Watching so many Irish players have key roles to play in various teams in the new season in AFLW has sparked a lot of thought around the transfer of learning and performance from one sport to another. How can Irish players, who have never played AFLW previously, go to Australia, and within a matter of weeks and months, become leading players for their teams? The answer, in my opinion lies in transfer.
Further reading on Irish players in AFLW: https://www.the42.ie/aflw-season-5847152-Aug2022/
Transfer refers to the influence of previous practice or performance of a skill on the acquisition of a new skill. Transfer occurs on a general-specific continuum. The less specific the information present in a practice environment is to the constraints of the task in competition, then transfer will be more general. All of the Irish AFLW players honed their skills playing ladies football in Ireland, some also excelled in other sports too, such as camogie (Orla O'Dwyer), and soccer (Sarah Rowe). Taking ladies football and AFLW – what are the similarities?
The 360° nature of the sport – players can tackle or be tackled from any direction.
The skills that are used – catching and kicking predominantly.
Players are constantly being challenged to adapt their movement and skill execution.
The environment that the players had been developing their skills in is very similar to the one they are being asked to perform in now. Players have to be aware of opponents around them who will try and tackle. A great example of being aware of opposition players is Amy Mulholland’s mark for her first goal last weekend (see here). Players will need to identify space to either move into or pass to a team mate. But it isn’t all the same. What are the differences?
The shape of the ball.
The scoring system.
In terms of the tackle, this will be one of the biggest challenges. Players will have to alter their perception of space and gaps that they can move into. While in ladies football, players will attempt to side-step and weave through defenders, the same opportunities will not exist in AFLW, as there are different task constraints – defenders can grab, wrap and tackle players to the ground. The shape of the ball is another big change for players. Having played in a chaotic environment for nearly all their lives, they will be able to adapt their kicking technique (it will still require a lot of practice and play time). Another big challenge with the ball will come when it hits the ground – players not necesarrily being able to predict where it will go. However, once they get the ball in their hands and in their control, they will be difficult to stop with their athleticism and awareness of space – Orla O’Dwyer (see here) and Cora Staunton (see here) both demonstrated this at the weekend.
(There were many other highlights too, see @aflw_ireland twitter page for all the Irish highlights)
Talent is sometimes misconceived as a gift that some people possess. But it can be developed through an individual’s continuous interactions with specific performance environments in play, practice and competition. Are the Irish AFLW players lucky that they have been “gifted” with talent, or did they practice, play and compete over many hours in many different environments growing up?
I think Ireland has a great environment for young players to grow and develop, due to the diversity of sports that can be offered. GAA (football, hurling/camogie, handball) rugby, soccer would be the main ones, but even within these sports, players can develop high level perception-action skills which can transfer to multiple environments. This can be seen in many of the top Irish athletes today and their ability to excel in multiple sports. – as mentioned, Orla O’Dwyer (ladies football, camogie, AFLW), Sarah Rowe (ladies football, soccer, AFLW), Tadgh Furlong (GAA, rugby union – arguably the most skill prop in world rugby), Jack Carty (Gaelic football, soccer, rugby union), Conor Nash (Gaelic football, rugby union, AFL) - there are hundreds I could mention but these are a small number. A caveat - are these great athletes because they have played multiple sports, or did they play multiple sports growing up because they are great athletes?
Looking forward to seeing the rest of the AFLW season and Irish players continuing to light it up!
Seifert et al (2019). Skill transfer, expertise and talent development: An ecological dynamics perspective.
Porter et al (2021).Transfer of perceptual-motor expertise in sport: A scoping review protocol