Are Australian Football League players performing poorer after returning to play following a concussion injury?

P. White, P. Jhala, R. Pascoe, D. Lee, J. Fuller

    Research output: Contribution to journalMeeting abstractpeer-review


    Introduction: Sports-related concussion can cause neurocognitive and motor control deficits that may persist at the time of returning to sport. Indeed, previous research has demonstrated reduced performance after concussion in American football and baseball, and mixed findings in ice hockey. Preliminary research in the Australian Football League (AFL) indicates no changes in player disposal rates after concussion. However, the effects of concussion on a more comprehensive array of performance metrics is unclear. This study aimed to compare AFL player performance before and after concussion using a broad array of performance metrics that have not been previously considered.

    Methods: Thirty-seven concussed players who played 3–4 AFL matches immediately before and after sustaining a concussion were identified using public AFL injury lists during the 2017 and 2018 competitive seasons. Official match statistics were used to determine player performance based on disposals (total and contested disposals), disposal efficiency, errors, marks (total and contested marks), tackles, and AFL fantasy points (an advanced measure used to indicate overall player performance). Comparisons were made using mixed models that included concussion (pre vs post), match (matches 1–4), and concussion*match interaction as fixed effects, player as a random effect, and percentage match time as a covariate. Mean differences (MD) and 95 % confidence intervals were used to quantify any effects of concussion.

    Results: There were no concussion*match interactions for any performance metrics (p ≥ 0.088). Performance was not different after concussion for total disposals (MD: 1 ± 1 disposals; p = 0.239), contested disposals (MD: 0 ± 1 disposals; p = 0.781), disposal efficiency (MD: -1 ± 1 %; p = 0.570), errors (MD: 0.2 ± 0.3 errors; p = 0.369), total marks (MD: 0.2 ± 0.6 marks; p = 0.485), contested marks (MD: 0.0  ± 0.2 marks; p = 0.735), tackles (MD: -0.1 ± 0.4 tackles; p = 0.823), and AFL fantasy points (MD: 2 ± 5 points; p = 0.390).

    Discussion: Concussion did not affect AFL player performance across a broad array of performance metrics. The null findings for contested disposals, contested marks and tackles suggest that players engage in a similar number of contact situations after returning from concussion. Disposal efficiency and number of errors were also unaffected by concussion. This suggests that player skill and decision making is maintained in the context of AFL tasks and scenarios that have been well rehearsed through previous training and match experience. The current concussion rehabilitation strategies used in the AFL appear to be effective for maintaining AFL player performance.
    Original languageEnglish
    Article numberO68
    Pages (from-to)S47-S48
    Number of pages2
    JournalJournal of Science and Medicine in Sport
    Issue numberSupplement 2
    Publication statusPublished - 2019
    EventSports Medicine Australia Conference - Sunshine Coast, Australia
    Duration: 23 Oct 201926 Oct 2019


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