AbstractThe objective of this PhD program of research was to investigate the physical fitness characteristics of female Australian football players and explore the potential relationships with technical skill performance and sports injury across key competition levels.
Firstly, a background exploration into Australian football occurred to understand the context of this thesis. The second stage reviewed the literature to gain a theoretical understanding of talent development and injury prevention in sport, highlighting key frameworks. In stage three, a narrative literature review examined these fields specific to Australian football and two systematic reviews were conducted to understand the relationships between physical fitness characteristics and i) technical skill performance and ii) sports injury in female, team ball sport players. The findings from these systematic reviews revealed not only a paucity of research in female team sports globally, but zero studies available specific to female Australian football players. Minimal relationships between physical fitness characteristics, technical skill attributes, and sports injury were found in these reviews.
The exposed gaps in knowledge informed the final thesis stage, known as the Female Australian Football Injury and Performance Project. This project involved a prospective, observational study design that followed female Australian football player cohorts from non-elite junior to elite senior competition levels. The project involved a pre-season testing battery consisting of physical fitness and technical skill measures, followed by prospective injury data collection over one competitive season. This project comprised of four studies and resulted in four research outputs.
The first study examined the physical fitness profiles of female Australian football players and aimed to investigate if these profiles differed according to competition level. This was the first study to comprehensively profile physical fitness characteristics of female Australian football players across a development pathway. Significant differences were observed, with elite seniors and high-level juniors being stronger, faster, more responsive, and possessing better cardiorespiratory fitness compared to the non-elite groups.
The second study profiled the technical skill characteristics (namely kicking and handballing accuracy) of female Australian football players and explored competition level differences. This study was the first to report technical skill characteristics in female Australian football across a participation pathway. Findings revealed that elite seniors and high-level juniors performed the modified Australian football kicking test more accurately than the non-elite competition levels. The elite seniors were also more accurate in the modified Australian football handballing test (dominant side only) compared to all non-elite competition levels.
The third study described the injury profiles of female Australian football players and explored trends across the same competition levels. A total of 760 Australian football injuries occurred over a two-year study period, resulting in an overall injury incidence of 20.9 injuries per 1000 hours of total exposure. Injury risk reduction priorities identified for the overall sample included injuries to the lower extremity, ligament/joint sprain injuries, contact-related injuries, and injuries resulting in time missed from Australian football participation.
The final study explored the relationships between physical fitness characteristics and i) technical skill attributes and ii) time-loss injury in female Australian football players across the same competition levels. This study revealed increased lower extremity power, greater hip abduction strength, and better lower extremity coordination significantly contributed to better kicking accuracy, whereas faster agility times and greater lean mass were associated with better handballing accuracy in female Australian football players. Minimal relationships were found between physical fitness and injury in this athlete population.
This thesis provides a foundation of research in female Australian football for coaches, sport practitioners, and researchers. These preliminary findings are likely to assist with athlete development, enhance talent development programs, and support injury prevention practices. The results can also be utilised to steer the direction of future investigations to improve athlete performance and enhance player safety within female Australian football.
|Date of Award
|17 Feb 2022
|Nikki Milne (Supervisor), Justin Keogh (Supervisor) & Woods Carl (Supervisor)