Our areas of focus for the QBE Sydney Swans Academy are as follows:
1) Grow the National Talent Pool
As well as nurturing current AFL talent, we will aim to identify and develop 1st-choice athletes from other sporting codes.
Obviously not every boy in the Academy will go on to play AFL professionally. However, one of our aims is to raise the general standard of AFL within our zone, with Academy players also going on to become strong club players, coaches and administrators in the future.
2) Create and drive an AFL culture within our Academy zone
We will develop a number of initiatives aimed at fuelling a passion for the AFL game amongst our Academy players and across our Academy zone. We will encourage boys to pass knowledge on to their clubs, in terms of training drills and session plans. We will also invite club coaches to attend training sessions in an effort to continue their educations.
3) Understand that Talent is a Process with a long-term approach
It takes approximately 10 years to become an AFL footballer, and our programs will be devised with this in mind. Producing the highest level of performance at the age of 11 or 12 is not our aim.
4) Foster an inclusive approach
Although we will create an elite development program, we will NOT be elitist! We will aim to provide coaching expertise to many junior players, and we will not limit our numbers excessively in the most junior age groups.
5) Produce AFL players capable of playing the modern game
Our program will be guided by the demands of the modern game, both from a physical conditioning perspective as well as in terms of the skill and decision-making requirements. This program will evolve as the game itself develops.
“It takes 10 years of extensive training to excel in anything”
– Herbert Simon, Nobel Laureate
Research conducted in a number of fields has suggested that individuals achieve expertise by undertaking at least 10,000 hours of deliberate practice over a period of around 10 years.
Studies of sporting “experts” suggest that they accumulate more hours in sport-specific practice than “non-experts”, although the average number of practice hours is probably closer to 4,000.
Importantly, these “experts” participated in a number of different sports until the age of around 14, and their practice involved informal “play” activities as well as formal training. Finally, environmental influences were critical to individual development (i.e. coaches, parents, facilities, sporting culture, etc).
Our program at the Swans will apply this knowledge by:
- Providing a consistent number of formal AFL practice hours across the year for all Academy players.
- Encouraging participation in other sports during growth and development.
- Employing coaches with the knowledge and passion to develop young AFL footballers.
- Sourcing facilities appropriate in standard and location.
Just as importantly, boys will have the best chance of reaching their full potential if they are motivated to undertake practice away from the club – for example kicking and marking with friends, or learning from watching AFL games.
Sydney Swans Academy Development Programs
Long-term athlete development programs have been examined in various sports across a number of countries. Many of these investigations have raised concerns about the training and competition models used, for example:
- Programs are often fragmented, producing conflicts.
- Practice in the developmental years often focuses on short-term performance and results rather than development. Any parent knows that the physical attributes of children are highly variable throughout adolescence. Indeed, the attributes that are most important for success in AFL may not fully show themselves until 18 or after. Therefore, “selecting” boys at too early an age, or limiting the numbers of boys too extensively would mean that a large part of the potential talent pool would be excluded.
- Critical periods of accelerated adaptation are under-utilised. At certain developmental ages, it is thought that individuals adapt more quickly to training of specific attributes (e.g. endurance capacity just after the growth spurt). Most training programs do not take advantage of these periods.
- Poor programs between ages 6 and 16 result in athletes never reaching their genetic potential. For example, the time between the ages of 9 and 12 is one of the most important stages of motor development in children. The development of key fundamental movements is critical during this time.
- Fun is not always included in the training environment.
- Decision-making training is not always included.
The QBE Swans Academy will provide a consistent program which will build across the age groups. Our philosophy will be one of long-term development, and will take into account the fact that boys will grow and progress at different rates.
It is not the role of the Academy to tell boys where they should be playing their club football. We consider that is the role of each and every family to decide.
However we do have an Academy philosophy on this issue. The Swans Academy sees Club football as very important to the boy’s development.
- Our ideal model is that boys train with the Academy twice a week, and also train with their club at least once a week, and then play weekly club games, and Academy games when required.
- This we believe will give the boys the best chance to develop into AFL players.
- There is NO reason from an Academy point of view for boys to change clubs.
- If boys want to play club football on both Saturday and Sunday you can apply for an Academy permit.
- This is a view that has been consistently shared with parents and boys both publicly and privately.
Some might question why an elite sports Academy would include the number of boys we are aiming for. However, an analysis of the National and Rookie drafts from 2002 provides strong support for our inclusive approach.
Approximately 130 players were drafted in 2002. Of these, 40 went on to play at least one game of AFL at senior level (including 5 players drafted under the father / son rules). A good number of these would not have played 50 games.
In other words, there was a 30% success rate when selecting boys at the age of 18 in the traditional football states. Our QBE Swans Academy zone presents additional challenges since AFL is not the main winter sport. Obviously it is a long road to achieving success in the world of AFL, and limiting our numbers at a young age would therefore be a mistake.