The inaugural AFLW Season has officially kicked off in 2017 and being part of the Melbourne FC team journey has been a great opportunity. In a 7-round unforgiving season, we understand the importance of keeping the playing list healthy and on the track. Now 4 rounds down, it’s a great time to reflect on the journey so far.
A challenge we faced at the beginning of preseason was the issue of essentially entering the unknown. Our high-performance team had a blank platform for setting foundations and the opportunity to build an elite football program. We had to ensure that our program was tailored to female athletes and the specifics of the AFLW League. Here are some of the key factors we considered when planning our injury prevention program.
With a completely new team of drafted players, we had to get to know our athletes as quickly as possible! Medical screenings were an important process to collect background information on our players’ previous injury history and any current injuries. Medical Screenings included a battery of strength testing and functional movement observation, giving physiotherapy staff the opportunity to highlight any factors that could contribute to injury risk. In collaboration with the strength and conditioning coaches, we used screening information to individualise strength and injury prevention programs, along with training load. Training programs that are specific to an athlete’s playing position, injury history and their training goals will have more favorable outcomes than a general program given to the whole team.
Lessons from the netballers
Research has shown that females are much more likely than males to rupture their Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) due to anatomical and hormonal differences. Unfortunately, we have already seen multiple ACL injuries in the 4 weeks of the AFLW competition. Netball Australia has spent years developing and refining their injury prevention programs, resulting in significant reductions in ACL injury rates across their sport. We knew that our AFLW players would be a high-risk population – so we looked to Netball for some advice. Thanks to OPSMC practitioner and Vixens physiotherapist Steve Hawkins, our Melbourne FC staff had the opportunity to spend some time at the Vixen’s and discuss the specifics of how they integrate ACL injury prevention elements into their warm up and on-court work. The importance of landing control and coaching correct technique are both key elements. The opportunity we had with the Vixen’s was extremely valuable, and we were very grateful for their willingness to share their knowledge with us. The opportunity was also made possible given the quality of practitioners at OPSMC and the diverse athletes these practitioners work with. Our team were able to incorporate these principles learnt from the Vixen’s into our preseason program in a football specific manner.
The players drafted to the AFLW league have come from diverse athletic backgrounds with varied experience levels in weights training. Countless studies have been conducted looking at strength levels and the correlation to a wide range of injuries, with the consensus being increased strength reduces injury risk. A football-specific example is that strengthening the hamstrings by completing the “Nordic Hamstring Exercise” (Figure 1) reduces the risk of sustaining a hamstring strain injury. Strength-based training has helped prepare our players for absorbing contact, tolerating higher training loads and preventing injury. In the early stages of preseason, there was a large focus on ensuring less experienced players learnt good lifting techniques and weights programs were individualised based on previous experience and athlete screening results.
Recovery is vital
The increase in training and match intensity, and overall training load has been something our AFLW players have had to adapt to. Moreover, many of our players have to juggle their AFLW football careers with full-time jobs such as accounting, landscape gardening, teaching and even dairy farming. To maintain this difficult lifestyle we need to ensure players are using optimal recovery protocols. This includes aiming for at least 8 hours of sleep a night, adequately rehydrating post matches and eating the right foods over the course of the week. Ice baths, massage and physiotherapy are also readily available to players to aid in recovery.
Van de Horst, N., et al. (2015). The Preventative Effect of the Nordic Hamstring Exercise on Hamstring injuries in Amateur Soccer Players: A randomised Controlled Trial. The American Journal of Sports Medicine.
The KNEE Program, Netball Australia Insurance Broke, V-Insurance/ Willis
Stijak, L., Kadija, M., Djulejić, V. et al. (2015). The Influence of sex hormones on anterior cruciate ligament rupture: female study. Knee Surgery, Sports Traumatology, Arthroscopy, 23, 2742
Learn more about Kathleen Pettyfor by visiting http://www.opsmc.com.au/person/kathleen-pettyfor/