Sport AFL Peter Schwab: The tough challenge AFL coaches can do very little about

Peter Schwab: The tough challenge AFL coaches can do very little about

Greater Western Sydney
Greater Western Sydney have major injury problems ... again. Photo: Getty
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Injuries can eat away at the confidence of a football club.

And even though coaches trot out the standard response that crisis creates opportunity, teams just do not cope with quality players missing.

Greater Western Sydney is a team many believe has the talent to win a premiership.

But the Giants are struggling with injuries again and it is clearly impacting on performances and confidence.

“We assess it, we are disappointed and we investigate it every day,” Giants general manager of football operations Wayne Campbell said this week.

No doubt they are doing all three and at present, the club’s coaching staff will be anxious.

They will be wondering when their luck will change and know there is scrutiny on the club’s fitness and medical staff to either stop the flow of injuries or get the players back.

What can be overlooked is that injured players need psychological help as much as physical help.

Helping them cope with the impact of an injury, reassuring them they will return as good as they were prior to injury, convincing them they won’t suffer another problem or at least reducing their fear of getting re-injured are all strategies medical and fitness staff will use to help injured players overcome a loss of confidence.

Injuries in a competitive season are also against the backdrop of time.

The urgency of time means those injured may also start to worry they won’t recover fast enough, well enough or have enough time to get back to their best.

The flow-on effect

Teammates are also psychologically impacted because they know they need their better-performing teammates back in the team.

Without them, they fear they won’t be able to win enough games.

Injuries do provide games for new players and give others the chance to step up and take leadership roles.

Darcy Fogarty
Many injuries at Adelaide have given the likes of Darcy Fogarty (32) the chance to debut. Photo: Getty

But under the surface, coaches know missing key players has a significant flow-on effect across the team.

An example that springs to mind for me is the 1987 grand final.

I played in a Hawthorn side that was beaten by a better Carlton team on that day but injuries did not help our cause.

Jason Dunstall, our great full-forward, injured his ankle and missed the match, while Chris Mew played despite suffering concussion a week earlier.

Without Dunstall, we kicked 9.17 and lost comfortably.

Another one is in 1935 when South Melbourne’s gun full-forward Bob Pratt was injured on the Thursday before the grand final while alighting from a tram.

He was struck by a truck and missed the big game and South Melbourne, which had beaten Collingwood in the second semi-final, couldn’t repeat that performance without him.

One of my great coaches, Allan Jeans, often said the two most important departments in a football club are the recruiting and medical teams.

His motto was “bring talent in and keep them healthy”.

The pressure

Of course, injuries will always occur in a contact sport, no matter how well you prepare players and look after them.

But soft-tissue injuries, such as the hamstring problems Adelaide is experiencing, causes clubs more confusion because there is a view there should be a reason for an injury occurring within its program.

Pressure is always on clubs which lose consistently and that usually sits squarely with the coaching staff.

But teams with long injury lists begin reviewing their high-performance departments around fitness, strength and conditioning, rehabilitation and medical staff.

Unfortunately for Carlton, it is faced with the perfect storm.

Ed Curnow Carlton
Carlton has endured a difficult season so far. Photo: Getty

The Blues have a young list and due to injuries, have had to play without several experienced players, which they don’t have a lot of.

Make no mistake – that is a key reason why they are struggling to perform in 2018.

Richmond’s low injury rate was a major factor in its success last year and it continues to have few injuries this year.

Is it luck? Or are Richmond’s fitness and medical staff the best in the business?

Peter Schwab played 171 VFL/AFL matches for Hawthorn from 1980 to 1991, winning three premierships. He later served as Hawthorn coach, AFL National Umpiring director, AFL Match Review Panel chairman and Brisbane Lions list manager.

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