Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (College of Health Sciences)

Schools and Centres

Health Sciences

First Supervisor

Professor Gerard Hoyne

Second Supervisor

Doctor Sean Müller

Third Supervisor

Doctor Paola Chivers


Performance in sports involves a combination of components such as physiological, psychological and perceptual-cognitive-motor. Yet, despite a call in the literature dating back more than 20 years for an interdisciplinary approach, the majority of studies in sports science have used a monodisciplinary approach focusing on one component to understand sport performance. Accordingly, the primary aim of this thesis was to investigate the value of an interdisciplinary approach to understand match performance using Australian Football (AF) as the exemplar sport. The secondary aim of this thesis was to quantify individual differences in performance and representative task design (RTD) of tests used in the interdisciplinary approach. This aim relates to a more recent call in the literature to determine how individuals perform and whether tests used to measure performance represent match contexts. Therefore, through these aims, this thesis has theoretical and practical implications for athlete assessment and development in a variety of sports.

This thesis is comprised of four studies and an overview of how these studies are related is shown in Figure A. The first study (chapter two) involved a systematic review to identify the extent of interdisciplinary research conducted within the field of sports science (i.e., within talent identification, talent selection and competition performance domains). Thirty-six studies met the selection criteria out of an initial search that yielded 23,806 articles. Twenty-five studies were categorised as interdisciplinary and eleven categorised as multidisciplinary. The secondary purpose of the review was to critique the level of performance analysis and RTD of performance tests in the studies. The review concluded that sports science research is beginning to fulfil the call for interdisciplinary research, however, there is a lack of interdisciplinary research in the competition performance domain, especially in team sports. Further, the review found that future interdisciplinary research needs to consider individual analyses and RTD of tests to progress sports science knowledge. Therefore, study two and three were aimed at developing performance tests in different sub-disciplines of sports science. These performance tests were incorporated into study four, which used an interdisciplinary approach and considered individual analyses, as well as RTD.

Study two (chapter three) focused upon the sub-discipline of Motor Control to determine if small-sided games (SSG), which have a high level of RTD, could discriminate perceptual-cognitive-motor skill in AF players. Higher skilled and lesser skilled players participated in three SSG of three minutes duration. Each disposal (handball or kick) was scored for decision-making and motor skill execution and the scores were combined for a total score. Higher skilled players scored significantly higher than lower skilled players on total score and decision-making, however, the execution score was not significantly different between groups. In addition, mean total score of higher skilled players significantly predicted a component of match performance, that of disposal efficiency. This study demonstrated that coaches could easily implement SSG to discriminate perceptual-cognitive-motor skill performance in skilled players, which is a predictor of match performance.

The third study (chapter four) focused on the Sports Psychology sub-discipline and extended research on mental toughness (MT) and sports performance. This study investigated whether skilled AF players would perform better under a high-pressure scenario within a SSG where the changed ratio of defenders to attackers increased the level of pressure. Higher and lower skilled players were recruited and coaches rated participants’ MT using the Mental Toughness Index (MTI); this was known as Mental Toughness Coach (MTC). Additionally, participants competed in SSG with varied attacker to defender ratios in the game in order to create low and high-pressure scenarios. Decision-making, motor skill execution and a combined total were measured. MTC rating was higher for the higher skilled players. Total scores obtained by the higher skilled players was significantly superior to lower skilled players in high and lowpressure scenarios. A ‘pressure differential score’ (calculated to determine whether participants maintained performance across increased challenge), indicated a significant decrease in performance (total score) from low to high pressure scenarios for lower skilled, but not for higher skilled players. Furthermore, MTC scores were predictive of players’ performance within the high-pressure scenario total scores. Findings suggest higher levels of MT may contribute to maintaining performance across increased challenge of pressure within SSG.

The fourth study (chapter five) compared monodisciplinary and interdisciplinary approaches to predict match performance in AF. Semi-professional players’ disposal efficiency and number of coaches’ votes received across a competitive season were

used as measures of match performance. Performance test measures relevant to AF from different sports science sub-disciplines were included; Exercise Physiology (3 x 1 km trial), Motor Control (SSG test, validated in study two) and Sports Psychology (MTC test, validated in study three). Univariate monodisciplinary models indicated that all tests predicted the match performance measure of disposal efficiency, but only the SSG predicted the match performance measure of coaches’ vote. A multivariate interdisciplinary model indicated that SSG and MTC tests predicted disposal efficiency with a better model fit than the corresponding univariate (monodisciplinary) model. The interdisciplinary model formulated an equation that could identify individual differences in disposal efficiency. In addition, the interdisciplinary model showed that the higher representative SSG test contributed a greater magnitude to the prediction of competition performance, than the lower representative MTC rating.

Overall, this thesis demonstrates that an interdisciplinary approach can provide a more comprehensive understanding of sport performance, individual differences, and representative tasks in AF. The thesis also provides a template for future interdisciplinary competition performance, but also talent identification and training research in sport science.

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