Screening Young Players

Australian Football is a popular sport and from time to time participation may result in a player being injured. Anecdotally, injuries in junior Australian Football are problematic when players make the transition to senior football.

Although evidence is sparse, clinical and football opinion is that some elite junior players enter senior ranks with overt or underlying injuries due to musculoskeletal deficiencies or a lack of conditioning. Once in senior ranks, managing injury is difficult, and the priority should be on preventing injury in earlier football years. Prevention relies on knowing which players are most at risk for injury.

Why do musculoskeletal (MSK) screening?

Junior and senior football players undergo musculoskeletal (MSK) screening several times during their development as a player with the precise intention of identifying risk factors for injury. Screening is designed to identify intrinsic or individual factors that may predispose a player to both acute or overuse injury. Identifying MSK deficits or abnormalities and instituting appropriate intervention is in turn designed to reduce injury.

Until this year elite players were screened when aged under 16 and under 18 by the Australian Football League (AFL) / Australian Institute of Sport (AIS), as well as at entry to senior ranks and then annually while a senior player by club practitioners. This screening was done by a number of different sports medicine personnel with a different protocol each time.

MSK Screening Protocol

Through the AFL Research Board, the AFL has developed a standardised MSK Screening Protocol which is relevant to the game, applicable across different ages and skill levels, suitable for evaluation of injury outcomes in a cohort study and simple and easy to apply. The screening tools are reliable and valid, easy to perform and require only inexpensive equipment.

This new approach will allow for meaningful long term determination of risk factors for injury and will be applied to a much greater number of emerging players through the AFL State Academies.

The screening tests are explained and demonstrated in the video below and the instructional and scoring sheets can be downloaded below.

This project, conducted by the AFL Research Board, was carried out by an expert group of physiotherapy and medical practitioners involved in Australian Football. - C Taylor(project leader), J Cook, T Pizzari, N Ames, B Batten, T Wood, P Charlton, BJ Gabbe, M Makdissi, E Scase, J McNeil & J Orchard

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