Physical characteristics of players within the Australian Football League participation pathways: a systematic review
Haycraft et al. Sports Medicine - Open
Physical characteristics of players within the Australian Football League participation pathways: a systematic review
Jade A. Z. Haycraft 0
Stephanie Kovalchik 0
David B. Pyne 1 2
Sam Robertson 0
0 Institute of Sport, Exercise and Active Living (ISEAL), Victoria University , P.O. Box 14428, Melbourne, VIC 8001 , Australia
1 Research Institute for Sport and Exercise (UCRISE), University of Canberra , Canberra , Australia
2 Australian Institute of Sport , Canberra , Australia
Background: Australian football (AF) players require endurance, strength, speed, and agility to be successful. Tests assessing physical characteristics are commonly used for talent identification; however, their ability to differentiate between players across the Australian Football League's (AFL) participation pathway remains unclear. The objective of this review was to quantify the physical characteristics of male AF players across the AFL participation pathway. Methods: A search of databases was undertaken. Studies examining tests of physical performance were included, with 27 meeting the inclusion/exclusion criteria. Study appraisal was conducted using a checklist of selection criteria. Results: The 20-m sprint time was the most reported test, followed by vertical jump (VJ), AFL planned agility, and 20-m multi-stage fitness test (MSFT). The fastest times for 20-m sprint were for Elite AFL players (range 2.94-3.13 s), with local-level players the slowest (3.22-4.06 s). State Junior Under (U) 18s (58-66 cm) had higher jumps than senior players, with the lowest jumps reported for Local U10s (mean 31 cm). No elite-level data were reported for the AFL planned agility or 20-m MSFT. AFL planned agility times were only reported for talent pathway levels, with large performance variability evident across all levels (8.17-9.12 s). Only mean 20-m MSFT scores were reported from Local U10s to National Draft Camp (6.10-13.50 shuttles). Conclusions: Talent pathway players exhibit similar mean test scores irrespective of the physical test, with the exception of 20-m sprint and VJ. Physical tests can discriminate between local participation level players but are less useful within the AFL talent pathway.
Australian rules football; Physical performance; Talent identification; Sport development pathway
Players forming the AFL talent pathway performed
better in all physical tests than players within the AFL
local participation pathway.
Players within the AFL talent pathway demonstrate
similar physical performances across junior talent levels
irrespective of the physical test, with the exception of
20-m sprint and vertical jump tests.
Physical tests will more effectively discriminate levels of
competition between AFL local participation pathway
players but are less useful within the AFL talent pathway.
Australian football (AF) is a popular team sport in
Australia, with selection of players across the
participation pathway partially based on physical characteristics
and subjective evaluation of playing ability [
motion analyses indicate that AF is an intermittent team
sport characterised by both high-intensity (high-speed
running, sprinting, acceleration, agility) and low-intensity
activities (standing, walking, jogging) [
]. A player’s
ability to progress through to and perform at the elite level
requires high levels of aerobic endurance, speed, strength,
power, and agility [
The physical performance and anthropometric
characteristics of AF players have been well documented, with
common physical assessments including sprinting, vertical
jumps, agility, and multi-stage fitness tests (MSFT) [
These tests also form part of the annual Australian
Football League (AFL) National Draft Combine, where
players are evaluated prior to the National Draft.
Small-tomoderate (r = 0.27–0.31) positive relationships between
physical fitness and career progression have been reported
in various AF player cohorts [
]. These physical
assessments have been primarily conducted not only to inform
the selection of players for professional contracts and
specific positions, but also to elucidate longitudinal
recruiting trends [
A review of AF physical performance studies identified
a variety of physical test outcomes for players from
senior elite, national junior, and state junior levels of AF
]. However, to date, the magnitude of
differences in physical performance characteristics along
the AFL participation pathway (Fig. 1) has not been
reported. Given the prevalence of test use for talent
identification and player physical development within
the AFL pathway, a review of the relevant literature
would help inform recruitment practices [
Furthermore, a variety of speed [
], agility [
12, 23, 24
], strength [
], movement quality
], and aerobic [
] tests have been
analysed using AF player samples; however, these tests
are not administered using the standardised AFL
National Combine protocols. With a large number of
studies reporting physical performance measures of AF
players across the AFL participation pathway, a review
of relevant studies is needed to provide an overview of
players’ physical characteristics. Furthermore, a detailed
analysis of physical performance measures would
provide team coaches and support staff (i.e. strength and
conditioning coaches and sport science advisors)
benchmarks to inform the physical preparation of players at
each level of the AFL participation pathway.
