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What does it take to make the AFL? 1 in 100

  • Tuesday, November 02 2004 @ 10:50 am ACDT
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General News Australian Rules football leagues are springing up all around the world, but what chance does a junior player have of making it to the very top? worldfootynews.com takes a look from the statistical side.

Many followers of Australian Football hope to see players from outside of Australia make it to the AFL, in particular, players initially developed in foreign leagues. Irishmen have made it, but they came from non-Aussie Rules backgrounds. We've seen other non-Aussies make it, but they generally grew up in Australia, after their parents migrated. Mal Michael (Brisbane Lions fullback) hails from Papua New Guinea although may have spent his later years in Australia - he certainly was exposed to Aussie Rules when very young in PNG, so may qualify. And we're starting to see young Kiwi players getting into Australian clubs not far below the AFL, and PNG boys selected for Queensland regional youth squads, so the future may arrive very soon.

But what does it take to get to the AFL? Obviously raw physical attributes, natural talent, good training at an early age, a bit of luck, and a lot of hard work. But what are the raw numbers like? If we assume that although genetics plays a large role, in general each racial type will produce a similar percentage of "bodies" suitable for the AFL (i.e. assume these results translate to any group of children in the world), then how many kids, seriously playing footy, assuming adequate training and talent scouting, does it take to produce one top level AFL footballer? This also assumes that the best kids aren't "poached" by another sport first.

The AFL estimates that in Australia there are about 100,000 children playing footy in any given year (Australia's population is about 20 million). Of those 100,000, let us guess that about 70,000 are boys. If we assume the children are spread over the ages roughly 7 to 16 (so conveniently 10 years), we find about 7000 boys playing football in each age group. How many of those will go on to make the AFL?

Each year the main entry path to the AFL is the National Draft. Approximately 100 draft picks are allocated across the 16 clubs, but typically only around 70 are used, with clubs preferring to stick with existing players on their lists (which normally have around 38 regular players and 6 "rookies" that can be promoted during the season at the expense of an injured player). So if there are about 7000 players coming through to draft age each year, and 70 make the AFL, that is 1 in 100. That's a very approximate number, with a lot of assumptions, but it does give an idea of how many juniors are needed each year to get someone to the AFL. Of course producing AFL footballers is by no means the most important goal for those working with children. Encouraging fitness, fun, self-confidence and teamwork are all key outcomes, with the more involved the better. But the rough figure of "one in a hundred" should give hope to all those parents, volunteers and club officials helping with Australian Football across the world, that making the big time is not impossible, it isn't easy, but it isn't a million to one shot. And it tells us that with the junior numbers in New Zealand and PNG, the first "home grown" non-Australians will start being drafted into the AFL very soon - probably well within the next 10 years. Expect these trailblazers to be followed by young men from leagues all around the globe.