If the West Coast Eagles improve their game next year, it could well be at least partly due to a study of their kicking at UWA.
Well before the AFL team finished its season, it was engaged in a biomechanics project with the School of Sport Science, exercise and Health to assess the variables involved in accurate kicking to improve this aspect of play in 2011.
Glenn Stewart, a graduate of the School, is the Eagles' high performance manager. Earlier this year he approached Head of School, Winthrop Professor Bruce Elliott, about some studies on kicking. The accepted knowledge is that no matter how fast or how fit you are, if you can't kick, you will not be an effective performer.
Enter Trenton Warburton, a 2009 graduate from Sport Science, looking for an Honours project. Trenton was working part-time with the Eagles, helping with match statistics, so he was known and trusted in the club.
Professor Elliott and Assistant Professor Jacqueline Alderson have supervised Trenton's project this year, using, for the first time, the new indoor-outdoor Vicon infra-red cameras to capture movement on high-speed video.
The Vicon cameras have been used in the biomechanics laboratory for many years, but a new structure means they can now be used outside in natural sunlight.
"The beauty of doing the testing outside is that the players could wear their footy boots," Professor Elliott said. "They can't wear them in the lab, which reduces the validity of the environment."
Thirteen footballers were chosen from match statistics for the effectiveness of their kicking over 30 metres.
"They all wanted to be tested," Trenton said. "They realise that it could lead to an improvement in their kicking."
The players were fitted with markers on their bodies which would record their movements on the three-dimensional high-speed (100 frames a second) video. They had to kick at one of two targets, 30 metres away.
"They would start their run-up and then i would call out left or right, to make it more like a game situation where you're never exactly sure what's going to happen next," Trenton said.
"I wanted a testing protocol that fitted in with the players and, as they often set up targets for kicking practice, the testing session was just like training."
Some of the many variables that affect accurate kicking are knee angle on contact, trunk flexion, alignment of leg and position of the ball on the foot.
"Previous studies have shown that the most important thing is the angle of the support leg," Professor Elliott said.
"But this is the first study to go to this depth. We really don't know the variables that a coach can do something about."
Although Trenton has only started his data analysis he has already provided the eagles with some two-dimensional high-speed video footage on ball contact.
"We are aware that professional sports people don't like being tested, then waiting years for the results," Professor Alderson said. "So we wanted them to get some immediate feedback while waiting for Trenton's results."
The players used only their preferred kicking leg during testing. Professor Elliott said an obvious extension to this study would be to look at players' non-preferred legs.
Published in UWA News, 20 September 2010