AFL players swap boots for ballet shoes in radical move to save their careers

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Updated

June 08, 2018 09:09:59

AFL football and ballet haven’t traditionally had much in common, but as players look to extreme measures to shake off persistent injuries, this graceful form of dance is helping save football careers.

Fremantle’s Harley Bennell is the latest player to adopt its training techniques.

The 25-year-old has played just two of a possible 55 games since crossing from Gold Coast at the end of 2015 because of persistent calf problems.

With the Dockers running out of answers, they have now turned to ballet training to get Bennell playing regularly.

“He’s bought in [to it],” said Fremantle coach Ross Lyon.

“There’s a lot of detail to it and hard work, but as I’ve always said he works incredibly hard, so he’s getting some benefit.”

Collingwood’s Ben Reid is also one of an increasing number of AFL players who have turned to ballet to help overcome leg problems.

North Melbourne defender Sam Wright and teammate Ben Jacobs have also used ballet as part of their injury recovery process.

Wright spent 701 days out of the Kangaroos team because of ankle and foot issues — he finally returned to the senior side last month.

Jacobs also endured a long run of foot injuries which included a broken metatarsal and subsequent stress reactions.

He has arguably been the game’s best tagger this year after playing just seven matches in the previous two seasons.

GWS veteran Brett Deledio also used ballet to manage calf injuries similar to Bennell’s.

According to a study published in the Journal of Science and Medicine, ballet is one of the most physically demanding activities a person can undertake.

‘It’s both an art and a sport’

ABC journalist and presenter Briana Shepherd spent four years dancing with the New York City Ballet, one of the most prestigious companies in the world.

Her list of injuries during her short career included eight stress fractures in her feet, two broken ribs, a broken sacrum, a broken wrist and surgery to remove an extra bone in her ankle that had been shredding a tendon.

“It’s both an art and a sport — unique, brutal and beautiful,” Shepherd said.

“A dancer must be able to leap high into the air, place their legs at a 180-degree angle, have their toes pointed, knees stretched and fingers perfectly placed, before landing without a sound and moving on to the next step.

“Not an ounce of effort can be displayed and not a beat of the music can be missed.”

Few master the movement of their bodies quite like a dancer, and according to Shepherd this is why ballet training can be so beneficial to not only AFL players, but athletes in most sports.

“Something as basic as where their knee should be in comparison to their ankle when landing or taking off from a jump could be useful,” she said.

“It begins slowly with the focus on acquiring the correct alignment and building the muscles required to perform the harder skills.

“Having long, lean muscles to support the many joints bearing the impact could lead to fewer injuries.”

‘Ballet isn’t exactly what the body was made to do’

The training improves an athlete’s flexibility, body awareness and muscle strength, and because of its repetitious nature also builds muscle memory.

Each part of a dancer’s body has a place and a purpose for every element of a single step.

“It takes a lot of training to get to this stage with a focus on the basics, on executing even the smallest movement correctly so it doesn’t hurt or injure the body, because let’s be honest, ballet isn’t exactly what the body was made to do,” Shepherd said.

Ballet may not solve all of Bennell’s issues, but the fact the once-macho sport of AFL is now considering the classical dance form as a serious part of a player’s training program, shows the game is more progressive than ever before.

Topics:

australian-football-league,

sport,

dance,

rehabilitation,

fremantle-6160,

wa,

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First posted

June 08, 2018 07:40:18

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