Watching a few kids kicking a footy around the end of my street on one of the cooler summer days got me thinking: Why is footy only played during the winter? So I did a bit of digging and this is what I found.
AFL is a winter sport in Australia, predominantly played between March and September. AFL is played during the winter because of its history as the off-season game for cricketers, and because it’s easier to play AFL in the rain than it is to play cricket or tennis.
During the summer, players typically take a break and then continue their training. A pre-season competition is also played between February and March, and the women’s AFL competition (AFLW) is played February to April.
Below I’ve included an explanation of:
- Why AFL is played during the winter,
- What happens to the AFL during the summer (players stay fit!), and
- What fans have to look forward to in the pre-season time between winter and summer
Why AFL is Played During Winter
From my own experience, and a bit of deeper research, I found three reasons AFL is played during the winter:
- It is possible to play footy in the rain, unlike cricket and tennis
- There is lots of running and movement in footy and the cooler weather helps
- AFL started for cricketers to keep fit during winter, and the season is set not to interfere with the cricket
I used to play tennis year-round. It’s nearly impossible to play during the rain. The ball doesn’t bounce properly. Cricket’s the same, nearly impossible to play in the wet.
Footy on the other hand is great during winter. Warm yourself up by running around the oval a few times – and that’s before the match has even started! Footy players do a lot of running (this is one of the reasons I became lazy and gave up). All that running isn’t something I can imagine doing during summer.
And one of the reasons footy started was a game to keep cricket players fit during their off-season – the winter. I found the timing of the football season to be set so that it doesn’t clash with the cricket.
What Happens to AFL During Summer
The AFL takes a short break for summer, like the rest of us. But it keeps going soon after.
During the summer off-season the players keep fit and get ready for the pre-season matches.
Fans need to wait until the pre-season rounds to get excited about footy again though. The AFL pre-season matches and the AFLW are usually played around the autumn time and offer fans a taste of what’s to come during the season.
What the Players do During Summer
Footy players continue their training during the off-season. To maintain their high levels of fitness and to stay competitive, players continue with a training regime. Players do take a break though, including to coach and help out with elite summer training programs for young upcoming players.
Summer training is similar to winter training and can provide a time away from the pressures of matches to develop:
- Endurance, strength, and agility;
- Fundamental skills (kicking, marking, etc.); and
- Decision making.
Pre-season: Feb to April
Pre-season games are usually played February through to April. While this is towards the end of summer and into autumn, I still find this is a hot time of year to be playing footy.
This year the pre-season consisted of 18 matches, each club getting two. There are no premiers, and no winner. I feel the pre-season is more of a chance to:
- Warm the players up for the new season
- Get the fans excited about their team’s outlook for the year
- Try out some new rules (see below)
Pre-season competition can be a testing ground for new rules. Some of the recent rule changes have included:
- Super Goals, where a goal kicked from outside the 50m line scores 9 points
- Having 8 players on the bench (making it 26 players on the squad for game day)
- A shorter game time of 18 minutes rather than the usual 20 minutes
Some pre-season changes have made it in to the official competition, such as having an extra umpire (a 4th field umpire was added after trialing the concept in the pre-season), and the sliding rule.
AFLW: Feb and March
The women’s AFL competition, AFLW, also gives fans an opportunity to watch some top-class footy in the warmer months.
The AFLW premiership season is typically played in February and March. Eight rounds are played over this time with teams competing it out under the conference system.
A finals series is played after the eight home-and-away rounds. Lasting 3 weeks, it culminates in a grand final and premiership winner of the AFLW.
The AFLW has its own pre-season. Games are played in January before the AFLW premiership season starts in Feb. For a fan these days there isn’t much downtime for those eager to get back into it between winter seasons.
Players must take a three week leave for Christmas. The AFL recently changed the rules: Previously clubs only closed for a few days leading up to Christmas and players were ‘on the job’ the whole time. The AFL requires clubs to implement the 3 week close instead to give players a break.
Support and admin staff at the clubs also get to take advantage of this break.
Having a few weeks off at Christmas is designed to limit burnout and look after the well-being of all people in the industry – players, coaches, support, and admin staff.
AFL is decidedly a winter sport. Players work up a sweat, footy can be played in the rain (unlike cricket and tennis), and it even started as a way for cricketers to keep fit during winter.
Thankfully there’s plenty of pre-season action to keep us fans busy. With the footy calendar now kicking off in January, thanks to the AFLW and the pre-season competitions, we don’t that much of a wait before getting back into footy each year.
I did my research in putting this article together. Here are the resources I used in finding out why footy is a winter sport:
- The Guardian collected inputs from the public as to why footy is played during winter.
- The AFL itself gives a guide on what clubs get up to during the off-season (it also includes some interesting training tips).
- Carlton Football Club gave me all the info about the pre-season competition.
- The New Daily has an article on adding the 4th umpire.
- The Women’s AFL has the details for the AFLW pre-season games.
- Fox Footy has the news on the AFL Christmas ‘shutdown’ period.
Chris usually loves his summer sports. He’s kicked the footy a few times in the street during the summer, but always found it too hot to play a full match.