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AFL player recruitment research

"My research draws upon the concept of ‘talentship’."

For almost six months each year, Australian Rules Football (AFL) is probably one of the most discussed sports across its grassroots home state of Victoria.

But for Daniel Pelchen, AFL is more than a pub night conversation – it’s part of an important pathway to a PhD he expects to complete in the next two years.

After an undergraduate degree in commerce, Daniel completed an honours year investigating the ‘Pre-Draft Indicators of Australian Football League Career Success’.  

Achieving excellent results for his research, he was then offered the opportunity to extend his study of the potential of prospective AFL footballers into a PhD.

‘My first year of candidature was spent designing the study, understanding where it fits in the existing literature and preparing for confirmation,’ he says.

‘Along the way I’ve also had the opportunity to present at conferences interstate and overseas as well as tutor and mark numerous units. My first publication, which is a combination of my honours research and elements of my PhD, is currently undergoing the review process at a journal I often found myself reading only a few short years ago.’

Daniel’s research is seeking insight into how sport managers can gain a competitive advantage by making more efficient decisions around AFL player recruitment.

‘It draws upon the concept of ‘talentship’, which is grounded in strategic human resource management literature,’ he explains.

‘It’s a quantitative study where a return on investment is established in relation to the position a player is selected in the draft and their success at AFL level.’

He says this is a dependent variable that’s tested against what is already known about the players before they are drafted.

‘This includes demographics, psychological data, fitness testing, and in-game statistics. With the appropriate modelling, combining these factors into the one single measure can provide a unique insight into the potential of a player.’

With a longstanding interest in the ‘performance side’ of the football industry, Daniel says his research interest began during an undergraduate internship with the Collingwood Football Club’s recruiting department.

 ‘There, I gained an insight into the level of analysis that goes into player selection. I was keen to apply my skills from undergrad and saw the honours program as the perfect way to do so. When I began researching all the aspects that can influence player selection and recruiter bias I found it fascinating.’

Daniel’s research into AFL football – and his appreciation of broader decision-making sciences – has now led him to what he considers a niche field within strategic human resource management.

‘It’s great to be able to specialise in an area that combines my domain knowledge of football with my technical skills with numbers. Having the combination of the two makes me feel like I actually have something unique to offer academia and industry.’

Studying AFL from a management perspective has implications that reach beyond a game of football. Daniel says the real value – particularly to academia – is the amount of quality data that’s available.

‘It’s a rare industry where employers know literally hundreds of variables when they are making decisions on which resources they want to invest in,’ he explains.

‘Through my research I hope that many other industries can learn from the way football operates. This will be through the metrics I’m developing and the story I’m telling of the impact complete data can have.’

One of Daniel’s aspirations is to work across the European football leagues and he hopes that his PhD – and its valuable point of difference – will help achieve this goal.

‘While my research is currently only applied in an Australian Rules football setting, the same method and modelling can be functional to any other sport or industry,’ he says.

‘With the opportunity to present at numerous conferences, I’m developing the brand of my research as well as a network of people who are associated with some of the bigger European clubs. Independent research projects are the perfect way to gain experience in these environments where both parties can gain something at no cost to the organisation.’

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