12 December 2000

The Australian Football League (AFL) has funded an $18,000 study to develop training programs aimed at improving decision-making skills in Australian football players.

The study is believed to be the first PhD project solely dedicated to Australian football and will be conducted by PhD scholar Jason Berry and Professor Bruce Abernethy, from the School of Human Movement Studies at The University of Queensland.

"Scientifically investigating the factors which underpin these experts ability to ?read the play' and make ?good decisions' will be a major insight for coaches involved in the development of players at all levels of competition," Berry said.

The study is titled Expert decision-making by Australian football players: How is it developed and how can it be trained? AFL clubs participating in the project include the Brisbane Lions, Carlton, Collingwood, Hawthorn, Port Adelaide, Richmond and the Western Bulldogs with support from AFL Queensland and the AFL Players Association.

The aim of the project is to unearth the developmental process underlying expert decision-making during a game (ie how does an expert become an expert) and use this information to design training programs that will improve perceptual and decision-making skills in Australian football players.

"AFL players have reached a peak in terms of physical conditioning and are faster and stronger than ever before. As a result, AFL coaches have identified the need to further develop their players' tactical awareness and decision-making skills, or what is colloquially termed football smarts," Berry said. He predicts that perceptual and decision-making skills training will form the next wave of player development programs.

The study will be conducted in 2 stages over a period of 20-24 months. The purpose of stage 1 is to identify a group of expert decision-makers within the AFL, with direct input from AFL coaches. Then, through a series of interviews with the players and coaches, identify key experiences that may have facilitated the development of expert decision-making skills. The players will undergo a selection of sport-specific perceptual tests to seek out any unique visual or perceptual skills that may contribute to the decision-making process.

In consultation with selected AFL coaches, stage 2 will see the design and research testing of training programs aimed to fast-track the development of game-based decision-making. Football-specific tests of perception and decision-making will be developed for use in specialised training and talent identification programs such as the AFL Draft Camp.

For more information, contact Jason Berry (telephone 07 3365 6094, mobile 0407 855 766, fax 07 3365 6877, email jberry@hms.uq.edu.au) or Jan King at UQ Communications (telephone 07 3365 1120).