Eric Wallace is the latest recruit from the USA, being rookie listed by North Melbourne

Talent Transfer

Thursday, June 13, 2013

By Peter Schwab
AFL Director of Coaching

The AFLís held its second USA International Combine in Los Angeles in April this year with 18 targeted athletes from the US College system identified and tested for their athletic skills and to see how they adapted to football skills.

It is a clear indication that the AFL is looking beyond its traditional markets to see if it can find talented athletes who can transfer their elite skills and athleticism in one sport to another. In the USA experiment the AFL has specifically targeted taller athletes.

But talent transfer is not a new concept. In simple terms, talent transfer occurs when an athlete ceases or reduces the significant time, hard work and resources in one sport and makes a switch to another sport. Often the switch is to a sport where the athlete can focus on previously learned skills and movement patterns. This is the big challenge for USA athletes. AFL football is a difficult game to master from a zero or low base and all these athletes have zero experience in the movement patterns of AFL.

Gaelic footballers seem to have been the best transfer athletes to AFL and have been able to adapt to the oval ball and learned to kick it well. They have had the advantage of playing a game where movement patterns and reading the play have been similar.

However the physical advantage the USA athletes will have playing our game will be significant. Those who have trialled are big, powerful athletes with great natural movement and vertical jumping ability. With mostly basketball backgrounds they should have good hand eye coordination and therefore have good clean hands when it comes to handling the ball, even if the AFL ball is oval.

There is not enough mature in body young ruckman in the talent pathway. Whilst there are young AFL players  with some ruck potential they are still years away from developing the necessary size and strength to compete in that role at AFL level. Therefore it is that position where a US athlete could play at AFL level.

Mike Pike, a Canadian Rugby Union representative, before transferring has shown bigger athletes can do it. He is now a premiership ruckman player with Sydney and continues to improve with every game, particularly in his overhead marking ability.

Talent transfer will not suit every athlete. The following will assist talent transfer if the athlete:

  • Is training and competiting at elite level
  • Is highly motivated and goal orientated
  • Is accomplished in current sport
  • Has great self-management skills
  • Has a great work ethic
  • Is a proven performer in competitive environments
  • Has no bad technical habits

It is also critical the athlete who transfers is provided with the best possible coaching and support systems.

The key will be how long it takes to develop the transferring athleteís skills in the new sport. The aim is for every skill of the game to become automatic. By this I mean the skill is done with little or no conscious thought or attention to performing the skill. This is a difficult stage to get to and likely some will not be able to reach this stage or reach it quickly.

This is also true of their ability to understand and grasp the tactical aspects of their new sport. Again the athlete will struggle until these also reach an autonomous stage.

Despite the hurdles that do exist athletes have been able to transfer to other sports and make the elite level. It may take a lot of time and a lot of athletes before you hit the jackpot, but once you do it will encourage other similar type athletes with similar backgrounds to follow.

The one thing AFL has always provided is opportunity for all shapes and sizes and ethnicities to play our game. A tall, possibly black athlete from the USA may be the next person to embrace our game at the elite level.

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