Objectives: Australian Football League (AFL) players have a high risk of injury. Anecdotally, this injury risk is greater in emerging players (i.e. those in their first year), compared with established players (with 3+ years of experience). This study aimed to conduct the first comparison of injury risk and playing experience in these two player groups across a large number of AFL clubs.
Design: Prospective, cohort.
Methods: Injuries, game participation and training participation were collected weekly by 8 AFL clubs for 61 emerging and 64 established players. Injury incidence rates (IIR) and Cox proportional hazard models for time to first injury, separately for games and training, were computed.
Results: The game IIR was significantly higher for emerging than established players: 45.6 (95% CI: 35.7, 57.6) versus 18.3 (95% CI: 13.1, 24.9) per 1000 game-hours. Emerging players also had a higher training IIR than did the established players: 9.6 (95% CI: 7.6, 11.9) versus 8.9 (95% CI: 7.0, 11.1) per 1000 training-hours. Emerging players were significantly less likely to remain injury free in games than established players (HR=3.46, 95% CI: 1.27, 9.45). A similar outcome was seen in training sessions, although to a lesser degree (HR=1.41, 95% CI: 1.19, 1.69).
Conclusions: Despite efforts to modify the playing/training program of emerging players, this group remain at greater risk of injury in games and training sessions, compared with established players. Continued efforts should be made toward understanding reasons for this increased risk to better prevent injury during the early years of a professional football career.
Keywords: Australian football; Game/training load; Injury risk; Sports injury; Survival analysis.
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