The current AFL participation pathway (Fig. 1)
involves two streams that funnel athletes into state and
elite senior competitions: the local participation pathway
and the talent pathway [
]. Generally, the majority of
players transition through the state-based local
participation pathway via the following teams: school/clubs/
community (5–11 years of age), junior schools/clubs
(12–14 years), youth schools/clubs (15–18 years), to
open age league/associations (> 18 years) [
]. The talent
pathway runs parallel to the local participation pathway,
with a smaller cohort of more elite junior players
selected for talent pathway squads based on their
objective test outcomes and subjective match performance
assessments conducted by coaches and talent scouts
]. The talent pathway is a national program
consisting of regional development squads where talented
players can transition through to Under (U) 14–16s
state championship teams and national U16s and U18s
championship teams [
]. Furthermore, talented AF
players may be selected for AFL state academies,
sporting centres of excellence, and the National AFL
]. Players are selected into senior state
AF competitions from either the local participation or
talent pathways, with elite players primarily selected
through the annual AFL National Draft . While the
structure of the AFL participation pathway may provide
clear local participation and talent pathways for players,
no studies have assessed the physical differences
between the levels within both pathways using
standardised testing methods.
The aim of this article was to conduct a systematic review
of the physical test performance of AF players and establish
a comprehensive model of differences in physical
performance along the AFL local and talent pathways that informs
talent selection, recruitment, and fitness program design.
The PRISMA (Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic
Reviews and Meta-Analyses) statement was used for this
systematic review. The PRISMA allows for improved
quality of reporting and evaluation of literature for
systematic reviews [
]. Studies investigating physical
performance tests for speed, change of direction (COD),
power, strength, aerobic, anaerobic capacity, and movement
quality of male AF players were assessed for potential
inclusion. A detailed outline of the search strategy, and criteria
used for inclusion/exclusion of studies for review, is shown
in Fig. 2.
A literature search was conducted between August
2015 and March 2017 using SPORTDiscus, PubMed,
and Scopus. Key search terms utilised in the search
were multiple combinations of AND/OR phrases that
included ‘Australian’, ‘football’, ‘physical’, ‘performance’,
and ‘talent’. Studies were also identified by examination
of citations listed in the collected publications [
The initial search revealed multiple studies as far back as
1970 that investigated physical performance measures of
football players. However, no studies prior to 1999 met
the inclusion criteria (below) for this review. The final
search process specified articles published between 1999
and March 2017. Inclusion criteria for physical
performance tests of AF players were as follows: (i) each study had
been peer-reviewed and written in English, (ii) abstracts of
articles were available, (iii) articles that reported multiple
test results were included where results could be extracted
and reported in isolation of other tests, and (iv) the testing
methods used to collect physical performance data were
outlined in detail by the authors.
Studies were excluded from this review when (i) no
physical performance measures for AF players were
reported, (ii) AF-specific data were not clearly identifiable,
(iii) the article was a review study or author commentary/
reply, (iv) the article was an AF coaching-specific study, or
(v) the authors tested AF players who had competed in the
local participation pathway open age leagues/associations.
The author list and publication date were recorded for
each study identified during the database search. All
articles identified in the search were coded as ‘Yes’ or ‘No’
to identify those meeting, or possibly meeting, the
inclusion/exclusion criteria. Specifically, sample size,
participant characteristics (age, height, and body mass),
reported player level within the AFL participation
pathway, whether the inclusion/exclusion criteria were
reported, and the methodology of physical tests were
assessed. Articles were further excluded from this review
based on the characteristics detailed in the PRISMA
statement (Fig. 2).
Mean and standard deviation of the physical
performance test measures were extracted using a customised
Microsoft Excel™ (Microsoft Corporation, Santa Rosa,
CA, USA) spreadsheet. All data from each study were
extracted by the lead author (JH). The magnitude of
differences in testing values between each of the
participation levels was summarised and displayed using
forest plots. These plots were developed for each physical
test and player group reported by studies across the
multiple AFL participation pathway levels. Each point in the
forest plot displays the mean and 95% confidence interval
(CI) for a specific player group. Any group whose mean
score was not contained within the range of the CIs for
any other group within the same AFL level was deemed
an outlier. Plots were produced using the RStudio®
statistical computing software version 1.0.136 (RStudio, Boston,
MA, USA). A formal meta-analysis was explored but not
presented in the report because exploratory analysis
indicated substantial between-study heterogeneity evident in
the majority of analyses.
Overview of studies
The initial search process yielded 2507 articles, 1237
were screened and 321 underwent a detailed review for
eligibility. Data was extracted from 27 studies that met
the inclusion/exclusion criteria (Fig. 2). This data
included all reported performance measures for the
following physical tests: anaerobic power, aerobic power,
speed, strength, power, and COD. Extracted physical
data was further classified into AFL participation
pathway levels based on the team levels reported in each
study. Player data was obtained from the following AFL
participation pathway levels: ‘Elite AFL’, ‘Senior State’,
‘National Draft Camp’, ‘National Championship’, ‘State
Junior U18’, ‘Private School’, and Local ‘U19’, ‘U18’, ‘U17’,
‘U15’, ‘U13’, ‘U11’, and ‘U10’.
