SIZE and strength could be the edge for getting drafted into the AFL, according to new Bendigo research contradicting some long-held assumptions.
The Bendigo Pioneers believe it could give their players an edge as they compete for limited spaces in the national league.
Club trainer and La Trobe University PhD student Jacob Jennings crunched extensive AFL data to uncover key insights, which will soon appear in the Journal of Science and Medicine and Sport.
He found a player's physical size was a significant factor in recruitment, along with agility and their vertical jump.
Jennings said clubs training the next generation of footballers were turning more of their attention to strength development.
The same clubs may not have focused quite as much on those skills in the past, because of the unique skills AFL players need.
"Running is such an important component of AFL that to some extent that's been the focus," he said.
There have been other barriers too.
"I think there is a general fear from parents and players about getting in the gym and developing those strength and power characteristics," Jennings said.
"They think it might negatively affect their football development. The general things you hear are 'it'll make me big and slow', or 'it'll stunt my growth', that kind of thing.
"From a scientific perspective, we know that is not true if you're doing the correct things."
The Pioneers are among development clubs that have increased their focus on strength and conditioning in recent years.
"These physical attributes kind of make sense when you think even about the draft process this year," Jennings said.
"Typically, the early draft picks are chosen to have more immediate impact within the playing group. So it makes sense that those players are going to be the bigger, physically stronger people who will go out and play longer."
Jennings joined the Pioneers several years ago as part of a La Trobe University's "industry PhD" student scholarship program.
Through the program, students are embedded with the university's industry partners to solve real-world challenges.
None of Jennings' findings should necessarily discount other skills players might need when they run onto the football field
He is sifting through AFL data on technical skills and hopes to soon publish a second paper about some of the "really interesting" patterns they show.
And none of his findings impacted other realities of the Draft.
For example, every AFL club is looking for a unique set of skills depending on their needs at any given point in time.
"So all of those other things play into it," Jennings said.
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