Thursday, February 11, 2016

Introducing Mladen Jovanovich' - Port Adelaide S&C Coach and Data Scientist

During my Facebook and newsletter updates this week I hinted at some HUGE blog posts coming up so we'll start with the biggest (no offence Matty for next week!).

Mladen is the newest member of the PAFC conditioning staff, known in AFL circle as the leaders in sports science and player conditioning. He's been a S&C coach for sports such as soccer and rugby all over the world and originally hails from Serbia, the blokes who crazy and throw chairs everywhere at the Australian Open (Tennis).

I have known of him for a couple of years now and have a few FB chats with him over the journey. He's makes himself very available and he has done so for all of the ART community today.


Hey Mladen (sporting the traditional "puff the biceps out" footy pose above) - as you know I've been following you for a while and even pre-empted your move to Australia on social media! Let's start with a little on your background and how you come to your current position at Port Adelaide Football Club?

Thanks for having me Troy. Actually, I have applied for PAFC circa three years ago, but Ian McKeown got it back then. He is fantastic coach and much more suited for the position than I am/was. I kept being in contact with both McKeown and Darren Burgess before and after that period.

Then, somewhere around April, 2015 I started talking with Burgess after doing one unanimous game data analysis. First we chatted about doing some data analysis as external consultant and then we started discussing an actual full time position. I guess around September we were pretty clear that I am arriving, but we waited for the visa approval till mid October.

Data is only as good as what you do with it - what would be the best way for local/amateur clubs to collect data and what should they do with it?

It is a tricky question and I am always leaning toward too little than too much. There are basically three components: impulse (or training load), athlete state and training reaction (or effect). In ideal world one would have all three and cover both objective and subjective aspects of them. I have expended on the topic HERE.

The easiest training load metric would be RPE (session rating of perceived exertion), but the way it should be done is for one to have the trust and culture in place, or else the players start to game the system. Same thing for the easiest measurement of athlete state – the simple rating of readiness to train, sleep quality, soreness and so forth. When it comes to training reaction simple tools such as strength indices, vertical jump, 2-3k runs or yoyo tests and 10-40m sprints are enough I guess.

One needs to have some idea of what to do with those numbers – how training will be affected by them and so forth.

In a past article of yours called "RSA Overrated", one conclusion you came to is that out of 3 athletes you'd choose the one that has the fastest peak sprint time rather then the fastest mean/average repeat sprint time. It's draft night and you and Burgo have to choose between these 2 draftees - who do you choose and why?

Well, I can’t talk in Burgo’s name, but I would choose the one who can play footy better – who is technically more proficient, tactically smart and emotionally stable with character suiting the team. And yes, even as physical preparation coach I put these qualities before physical qualities.

When it comes to speed, it is always better to recruit faster players, since speed is harder to change/improve than other physical qualities.

You written a lot on velocity based training in the last few years - do you use this at PAFC? If not, do you use any other "auto regulation for quality" methods such as RPE, drop off points etc or just the old school sets/reps at a certain load or % of 1rm?

We don’t use it, but we plan implementing some type of velocity/power feedback using GymAware leader board. Just tracking velocity and power and giving boys real time objective feedback so they can compete between themselves and for themselves is a great starting point. Later on, velocity zones could be prescribed and such. Sometimes, even if the methods are superior, their implementation might be too burdensome.

At this stage it is basically prescribing goal reps and “exertion” using light, medium and hard ratings and letting the boys choose the weight. Some exercises are more tightly prescribed.

To go deeper in the design at this stage you would need to pick McKeown’s brain.

Further Reading - Velocity Based Training Parts 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5.

You've stated in the past that VO2Max and aerobic fitness aren't the same and that one should focus on aerobic performance - what sort of ways should a local/amateur footballer gauge their own aerobic fitness? 

There is a great recent article by Steve Magness on the topic (click HERE) – besides I love all Steve’s stuff. Basically, depends how down deep the rabbit hole one wants to go. For team sport athletes the idea is to get a test that can pinpoint to limiting factors and help with training prescription, without burdening the skill training too much. In soccer we had an increase in “soccer-specific” tests (such as yoyo), but these specific tests cannot tell you which factor is limiting, because the scores in these tests depend on multiple qualities (i.e. change of direction (COD) efficiency, aerobic power, anaerobic capacity and so forth). Yet, again it revolves how deep one needs to go to figure out limiting factors and help training prescription for a given level of the athlete. One also needs to take into account the training type that will follow – are the athletes going to do continuous runs, or intervals, straight ahead or with CODs, or just a quick gauge to performance level and helping with return-to-play protocols? Hence, the test needs to be “training-specific”.

Long story short, I found simple 1,5-2k runs, or 5-6min efforts to be good enough estimate and help with training prescription.

NOTE: in regards to part where he talks about testing being more about finding limiting factors in your individual performance is probably my biggest take away from this and it sort of piggy backs a future blog post I have in mind.

Inertia training is "the next big thing" in sports training - what experience do you have with it and has PAFC started using it yet?

We have one K-box unit that mostly injured guys are using in a case-to-case scenario. I find it an interesting tool that could be implemented. What I find interesting are “special” exercises using the VersaPulley where the line of pull is horizontal and all types of rotations and lateral movements could be practiced. Again, nothing ground breaking in these tools just a nice addition and variability in well designed strength program.

NOTE - I'm trying to get one of these made for myself through an engineering client of mine so if you any idea's to make this happen then definitely let me know!

AFL clubs are huge on player monitoring, something local/amateur teams should start doing a lot more of - what types of things do PAFC cover with their players to ensure they're 100% come game day?

We utilize RPE and wellness questionnaires to address the subjective aspects. GPS measures are done from objective standpoint when it comes to load component and well as embedded testing (e.g. peak speed during session). Most of the metrics are analysed using TSB approach (Training Stress Balance) – I wrote about it HERE for an in-depth look. We do submaximal yoyo testing as a proxy to aerobic characteristics without increasing the training load with the maximal test. 3km test is done on the Uni Loop. We do nordic assessment, groin squeeze, RSI using drop jump and vertical jumps. We are deciding how to embed most of the testings in the session itself so it doesn’t create extra burden on the players.

Further Reading - Scroll through to a post from December 14th, 2015 for a Facebook update on in-session testing

Having been up close and personal with an AFL team, has it altered the way you might train athletes in the future?

I am constantly learning new things and being part of PAFC performance team is an amazing way to learn how to do things better. So, I would say yes, even if I am not really sure what.

What has impressed you the most about AFL players?

Not sure it can be inferred to other teams, but PAFC really impressed me with the team culture, comradery, genuine interests of the players to get better on every level, the levels of trust in players and the intensiveness of the game and sessions.

Who's the biggest freak at PAFC and why? 

Coming from soccer they are all physical freaks, but if I need to choose one it would be Hamish Hartlett. Very athletic, very strong and does pretty much every movement correctly.

From the Aussie Rules Training community I thank you greatly for your openness and willingness to answer these questions as I know that AFL clubs love to keep their sports science information very much in-house.

Mladen can be found at or at his Facebook page.

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