Of the 27 articles reviewed, 20 reported 20-m sprint
time across all levels of the AFL participation
pathway, with the exception of Private School players.
The mean 20-m sprint times across the local
participation were observed for the following levels: Local
U10 (4.00 s), Local U11 (range 3.90–4.06 s), Local
U12 (3.70 s), Local U13 (range 3.70–3.82 s), Local
U14 (3.40 s), Local U15 (range 3.30–3.57 s), Local
U17 (3.33 s), and Local U19 (3.20 s). Observed mean
times were not only slower among the local
participation groups, when compared with talent pathway
groups, but also more variable (Fig. 3). For example,
the difference in the range between means for U15
players was nearly 0.30 s and more than 0.10 s for
U13, suggesting greater (variation) inconsistency in
sprint performance at the lowest levels of the AFL
participation pathway. The slowest observed mean
sprint time was reported for the Local U11 group. All
mean times from the Local U18 level and below were
3.30 s or slower.
A substantially faster 20-m sprint time is evident as
players transition through the AFL participation
pathway from Local U10s to Elite AFL competition. The
mean range of elite AFL players’ 20-m sprint times
was 2.94–3.13 s (Fig. 3). However, one group reported
by Young et al. [
] was deemed an outlier within
this level, and after removal, the mean range for Elite AFL
players was 2.94–3.01 s. The most similar AFL levels in
reported 20-m sprint time means and CIs were the State
Senior (range 3.11–3.22 s), National Draft Camp (range
3.04–3.05 s), National Championship (mean 3.09 s), State
Junior U18s (range 2.99–3.16 s), and State Junior U16s
(range 3.04–3.20 s). Multiple studies in these AFL levels
had similar 20-m sprint results.
Change of direction
The AFL planned agility time was stated in 13 (48%) of
the 27 studies. Only one study reported local
participation pathway levels (Private School), with all others
reporting talent pathway levels. The Private School
players’ mean AFL planned agility time was 8.86 s.
Within the talent pathway, no study reported mean AFL
planned agility times for Elite AF players, one group
reported for State Senior players (range 8.17–8.99 s),
four for National Draft Camp (range 8.57–8.63 s), three
for National Championship (range 8.61–9.08 s), six
reported for State Junior U18 (range 8.37–9.12 s), and
one reported for State Junior U16 (8.58 s). The fastest
reported AFL planned agility time was recorded for State
Senior level players (Fig. 4); however, the range for mean
agility time within the four groups was split, with two
groups having a mean time range of 8.17–8.27 s and
another two ranged between 8.90 and 8.99 s. The
slowest reported mean AFL planned agility time was
observed for State Junior U18 players (9.12 s) (see Fig. 4).
There was a high degree of variability in the State Junior
U18 mean times, with three group times for State Junior
U18s (Chalmers and Magarey [
] and two by Young
and Pryor [
]) above 8.80 s. All other groups reported
mean agility times between 8.37 and 8.74 s. The most
consistent mean agility times were observed for the
National Draft Camp (range 8.57–8.63 s). The National
Championship level reported mean agility times (total
range 8.61–9.08 s) were consistent across three of the
four reported groups (range 8.61–8.67 s), with one
outlier observed reported by Young et al. [
]. All groups’
mean agility time and CIs for AFL talent and local
participation pathway levels overlapped; as such AFL
planned agility performance is similar across these levels.
Vertical jump performance of AF players was reported
in 15 of the 27 reviewed studies (56%), with a number of
studies excluded due to variation in testing methods.
Only one study reported jump means for Elite and State
Senior AF players, respectively, with three studies
reporting National Draft level, two studies for National
Championship, eight for State Junior U18s, three for
State Junior U16s levels, and one for Local U15, U14,
U13, U12, U11, and U10s (see Fig. 5).
The lowest reported vertical jump (VJ) means were
within the local participation pathway, with a gradual
increase in jump height observed with every age
competition level increase. The reported jump means within
the local participation pathway were as follows: Local
U10 (31 cm), Local U11 (33 cm), Local U12 (36 cm),
Local U13 (39 cm), Local U14 (47 cm), and Local U15
(52 cm). Overlap in jump means and CIs between each
level within the local participation pathway was
observed; therefore, similarities in jump performance are
assumed between these players.
