The debate over whether AFL training camps overseas hold more value than those in Australia still rages, though it must be kept in mind that what works for one team may not for another. As such, fans and football analysts assess the worthiness of each team’s pre-season training course.
The USA has rapidly become the preferred destination for AFL teams to spend time over the off-season, as Collingwood’s on-field success seems to be linked with its repeated trips to the altitude camp in Arizona. Whilst clubs such as Essendon, North Melbourne and St Kilda followed in Collingwood’s footsteps and spent time in the USA, some clubs have bucked the trend and preferred to train in Australia.
The Hawks flew to the Sunshine Coast over the 2012 pre-season for their second camp there in consecutive years. Their success in the 2012 season indicates that it doesn’t really matter where you train, but rather how much effort you put in over the off-season. Of course, this simplistic viewpoint doesn’t do the issue justice.
The off-season is a time in which each team constantly tries to gain an advantage on its opponents. The professionalism of American sport has been something that the AFL has tried to emulate over the past few years. However, one contrasting aspect of American sport in comparison to AFL is the off-season training programmes.
The layout for the NBA offseason is vastly different to the AFL’s. There are no altitude camps in foreign lands or team building trips to the Kokoda Trail. Following the draft, rookies and depth players are essentially tested out in the Summer Circuit, which is similar to the NAB Cup. It’s an opportunity for the young players to show their talent whilst also building on-court chemistry by simply playing together.
For the veterans, it’s a very lonely time over the American summer. Whilst the young players are going to work on the Summer Circuit, the more established players follow an individual routine comprised of working out in the gym and putting up thousands of shots on the court by themselves.
Denver Nuggets star guard Andre Iguodala revealed that he rarely plays any five-on-five basketball over the off-season, as he prefers to focus on his own game. This is mainly due to the fact that an individual can have a greater impact in the NBA than in the AFL, due to the fact that the court is smaller and there are only 10 people on the court. It is imperative that an AFL player, who will play with 17 other players on the field, can transition between a team oriented game as well as a selfish game, as winning the game off your own back is more common in the NBA than AFL.
Conversely, the NFL runs stringent voluntary training programmes, focusing on team building and fitness. These programmes must follow a set of guidelines, as they create an even playing field for the clubs with less money. Simultaneously, these programmes remove the chance to create a unique training experience and they may not cater to every clubs needs.
The NFL program has three stages with rules that teams must follow. In the first stage, only strength and conditioning coaches can work with players on the field with no other coaches being permitted. It essentially allows two weeks to for injury rehab and strength to be built. No contact training is permitted and no padding may be worn. In the second stage, all coaches are allowed. No pads and non-contact drills are used, although more traditional drills are put in place to build team chemistry and improve skills. In the third stage, there’s still no full contact training permitted, although it is an increase in contact from stage two. Helmets are used, but still there is no padding allowed. This is to discourage drills in which injuries may occur more readily.
The aim of the training program is essentially to build team chemistry and maintain a level of fitness, much like most AFL pre-season programs. However, the NFL off-season programs are voluntary and some older players either see it as a waste of time or believe their own method of training is more beneficial. Whilst that may hold some truth, it may create a sense of the individual being greater than the team.
This sort of attitude is widely discouraged in AFL circles, which is why many teams avoid drafting players with attitude problems. The emphasis on team values is built up by off-season trips, during which all the players must work through pain together. An increase in team chemistry is seen as crucial over the off-season, especially as the new recruits may initially feel alienated.
Neither the NFL’s off-season nor the NBA’s off-season programmes seem as though they would be effective for an AFL team. The restrictions in the NFL may counterbalance the effect of having money to spend over the pre-season. Ultimately though, the less wealthy AFL clubs find ways of creating success and building teams without having to bring the rich clubs to the same level, so it would only kill creativity and individuality by implementing a system similar to the NFL.
Although the NBA and NFL pre-seasons are very different to the AFL, it is clear to see that AFL coaches are taking a page out of the major American sports’ books.