Jobe Watson says rule changes designed to slow the game and reduce injuries are being negated by the heavy off-season demands.ESSENDON captain Jobe Watson said yesterday that the AFL must consider reducing the length of the pre-season and has suggested a December 1 start date for all clubs.
Watson said the long off-season is taking a physical and mental toll on players, and believes it has contributed to some quitting the game early.
Clubs that do not make the finals officially begin pre-season training in mid-October. Those that remain alive through September generally begin in mid-November.
”I would like for it to be looked at, whether it’s something like every club returns on December 1 or something like that,” Watson said.
He said rule changes designed to slow the game and reduce injuries were being negated by the heavy off-season demands.
”The AFL are trying to implement these rule changes. It’s being counteracted by the length and stress players’ bodies are being put under in pre-season,” he said. ”Whether or not you can have a compromise, every team comes back on the one date, guys that are injured have the opportunity to use the facilities and the medical staff.
”That would mean the changes the AFL are trying to make are actually working and not being sucked away by the length and stress that players are being put under during the pre-season.”
The AFL captains encouraged the league to look at the issue at their pre-season meeting.
There would be several technicalities to work through, such as players from clubs who did not make the finals would have more time off and would likely drop to a lower fitness base, although Watson said the professionalism of players now meant they would maintain fitness. ”I think we will probably get to the stage, as they have in other sports, where you are responsible for how you turn up, you are responsible for training yourself over the break,” he said.
This could mean players are contractually bound to maintain fitness levels when off duty.
”With the draft being mid- to late-November, you could start the pre-season as a club together, after the draft is done and the rookie draft,” he said. ”Our game is unique in that the length of our pre-season almost matches the length of the season.
”The AFL are aware of this. We spoke about it and they are not so keen to have such a long pre-season. I think it would be good for the whole industry.”
Watson said the prospect of heavy summer training loads meant some players were leaving despite being able to negotiate a season proper.
”I just think players finish a season and think ‘I don’t know whether I could put myself through another pre-season’. They love playing games and they are still able to contribute,” he said. ”You don’t want guys who are still great players to feel like: ‘Oh mentally, I just can’t see myself getting through another pre-season because of the length of them’.”
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