The highest mean jump height was observed for the
State Junior U18 level (range 58–66 cm). The most
overlap observed in reported means and CIs was
noted in the State Junior U16 (range 48–60 cm),
National Championship (range 57–62 cm), National
Draft Camp (range 60–63 cm), Senior State (range
52–54 cm), and Elite AFL (range 59–63 cm). Both
the National Draft Camp and State Junior U16 groups
appeared to have one outlying study (Robertson, Woods
and Gastin [
], and Cripps, Hopper and Joyce [
When these outliers were removed, the jump mean was
60 cm for National Draft Camp and range 48–52 cm for
State Junior U16s. Multiple studies across the AFL talent
pathway levels had overlapping CIs, with jump
performance observed to be similar among these levels.
No overlap in reported means and CIs was evident for
jump height performance between the Local U10s, U11s,
and U12s, when compared with all other levels along the
AFL participation pathway. High variability in mean
jump heights was noted within the Elite AFL, State
Senior, State Junior U16s, and Local U10 to U15s as
these levels were observed to exhibit the largest CIs.
Another reported measure was the running vertical
jump (RVJ) off the left and right foot, with five of the 27
studies reporting running jump performance (see
Table 1). Of these, one reported running RVJ scores for
State Junior U16s, five for State Junior U18s, one for
National Draft Camp, and one for National Championship
level players. No running RVJ measures were reported for
Elite and Senior State players. As such, no comparison
across the entire AFL participation pathway was
conducted. The highest running jump score for the right
foot was State Junior U18s (mean range 66–75 cm), and
for the left (mean range 70–79 cm). The lowest mean
scores were recorded for State Junior U16s (right foot
66 cm, left foot 71 cm), with National Draft Camp (right
foot 72 cm, left foot 78 cm), and National Championship
(right foot 71 cm, left foot 76 cm) players not differing
from State Junior U18s. When comparing jump scores for
the left and right legs; left leg jumps were higher than
those of the right leg for all levels. This trend was found
across the State Junior U16s (+ 6 cm), State Junior U18s
(+ 4 cm), National Championship (+ 4 cm), and National
Draft Camp (+ 6 cm) levels (see Table 1).
Only 11 articles reviewed reported measures of aerobic
fitness using the 20-m MSFT shuttles, with none
reporting 20-m MSFT shuttles for Elite and Senior State levels.
Mean 20-m MSFT performance was only published for
AF players involved in local participation and talent
pathway levels (see Fig. 6). Two groups reported the
mean number of shuttles achieved for National Draft
Camp (range 13.20–13.50 shuttles) and National
Championship (12.90 shuttles), seven groups reported
for State Junior U18 (range 11.90–13.30 shuttles), two
reported State Junior U16 (range 11.08–12.60 shuttles),
and four reporting local participation levels’ (Local U10 to
U19) player scores (range 6.10–12.02 shuttles).
A linear trend was observed (Fig. 6) for 20-m MSFT
shuttles in local participation levels, with performance
increasing approximately 1 shuttle per age group from
U11s (mean range 6.10–6.40 shuttles) to U17s (mean
11.40 shuttles). This trend plateaued as players entered
the AFL talent pathway levels. The U10 level (mean 6.40
shuttles) performed slightly better in the 20-MSFT when
compared to U11s, despite being a level lower in the
local participation pathway. The highest mean 20-m
MSFT shuttle reached was observed for the National
Draft Camp group (range 13.20–13.50 shuttles). The
State Junior U16 (range 11.08–12.60 shuttles), State
Junior U18 (range 11.90–13.30 shuttles), National
Championship (12.90 shuttles), and National Draft
Camp remained consistent in 20-m MSFT test scores
range when comparing between these talent pathway
levels. Overlap in reported means and CIs for these
levels was evident; however, only 8 out of 17 (47%) of
the State Junior U18 groups exhibited overlapping CIs
with the national level groups. As such, the 20-m MSFT
scores between these talent levels were considered to be
most similar. No overlap in reported means and CIs
were found between the National Championship and
National Draft Camp levels, and all other levels reported
within the local participation pathway (mean shuttle
range 6.10–12.02 shuttles), with the exception of Local
U19s (mean 10.70 shuttles). The greatest variability in
20-m MSFT scores was observed within the Local U15
group (range 8.70–11.30 shuttles) and State Junior U16s
when compared to all levels across both the entire local
participation and talent pathways.
