It’s that time of the year again for young hopeful AFL draft prospects to shine. As the AFL community watches on, young talent is put through their paces for a final showing before the nerve racking events of the NAB AFL Draft. Numerous state draft combines have occurred already, with the impact of COVID-19 preventing a national draft combine from happening this year. Nonetheless, state combines have enabled draft hopefuls to impress recruiters around the country in their bid to attract as much club interest as possible. Despite being the hopes of many young footballers to get an invite to the national draft combine, the reality is there are usually only about 80 invites handed out. An invite will depend on the number of clubs expressing their interest in a player, with 4 clubs expressing genuine interest usually being enough to grant a combine invite. Due to the requirements of attending the national draft combine, many young footballers do miss out on the experience. Being fortunate enough to have received an invite and attended the national combine previously, I’ll do my best to explain the ins and out of a big 4 days, as well as the preparation required for such an event.
Achieving desired results at the combine isn’t possible without hard work, so that’s where I’ll begin! For anyone taking part in the national draft combine, training will usually commence at least one or two weeks after their last match of footy for the season. In my case, this meant that myself and two other teammates had a 5-week block of training before the combine. This was all about getting as fit as possible to be in the best shape to take on the various combine tests. However, managing load was also important throughout this period. Being that a full under 18’s football season had just come to an end; it was critical not to overwork and tire ourselves out before a very important part of the year. This meant that there was a high emphasis on recovery between training sessions, as well as ensuring a good diet was being consumed. A further strategy utilised to ensure we weren’t overworked was the use of off legs conditioning. This meant that rather than improving cardiovascular endurance purely through running, off legs conditioning on machines such as the assault bike, watt bike, grinder and rowing machines were frequently used. This enabled improvement within the aerobic system without putting too much stress through the lower body.
I was lucky enough to be training with two Geelong Falcons teammates in the lead up to the combine, whilst being under the watchful eye of our strength and conditioning coach, as well as our head coach. Thanks to time and effort spent on by both coaches mentioned, we were able to come up with a 5-week program which had us prepared as well as we could physically and mentally. The aim was to progress in workload as each week passed, giving us greater challenges to overcome with each session in sync with our physiological adaptations. The fifth week, however, was a “load management” week. This meant that training loads decreased in frequency and intensity, with a greater focus on freshening up for the coming week. A typical training week for us consisted of a 1-hour training session each morning, as well as three 90-minute training sessions which occurred on Monday, Wednesday and Friday afternoons. The afternoon sessions started off with an hour of skills training performed with the head coach. Despite the combine not involving any skills tests for our year, it was still important to maintain our skills for the upcoming pre-season at either AFL or VFL level. After our skills were done, we would perform a 30-minute block of running. Usually, 2 of these sessions would involve training the cardiovascular system with the aim of replicating the physical demands of the 2-kilometre time trial and the yo-yo test which are completed at the combine. The other running session would consist of drills looking at improving speed and agility, conditioning us for the 20-metre sprint and agility test.
Our morning sessions were performed indoors at the club gym. Three of the days per week would involve weight training sessions which would look to improve muscular strength, power and endurance. These sessions helped with developing the power required to perform well in tests such as the 20-metre sprint, agility test and vertical jumps. Furthermore, it helped in getting the rig in shape for recruiters at the combine… they analyse every little detail! The remaining two days consisted of off legs conditioning and a fair bit of boxing training. As mentioned earlier, this allowed for cardiovascular benefits whilst giving the legs a chance to rest. Boxing added some variety to the program, all the while providing numerous physical benefits. A final element involved in our training included having mock recruiter interviews. Our head coach would sit down and have 10-minute interviews with us, doing his best to impersonate a typical recruiter interview. Whilst it did feel strange at the time with some of the questions being asked, there’s no doubt it held us in good stead for upcoming recruiter interviews. Overall, the 5-week period proved to be challenging, however myself and the boys were forever grateful for the time put into us, allowing us to be cherry ripe for the combine.
Finally, the time had come. After the weeks of hard work into the lead up to the combine, it was finally here. There were definitely some nerves heading into the experience however they were overshadowed by the feelings of excitement. Upon arrival we were required to have our body composition measured. Height, weight, reach and skinfolds were a few of the measurements taken before being handed our individualised schedules for the four days. These schedules included when all our tests were, as well as any club interviews or media requirements. After this, a draft combine induction occurred in which the 80 players taking part were welcomed. A big thing I noticed straight away was just how big the media attention was. Being only 18 years old, I hadn’t experienced much like it. Yet within the confines of the MCG and Rod Laver Arena, it seemed that every corner you turned there was a camera or journalist busy casting their eye over daily happenings. In conjunction with this, AFL team recruiters were everywhere. You would sit down and eat dinner with them, walk past them on the way to the hotel or simply feel like you were always being watched. Yet, this rather intrigued me and kept me on my toes which looking back on probably helped me stay switched on. The first couple of days were filled with recruiter meetings, media engagements and a range of psych and reaction tests. Recruiter meetings always made for some stories between players at the combine. Whether it was an odd question or an unexpected response by recruiters, they always made for a laugh afterwards. An interesting aspect of club interviews was the differing approaches clubs had. Whilst some would come in with a stern, direct conversation, others would opt for a much more relaxed conversation. Ultimately, they want to get to know your character as much as possible, using a range of tactics to do so. From memory, the strangest question I was asked was “What would you do if you lined up on Dusty Martin and he punched you in the face”? Admittedly, I didn’t have much of a response to that, although it was more about how you reacted to the question rather than just the answer itself. Numerous clubs also had head coaches and players sit in on meetings. Another odd experience for a younger group of sportsmen was having ASADA (Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority) join us for dinner. This involved a few members of ASADA picking players at random to drug test. Similar to the media attention, although something many 18-year-olds hadn’t experienced, it was a snip of the life of footballer at the top level.
Despite the long process of preparing ourselves for the physical aspects of the combine, it seemed to be much more mentally challenging. Nevertheless, we still had to complete all physical testing. Day three consisted of all indoor testing. This included the 20 metre sprint, the agility test, the yo-yo test and finally the vertical jumps. Under the Hisense Arena roof players pushed themselves to the limit, with the added pressure of every recruiter watching adding to the occasion. Day four gave us the 2-kilometre time trial at Westpac Centre (Collingwood Football Club). Easily the most physically demanding of the tests, it was a feeling of relief when reaching the finishing line. Not only did it indicate the finish of the race, but also brought the combine to a close. Overall, it was an experience I’ll look back on forever, being able to teach me some valuable lessons, as well as being given the experience of mixing with a range of talented footballers from across the country!