Smartabase for Australian Football League: Player Profiling

Just like in many other pro sports leagues, Australian Football League (AFL) players are expecting and increasingly becoming used to more personalized approaches from the coaches, performance staff, and medical practitioners who serve them. This can include tailored programs in the gym, specific skill work after team training, and bespoke nutrition and offseason preparation plans. To support the move away from a traditional one-size-fits-all approach, HP analytics teams in the AFL are looking to use data to inform individualized monitoring, assessment, and development.    

Clubs can only know how best to direct each player going forward if they can answer the question, “How well is this player doing now compared to what they’ve done in the past?” That requires combining a current snapshot of their performance with historical data that shows progress over time. Let’s look at how AFL teams are using Smartabase to make player profiling more personalized, engaging, and actionable.

Player Profiling: Data Inputs

Creating an individualized profile for AFL players requires gathering data from multiple devices, systems, and apps that can be used to describe and evaluate characteristics in a way that coaches, performance staff, and athletes alike will find informative. It’s crucial that all stakeholders first decide what the goals and applications of player profiling are. They can then work backward to identify the metrics that are most useful and choose the technology that can provide them. From there, the kind of information described below – including testing, match statistics, and evaluations – can be collected and integrated into Smartabase, where it’s aggregated and displayed in a single, comprehensive view of each player’s profile.  

Player and Coach Performance Evaluations

As useful as some of the objective data points we’ll discuss in a moment are when creating player profiles in Smartabase, it’s also insightful to get player and coach perspectives on match day performances and in some cases, perhaps training sessions too. These could be entered via a form that’s quick and easy to build and can be delivered to players via the Smartabase mobile app for maximum convenience, while coaches have the option to use their laptop or tablet instead. In the example shown in our video, a player enters a couple of sentences about his performance and how he thinks he could improve. The coach then adds their comments on what went well and where there’s room for improvement. These subjective remarks sit alongside ratings from one to five in disposals, stoppages, defense, marking, and leadership. All of the categories can be customized based on the preferences of the coaching staff, and it’s easy to create charts and other graphics to see how two data points – such as player and coach ratings – compare and vary over time.  

Match Statistics

One of the newest Smartabase integrations designed specifically for Australian rules football is with Champion Data, the official match statistics partner of the AFL. Player profiles show how potent this combination can be from a performance monitoring standpoint. Champion Data can capture over 1,200 metrics, so it’s important for coaches to determine which they feel are the most representative of players’ match day output. In the example in our video, we included individual totals for minutes played, meters gained, goals/behinds, disposals, marks, and tackles in the profile dashboard, together with game information like opponent, venue, match time, and result. Kicks, handballs, hitouts, total clearances, and other player-centric stats could also be included. By incorporating match data alongside information gleaned from team practices in a single location and making it visual, Smartabase presents a more complete profile than if such information was captured and displayed separately. It also allows the HP analytics team to encapsulate player output in an overall performance rating, shown here as a percentage.  

Physical Screening

Smartabase enables AFL teams to import each player’s physical screening results into their personalized profile. These can include manual metrics from simple assessments like sit and reach and knees to wall, and evaluations performed with technology, such as KangaTech KT360, VALD ForceFrame and VALD NordBord. Smartabase’s proven integrations with these systems make it easy to pull in data that pertains to muscular strength, symmetry, activation, and more. This way, staff can identify any significant asymmetries or imbalances that show up right away, as well as seeing how any changes might indicate that a player has an issue. For example, if an isometric strength measure like groin/adductor squeeze declines sharply, then perhaps they might be struggling with excessive fatigue, or if an asymmetry increases, they might have a mobility issue that’s predisposing them to injury. Representing such changes numerically or textually can alert the strength and conditioning coach, athletic trainer, or physio to take action. The physical screening category can also include results from anthropometry tests, such as weight, body fat percentage, and lean muscle mass.