Compared to other physical performance measures,
reported strength measures across the AFL participation
levels were limited. Bench press was the most reported
measure, followed by bench pull and back squat (see
Table 2). One group reported mean bench pull 1RM
measures for Elite AFL (mean 99 kg), one for Senior
State (86 kg), and one for State Junior U18s (78 kg). The
differences between mean pull strength for Elite and
State Junior U18s 1RM was 21 kg with a 13 kg
difference between Elite and Senior State players. Mean bench
pull 1RM was 8 kg heavier for Senior State than for
State Junior U18s. Bench press 1RM was reported for
State Junior U18s (mean 88 kg) and Senior State (mean
97 kg) by one group, with two groups reporting Elite
AFL 1RM (mean range 103–114 kg). State Junior U18s
bench-pressed 9 kg less than State Senior and a further
21 kg less than Elite AFL players, with State Senior
pressing 12 kg less than Elite. A comparison of lower
body strength across AFL participation pathway levels
was not possible as only two groups reported back squat
1RM for elite players, with no performance measures
reported for Senior State or levels within the local
participation and talent pathways.
Repeat sprint ability
Studies assessing repeat sprint ability were limited, with
only two articles of the 27 reporting repeated sprint times
in AF players (see Table 3). The only tests reported across
the AFL participation pathway were the 6 × 20 m sprint on
30 s (2 studies), the 6 × 30 m sprint on 20 s (3 studies), and
the 6 × 40 m sprint on 15-s test protocols (2 studies).
Reported 6 × 20 m sprint times were not different between
Elite AFL and Senior State groups, with no studies
reporting times for talent or local participation levels. Two groups
reported mean total sprint time (s) for 6 × 20 m sprints on
30 s for Elite and Senior State players (range 17.99–
19.08 s), with no substantial difference observed. Repeat
sprint times were reported for Elite and National Draft
Camp level players for the 6 × 30 m sprints on 20 s, with
National Draft Camp players’ mean total sprint time
approximately 0.50 s slower than that of elite players. Two
groups reported measures for Elite and Senior State players
using the 6 × 40 m sprints on 15 s, with total sprint time
similar between these levels (mean range 32.40–37.00 s).
Movement quality was measured using three different
assessments: the Athletic Abilities Assessment (AAA) (1
study), a modified AAA (2 studies), and the Functional
Movement Screen (FMS) (1 study) (Table 4). Four
groups reported movement ability across the AFL
participation pathway, with one group reporting for Elite
AFL, three for State Junior U18, one for State Junior
U16, and one for Local U18 levels, with no other levels
reported. The AAA and modified AAA tests use the
same movement assessment criteria, with the exception
of the chin-up and total AAA score. The scores for the
overhead squat, double lunge, single-leg Romanian
deadlift, and push-up were compared across multiple
AFL participation pathway levels. Elite AFL players
performed better on all AAA and modified AAA exercises
(mean score ranges: overhead squat 6–9, double lunge 7–9,
single-leg Romanian deadlift 6–9, and push-up 8–9). No
substantial differences were noted between State
Junior U18s, State Junior U16s, and Local U18s for
all exercises in the modified AAA (mean score ranges:
overhead squat 3–9, double lunge 3–7, single-leg
Romanian deadlift 3–7, and push-up 4–9). State Junior
U16 and Local U18 scored approximately 1–2 points
lower on all modified AAA exercises than Elite AFL
players. The AAA was only reported for Elite AFL and
State Junior U18 players, with Elite AFL reported to score
slightly higher for the chin-up (6–9 points) and total AAA
score (45–63 points) than State U18s (chin-up 4–6; total
AAA score 37–47). Comparisons of the AAA
performance across the AFL participation pathway were not
possible as no other AFL levels were reported. Only one
group reported the FMS, with State Junior U18s the only
level reported. The mean range for the FMS score was
10.9–15.5 out of a possible 21, with no comparison
between AFL levels conducted.
The overarching aim of this review was to (i) conduct a
systematic review of physical test performances
measures reported for AF players and (ii) establish
differences in physical performance across the AFL
participation pathway to inform talent selection,
recruitment, and fitness program design. The literature search
yielded a relatively small number of articles assessing
physical performance measures that used consistent
testing methods across multiple studies. Moreover, a large
number of articles reporting physical tests in AF players
were excluded as testing protocols were not consistent
across multiple levels of the AFL local participation and
talent pathways. Physical testing of AF players is of
particular interest in the identification of talented AF
players; however, inconsistency in test protocols is a
challenge for researchers and the football community in
understanding what is required physically of players as they
transition from local to elite competition.
