It’s not everyday that you get a break from triathlon training. Those days are rare and coveted. On those days, I generally try to catch up on sleep or do normal person errands that I’ve neglected for the past week or so. This was neither of those types of days last Thursday in Geelong, Victoria.
Due to a long time friendship between Collegiate Recruitment Program Coach Jarrod Evans and the vice president of the Geelong Cats AFL team, Bob Gartland, our CRP Resident Program, which is now at a Geelong Training Camp, were able to get a ‘day in the life’ of an Australian Footballer. The AFL is Australia’s version of the NFL. For those unfamiliar, imagine an incredibly intense fumble play in the American game. Scrambling, laterals, players piling, swatting, fighting and hitting until someone emerges with the ball and runs towards the end zone. At least at first glance, that’s what I thought of it all. After our VIP tour, meeting of players, coaches, doctors, dieticians, trainers, review of game play video, cafeteria, learning the history of the sport and being able to watch practice, it became clear that this was quite the strategic and athletic sport combining an intense level of endurance, strength and hand/foot coordination.
The VIP tour started in the weight room of the Simmonds Stadium, with heaps of 6-foot to almost 7-foot-tall men working out and encouraging one another during sets and reps. They focused on explosive movements to simulate game scenarios of strength and speed. These guys were lean. They were built as though they had the coordination of a basketball player with the agility of a soccer player all within the body of a rower. Many of them actual came to the AFL from other sports (basketball, steeplechaser, rugby). All of them were more than happy to introduce themselves and see what these American triathletes were doing in their gym.
Football Administration Manager Ben Waller continued the tour through the administrative and staff offices as we passed by the doctors’ offices, physiotherapy room and recovery pool room which consisted of a hot bath, cold bath and a lazy river-esque moat for active recovery and low-impact injury prevention. After walking passed the locker room we were able to sit in the state-of-the-art conference room where the Cats review game tape and scrutinize every single detail of every play for every player. Right outside of this college lecture style hall was a computer lounge for players and coaches to go through their game and analyze their strengths and weaknesses. After seeing these resources, it became much easier to understand how Geelong was able to beat the other 17 teams to win three AFL championships in five years.
We continued our tour into the cafeteria where all meals are provided by a full-time chef whose love of the sport matches his love to fuel his athletes. Buffet style servings with many comfortable couches to lounge and digest allowed for a team bonding experience beyond just the athletes. It was at one of these tables that I heard the team was 11 percent more lean this year than last. But it wasn’t until we saw the players on the field for practice that all of these pieces came together in one data driven athletic formula for success. Heart rates (shown as percentages of max) of every player flashed on the jumbotron for all coaches to monitor and trainers to proactively react to. All rucks, rovers, wings, forwards and backs had their own group drills to perform after a couple laps jog around the field. When the scrimmage began, I understood way more of what was going on than just a mere two hours earlier. As a triathlete, endurance and speed is something I can wrap my head around. But when you thrown in about 20 kilometers of sprints, giant hits without pads with an oval ball that you have to kick through goal posts to score, it’s no wonder why these guys are monitored and given the highest level of support.
The CEO informed me that its revenue is about 10 percent of an NFL team (which puts it around $60-70 million a year), a shocking amount for something I had never heard of before. Money aside, the level of dedication from the manager to the athlete all the way up to the CEO was something that inspired me to want to work harder and train smarter in my triathlon endeavors. It made me understand how complex any sport can be when you strive to be the best. USA Triathlon is fortunate to have so many different people who make up the governing body from its highly sought after but rarely attained international coaching levels to its passionate board members to the age groupers and elites who compete. This opportunity, while incredibly fun despite the 5 a.m. daily start in order to fit training in, was a great way to step back from training and get an in depth look at how other professionals approach their athletic pursuits. It was business as usual for them at the Geelong Club on Thursday but nonetheless a chance for us to look at their inspiring method to the madness. It was more enlightening than a coffee and better then, dare I say, taking a nap.