Performance Testing

It’s also easy to include and display AFL players’ performance testing results in their individual profile. Smartabase integration with Catapult GPS systems and timing gate technology like VALD SmartSpeed makes it easy to automatically capture data for running-based assessments, like a 20-meter sprint and three-kilometer time trial. Jump data from VALD ForceDecks is also integrated directly into Smartabase. Details that are automatically populated are combined with information that’s entered manually, like the results of a beep test and other preseason evaluations. If these are repeated during the season, staff can compare players’ performances and see if there are any trends that need further attention, such as significant declines in vertical jump height or sprinting speed, that could indicate when a player isn’t recovering properly between matches and training sessions.

Player Profiling: Metrics and Analysis

Smartabase enables AFL clubs to create a holistic profile for each player that shows their performance from several different angles that’s useful to various staff members and athletes in different ways. For example, the strength and conditioning coach, athletic trainer, and physiotherapist might look at in-season physical screening and testing data and compare this to preseason baselines. The head coach could zero in on round-by-round statistics to inform selection decisions for upcoming matches. Players may utilize information about their latest performances to keep track of and adjust their personal goals and targets for the season.

By enabling users to sort, filter, group, and order data, Smartabase makes it easier to quickly locate the exact information that’s needed for any given use case. Player profiles also strike the right balance between simple overviews and telling details. For example, a coach can see an athlete’s playing status, number of games played, training availability and performance rating percentages, and an overall wellness score within seconds. They can then click through for more granular specifics if required. In addition to providing a comprehensive overview, each player’s profile allows them or their coaches to more closely analyze individual games. A table shows a match-by-match breakdown of each player’s performance against the team’s various AFL opponents. The HP analytics group could look for trends to see if an athlete performs better in home or away games or against opponents who play a certain style, so that they could then further investigate why this might be. Data can also be sorted and presented within date ranges so that users can zoom in on a specific part of the season and take a closer look.

Player Profiling: Reporting

One of the things AFL clubs find most beneficial about Smartabase when profiling their players is its ability to deliver similar information in different formats depending on the audience. For example, a sports scientist might want to see every aspect of a player’s testing data, while the head coach just wants a high-level summary. The same report can be configured in an almost unlimited number of ways to present pertinent information to the right person at the right time in a dashboard. When necessary, a point can be made via text rather than numerically to simplify takeaways for high-level stakeholders, such as writing “improved,” “stable,” or “declined” testing metrics instead of showing scores that they might not understand (all terms are user customizable). As well as looking at player profiles digitally in Smartabase, staff can print a hard copy or generate a PDF version.

Displaying information in a week-by-week and game-by-game format allows each player to monitor how they’re doing over the course of the AFL season via the Smartabase mobile app. They can also be presented with visual aids, such as a pop-up card that shows athlete and coach comments on the most recent game, or any other information that could provide greater context for a rating. A radar graph is another way to visualize data, such as game day stats in each major category, so that players can see how they compare to their teammates and other players in their position. This can lead to greater engagement and provide another source of motivation for players to keep working hard as the AFL season goes on.

Player Profiling: Action

Player profiling enables the HP analytics team to keep an eye out for any significant changes in player data that might be cause for concern. They can then present this to the coaching and performance staff so they can intervene if needed by changing a training plan, altering the number of minutes played in the next match, and so on. Individual player profiles also provide coaches with real-time training availability that simplifies planning group sessions and lets them know who’s medically eligible for the next game to speed team selection. In addition to aiding day-to-day player management, dynamic profiling can also be useful to enhance periodic player-coach interactions and strategizing.

AFL clubs typically conduct scheduled reviews with each squad member, whether these are monthly meetings or take place before, during, and after the season. Coaches can use the player profile in Smartabase to form the bedrock of these conversations and provide key data points for a personalized development plan that they work through with every athlete (including not only the first team, but also young talent in a club’s junior teams to develop a better pipeline). These reviews could include qualitative information too, such as comments on progress from head and assistant coaches and the player themselves. This allows for collaborative goal setting, objective assessment of progress toward current individual and team targets, and identifying opportunities to build on existing skillsets and acquire new ones. With historical as well as current data at their fingertips in Smartabase, staff can also see exactly how recent performances compare to previous ones, so they can more objectively assess the entire squad and identify players who deserve a bigger role.   

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