training variables and in-season performance measures. A median-split was also employed to differentiate between higher and lower performing players for each performance measure.

Results:
Pre-season training activities appeared to have almost no association with performance measured across the entire season and the first half of the season. However, many pre-season training variables were significantly linked with performance measured across the first four games. Pre-season training variables that were measured post-Christmas were the most strongly associated with in-season performance measures. Specifically, Total on-field session rating of perceived exertion (sRPE) post-Xmas, a measurement of internal load, displayed the greatest association with performance.

Conclusions:
Late pre-season training (especially on-field match-specific training) is associated with better performance in the early season.

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