Date of Submission

1-2018

Abstract

Australian football (AF) is arguably the most popular sport in Australia, with over one million people participating in domestic AF annually. As participation rates have continued to rise, it is the growth of female AF that has drawn further attention to the sport in the last two years. Despite the introduction of the national women’s Australian football competition (AFLW) in 2017 and the 400,000 females who participate in recreational AF Australia-wide, there is currently no research to inform training practices. Although the physical match demands of elite male AF have been well established, the differences in physical qualities between male and female athletes emphasises the need to explore the demands of the female game.

Athletes from intermittent team sports are required to train multiple physical qualities in order to improve on-field performances. While certain physical qualities have shown to influence activity profiles in a number of sports, little is understood about how these qualities affect running performance in female AF players. Determining physical tests that are able to (1) discriminate between selected and non-selected players and (2) influence running performance are important for future athletic development. In addition, a number of contextual factors may also influence running performances in games, such as match outcome, opposition ranking and positional differences. Despite previous research focusing on male AF, it is now necessary to explore female AF player responses to potentially key influences on performance.

The overall aim of this thesis was to establish the physical quality profile of female AF and explore factors influencing match activities. The thesis contains 5 individual, but linked studies that investigated the aforementioned aims targeting female AF. Study 1 examined the influence of physical qualities on team selection as well as the relationship between physical qualities and match running performances. Results showed selected players were faster over 30 m and covered greater high-intensity intermittent fitness (Yo-Yo Intermittent Recovery Test Level 1, Yo-Yo IR1) distances than unselected players. Furthermore, these physical qualities were associated with greater distances covered at high-speed during match-play in selected compared with unselected players.

Study 2 determined whether better performances on the high-intensity intermittent running test, were associated with greater distances covered during peak, as well as subsequent and mean periods of running during matches. The results suggested the development of aerobic fitness and high-intensity running ability in female AF players is important to enable greater peak period performances and to improve players’ abilities to maintain a greater average running match intensity.

Study 3 investigated the influence of high-intensity running ability and player rotations (interchanges) on match running performance. Higher Yo-Yo performers covered greater distances during their rotation bouts than the lower Yo-Yo group. In addition, short (4-6 minutes) and moderate (6-12 minutes) on-field bouts resulted in greater relative total and high-speed distances compared with longer (12-18 minutes) on-field bouts and whole-quarter efforts (> 18 minutes). Collectively, these findings highlight the development of high-intensity intermittent running ability and the use of short-to-moderate length rotation bouts to promote greater running performances during female AF match-play.

Match activity profiles were further explored in Study 4, which investigated the influence of match quarter, game outcome, and opposition ranking on running demands. The findings demonstrated that match running performances declined during the second half of female AF, irrespective of playing position. Defensive players were required to work at greater match intensities during losses and against higher quality opposition. These data indicate that rotations could be utilised more frequently both early in the match and during the second half to minimise the effects of fatigue and increase running intensity.

Finally, Study 5 investigated the skills important for success in the AFLW competition. Despite the early stages of “elite” female competition, the results revealed that skill performance remains central to success. Furthermore, results show the ratio between inside 50 entries and goals scored and uncontested possessions are the greatest predictors of match success in female football. Collectively, this program of research highlighted the importance of physical qualities to success in Women’s AF and provided initial benchmark intensities that can be used to develop training programs that prepare these athletes for the physical demands of the game. For the first time, these results showed that high-intensity running ability appeared to have the capacity to increase or sustain the intensity of match activity in females. Nonetheless, other factors, such as skill efficiency, uncontested possessions, contested marks and effective ‘inside 50’ entries also influenced overall performance. Results from this thesis can be used to inform existing coaching practices and more rigorously support the next wave of research that should focus on the longevity of women in football codes.

Document Type

Thesis

Access Rights

Open Access

Extent

210 pages

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

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