As expected, the fastest reported 20-m sprint time in this
review was by the Elite AF players [
18, 49, 50
the differences in sprint time between Elite and National
Junior players were minimal [
1, 9–11, 14, 51
]. Junior local
level players were consistently slower than Junior National
and Elite AFL respectively [
10, 11, 21, 23, 46, 47, 52
finding is supported by those of Papaiakovou et al. 
and Dupler et al. [
], where more physically mature
Elias et al. [
Gastin et al. [
Gastin et al. [
Le Rossignol et al. [
] Elite AFL
Gastin et al. [
Pyne et al. [
Gaudion et al. [
State Junior U18
Gaudion et al. [
State Junior U16
AFL Australian Football League, U Under
players between the ages of 14 and 18 years were faster
than less mature athletes [
]. Previous studies have
reported that 20-m sprint time is purportedly a
discriminating factor between drafted and non-drafted players when
combined with their 20-m MSFT score . Additionally,
20-m sprint performance is associated with match
outcomes across junior state level competitions and
players’ subsequent selection into higher AF competitions
9, 30, 47
]. However, only one group in this review
reported 20-m sprint time for Senior State, with their
sprint times slower than junior national and state level
players, despite the higher competition ranking within the
AFL participation pathway [
]. Furthermore, few
differences in 20-m sprint performance across the state junior
and national levels of the AFL talent pathway were
observed in this review. This outcome is supported by
previous work showing that sprint time did not contribute
to predicting whether a state junior player may be selected
for a junior national team [
]. It appears that the 20-m
sprint time may not be a discriminating physical
characteristic between junior talent levels; however, it may
contribute to player selection from local participation in the talent
pathway, or junior talent levels into elite AF competition.
The AFL planned agility run course is 21.8 m in length
including one 180° and four 90° turns for assessing a
player’s ability to change direction at AFL talent
identification camps [
1, 9, 12, 55
]. Junior and adult AF players’
agility scores were similar across the AFL participation
pathway. This is comparable to previous literature, as the
AFL planned agility test did not discriminate between
drafted and non-drafted AF players, unless players also
performed better in the 20-m MSFT and 20-m sprint .
Moreover, it has not been shown to be related with career
success of players as a stand-alone measure [
planned agility time across the 1999–2004 AFL drafts was
largely unchanged, despite increases in AF match speeds
and improvements in other combine tests (height and
20-m sprint) [
]. However, small- and medium-sized
players were slightly faster (effect size (ES) = 0.64–1.11)
than taller players or ruckmen. The ability of the AFL
planned agility test to identify talented AF players within a
positional group is questionable, but it should be useful in
discriminating between different positional groups. Shoe
surface friction may have influenced the variability in the
AFL planned agility tests, with less friction possibly
causing a player to slip during a COD test, decreasing their
]. Of the studies reported in this review,
only seven [
10–12, 22, 46, 47, 52
] of the 13 disclosed the
surface used to assess player COD, with all using indoor,
wooden surfaces. However, when conducting large-scale
fitness testing, it is not feasible to supply footwear to
players to control for surface friction [
]. As such,
surface friction and footwear is a consideration when
analysing any COD testing.
The VJ was the second most commonly assessed
physical measure reported. However, visually there was
greater spread in VJ results within the Elite and Senior
State levels when compared across the AFL participation
pathway. Studies by Pyne et al. [
] and Burgess, Naughton,
and Hopkins [
] reported that VJ performance did not
impact on a player’s success within elite AFL competition.
Relative VJ scores can be counterintuitive, as lower
jump scores were reported for players that were
drafted to an AFL team, debuted in the elite
competition, played more elite level games, and had greater
career potential and value [
]. This data may support
the variation in VJ performance in the Senior State
group, as the training and development of adult AF
players may be focused on other physical and skill
attributes, and not on their jumping ability.
Inconsistency in VJ performance was also evident
across the junior talent pathway, with the greatest
disparity in VJ scores in National Draft Camp players
], and for State U16s players [
]. This variability
in results may be caused by differences in the physical
maturity levels of the players tested, with ages ranging
between 16 and 18 years. Players may be at different
pubertal stages, with Gastin et al.  reporting AF
players within this age group spanned across the fourth
and fifth pubertal stages of development (outlined by
Duke et al. [
]). Similar differences in VJ performance
were also noted by Jones et al. [
], who reported that
jump performance increased with biological maturity in
males (r = 0.56). While VJ performance may not
contribute directly to a player’s success in the elite AFL
completion, it may enhance the success of a player’s selection
and transition across the AFL talent pathway. Several
groups reported that VJ performance was higher in elite
junior AF players (state and national levels) than
nonselected players [
11, 13, 30, 34, 47
]. However, other
groups reported that VJ does not significantly contribute
to the success of players’ progression through the AFL
talent pathway [
]. The similarity between the VJ
scores in this review supports the mixed findings
indicating that the VJ is not a highly reliable tool for talent
identification of AF players.
