Swinburne scientist keeps AFL players up to speed

Tuesday 15 April 2014

A low angle photograph of Swinburne University of Technology signage on the Advanced Technologies Centre building in Hawthorn.

A Swinburne University of Technology researcher is looking at how the use of video training methods can help AFL players improve their on-field performance.

While training athletes usually centres on their physical fitness, the focus of this research is on their mental agility so players can make almost-instant decisions in what is already a fast-paced game.

Swinburne sport scientist Dr Clare MacMahon has been at the forefront of the research, working with AFL clubs to investigate the use of speeded video as a method of decision-making training. 

This research is based on principles adopted in military aviation training, where pilots are placed in flight simulators and everything they experience is at 1.5 times normal speed. Evidence suggests this training method enhances their performance when they leave the simulator and take to the air.

Dr MacMahon has applied the same philosophy to the sporting arena. Elite AFL players were shown video clips to train their decision-making skills – one group at normal speed, while the second group watched the video clips at 1.5 times normal speed.   

‘'When using video clips, the method of speeding them up helps to create an environment that ‘feels’ much closer to how it feels within a game, when things seem to move much faster,'' Dr MacMahon said.

The researchers also think this helps elite athletes to tap in to their natural response, which has been trained to an automatic level. 

‘'It essentially prevents them from thinking too much, so that the skill runs off on its own,’' said Dr MacMahon, who started the research when she was at Victoria University. 

Results revealed that those trained in above real time improved performance earlier, compared to those trained in normal speed. The above real time group also retained more of the performance improvements.

Dr MacMahon is now looking at reasons why the video training method leads to improved performance.

"We've established that speeded-up video training works. We are now testing to follow this up by concentrating on the underlying mechanisms."

Whatever the reasons, using fast speed video clips is an efficient way of training athletes in decision making. As well as improving performance, it gives athletes '‘off the legs'’ training that doesn’t tax their physical skills when the focus is cognitive skills. An added advantage: because the video clips are speeded, the training takes less time.

This kind of research is also benefiting undergraduate sport science students. Swinburne’s focus in sport science on data analysis and visualisation provides students with skills that are in high demand. 

'‘Swinburne’s strengths in design, data visualisation, analytics and engineering are at the forefront of the most current needs within sport, which is pushing into these areas to get more out of information that can help training and planning, ultimately leading to exciting innovations,’ says Dr MacMahon.

More and more sporting groups are adopting the above real time video training technique due to its success within this research. Teams within the AFL, NRL, and even figure skating judges have adopted this method.