This review only reported running endurance
performance measures of aerobic capacity, with the 20-m
MSFT considered a proxy test for measuring aerobic
capacity of individuals [
]. As expected, a gradual
increase in 20-m MSFT scores occurred as players
progressed along the AFL participation pathway. This
increase in aerobic performance was also reported by
two groups [
], who found a significant increase in
20-m MSFT with player maturity. Furthermore, large
positive correlations (r = 0.65) were observed between
the biological maturity of junior AF players and 20-m
MSFT score [
]. This trend is not restricted to AF
players, with similar increases reported across general
population males of the same ages [
differences in 20-m MSFT scores were not observed
between National Championship, State Junior U18s, State
Junior U16s, and Senior State players. This outcome
contradicts previous observations showing 20-m MSFT
scores contributed significantly to differences between
junior national and junior state level players  and
subsequent draft success of players [
]. While no studies
reported shuttle levels achieved for Elite AFL players,
predicted maximal oxygen uptake (VO2max) (58.0 ±
3.2 mL kg−1 min−1) from the 20-m MSFT had small
associations with career progression of Elite AFL players [
Furthermore, Elite AFL player’s VO2max range between 51
and 68 mL kg−1 min−1 [
] when measured using a
laboratory-based VO2max treadmill test, with these
measures providing a guideline as to the estimated VO2max
capacity of Elite AFL players. When comparing local
participation level players to players within the talent
pathway, there was a larger variability in 20-m MSFT shuttle
scores for Local U15 players . The standard deviation of
test scores was 3 shuttles for U15, which is almost twofold
higher than those of the other groups across the talent
pathway levels. This observation is explained partly by
variations in biological maturity [
] and pubertal stages
] of players competing in this age group.
Lower body strength is an underlying physical
characteristic that affects force generation, thus influencing
both injury prevention and power production in team
sport athletes’ [
]. Unfortunately, only one
] reported Elite AFL 1RM back squat and one
] reported Senior State 1RM front squat as measures
of lower body strength. No 1RM strength measures in
any lower body exercise were reported for junior and
developing AF players. The absence of strength testing
literature may relate to concerns regarding the safety
and reliability of 1RM testing in inexperienced athletes;
however, the 1RM back squat is a reliable measure
provided to players who have had 6–12 months of
familiarisation with the exercise [
]. Tackling and fending off
opponents during AF game play require upper body
]; however, the upper body strength
literature was also limited. A gradual increase in bench press
and bench pull measures was noted as players progress
through the AFL participation pathway. This trend is likely
a result of long-term adaptations to specific resistance
], in combination with physical maturation
of players [
]. Clearly, strength development is
important in AF players; however, further research is
required to profile lower and upper body strength of AF
players across the entire local and junior talent pathways.
Repeat sprint ability is considered to be one of the
more critical aspects in AFL performance, as the game
requires players to repeatedly chase defensively and
sprint to create space offensively [
8, 15, 49
Unfortunately, comparisons of repeat sprint ability between AFL
participation pathway levels are not possible given
inconsistencies across test protocols. One group found
repeat sprint ability using the 6 × 30 m sprints on 20 s
protocol was a discriminating performance measure
between selected and non-selected elite AF player [
This protocol is currently used as a test in the annual
AFL Draft Combine [
], yet no other studies have
determined the relationship between performance in this
test, and a players’ likelihood of being drafted.
Another two repeat sprint protocols, the 6 × 20 m
sprint on 30 s and the 6 × 40 m sprint on 15 s, have been
used in the literature [
15, 16, 39, 77
]. Of these, Aughey
 and Elias et al. [
] only reported 6 × 20 m sprint
results as a profiling tool for Elite and Senior State level
players, with no analysis conducted on repeat sprint
testing as a talent discriminating factor. Similarly, the 6 ×
40 m sprint protocol reported by Gastin et al. [
Gastin et al. [
] was assessed in relation to its influence
on injury risks of Elite AFL players, predicting match
performance. Neither study evaluated this repeat sprint
test as a tool for talent identification. Furthermore, Gastin
et al. [
] noted that 6 × 40 m sprint protocol was not
significantly associated with match performance in elite
AF players. It appears the repeat sprint test may not be a
reliable tool for assessing whether a player will become a
successful AF player. Future research should focus on
reporting repeated sprint measures using uniform
protocols across the AFL participation pathway levels to allow
for meaningful comparisons between groups. This is
essential as repeated sprint testing is currently included in
the annual AFL National Draft Combine physical testing
battery to identify elite AF players.
Movement quality is an underpinning quality of sporting
performance, with AF players requiring strong foundation
movements such as squats, lunges, pushing, pulling, and
bracing to be successful in competition [
38, 78, 79
Movement quality is measured using an objectively assessed
criterion to determine if dysfunctional patterns are present
]. Three movement assessments (AAA, modified
AAA, and FMS) were reported for AFL players within the
Elite AFL, State Junior U18, State Junior U16, and Local
U18 levels [
]. The AAA and modified AAA
allowed movement comparisons across the
abovementioned levels for the following exercises: overhead squat,
double lunge, single-leg Romanian deadlift, and push-up.
Furthermore, the AAA or modified AAA has been
used as a talent identification tool across Elite AFL,
State Junior U18, State Junior U16, and Local U18
levels, with junior talent players (State Junior U18
and State Junior U16) exhibiting lesser movement
ability than Elite AFL [
22, 37, 38
]. Woods et al. [
did find significant differences in AAA scores between
State Junior U18 and Local U18 players for the
overhead squat, double lunge (both legs), and single-leg
Romanian deadlift (right leg). Additionally, a significant
effect between State Junior U18 and State Junior U16
levels for the single-leg Romanian deadlift (left leg) (ES =
0.24, p < 0.05) and push-up (ES = 0.52, p < 0.05) was noted
]. However, no substantial differences were observed
between levels in the junior talent pathway when scores
were pooled in this review. The FMS is another movement
screening reported by Chalmers et al. [
]; however, this
group only examined the association between the FMS
and injury risk in State Junior U18 level. Players with
observed asymmetrical movements were more likely to
sustain an injury during an AF season [
asymmetry in junior players may reduce injury risk and
improve athletic performance and development potential
as players transition through the AFL participation
]. While movement ability was found to be
similar within the AFL talent pathway, the differences
observed between Elite AFL and talent pathway players
highlight the importance of developing junior players’
The 20-m sprint [
18, 49, 50
], VJ [
], and 6 × 30 m
repeated sprint tests [
] were the only AFL Draft
Combine tests reported for Elite AFL players. No elite
level data were noted for the AFL planned agility, RVJ, or
20-m MSFT, in spite of these physical performance
measures forming the physical component of talent
]. The limited number of studies reporting Elite
AFL players may suggest that elite clubs place less value
on physical performance measures as talent identification
tools, or they do not release results of these tests to
preserve any competitive advantage. Other studies
reported that jump performance [
], 20-m MSFT [
and AFL planned agility time [
] had small to trivial
associations with career progression of Elite AFL players
unless combined with performances in other physical
tests. Furthermore, repeat sprint [
15, 16, 39, 77
] tests were reported mainly for Elite AFL
players, indicating that elite clubs place more value on
developing these physical characteristics in players than on
other qualities assessed through the AFL Draft Combine test
battery. Physical performance tests were not consistent across
the entire AFL participation pathway; as such, a testing
battery that can provide valuable insight into physical
differences across the AFL participation pathway is required.
The physical tests reported in this review are currently
used to assess physical characteristics of players and
their subsequent progress through the AFL participation
pathway. Elite AFL data was only reported for the 20-m
sprint and VJ, with no other physical test results
available. Elite AFL players had the fastest reported means
for 20-m sprint time, with local level players the slowest.
All other sprint performances were similar across the
talent levels (State U16s–Elite AFL), as mean and CIs in
sprint time overlapped with each other. For VJ
performance, the State U18s had, counterintuitively, greater
jump heights than senior level players. The lowest jumps
were reported for Local U10s; however, reported means
and CIs for VJ heights overlapped across the AFL talent
pathway, and thus, VJ performances were largely similar.
AFL planned agility times were only available in the
talent pathway, with mean performance times similar
across all groups. The 20-m MSFT mean scores were
only reported from Local U10s to National Draft Camp,
with similarities in performance between the AFL levels.
Furthermore, a linear improvement was evident within the
local participation pathway for 20-m MSFT performance
(1 shuttle per level) as players progressed through the
levels. This trend was plateaued when players entered the
talent pathway. Finally, players forming the talent pathway
performed better in all physical tests than local
participation players. However, when assessing levels within the
talent pathway, players across different levels tended to
exhibit similar mean test scores for each physical test.
Physical tests will more effectively discriminate levels of
competition between local participation AFL players but
are less useful within the AFL talent pathway.
Availability of data and materials
Furthermore, all authors met the requirements for authorship in this journal
and provided significant contributions to this article. All authors read and
approved the final manuscript.
No sources of funding were used to assist in the preparation of this article.
Ethics approval and consent to participate
All studies included in this systematic review reported that the ethics
approval was obtained from an appropriate ethics committee.
Consent for publication
All studies included in this systematic review reported that consent was obtained
from all participants regarding their participation and publication of data.
Jade Haycraft, Stephanie Kovalchik, David Pyne, and Sam Robertson declare
that they have no conflicts of interest relevant to the content of this review.
However, David Pyne and Sam Robertson were authors/co-authors of the
eight articles included in the analysis.
Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in
published maps and institutional affiliations.
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