In a controversial move, the Australian Football League (AFL) have removed skinfold testing from the annual combine test battery, over mental health and body image concerns.
The skinfold test is a body composition assessment that is used throughout the world, and has been performed at the annual Draft Combine for over 20 years. It forms an important part of the player’s overall assessment at the combine, which includes testing in areas such as medical, physical, psychological and skills.
The test determines the player’s body fat percentage by measuring the thickness of a pinch of skin at multiple sites of the body. It is very useful to know the level of excess fat a player is carrying because excess body fat would affect the AFL player’s ability to jump vertically, move freely around the ground, and the extra weight can increase fatigue, which are all important aspects of the game of AFL. The sports science staff at a football club would like to know if a player is carrying extra weight that he could potentially lose, a worthwhile and often an easily achievable task.
The decision to remove skinfold testing at the combine has been widely criticised by both players and AFL club officials. If the players are being body-shamed based on their skinfold test results, then that is a problem. The answer? Stop the body shaming, don’t stop this important part of the player assessment.
It seems like a case of blaming the tool. It may just be the way that the test results are presented to the players. Tell the players why it is important to measure this (and it is). Educate the players on the personal benefits of having skinfolds measured, and how it can enhance their physical performance and consequently the team’s performance.
Skinfold testing should be considered the same as any other component of fitness testing, as a chance to identify which areas they can improve to become a better player. If their 2km time trial is slow, extra work on the track is required, if their vertical jump score is low, a bit of extra leg work in the gym, if they are carrying a bit too much extra body fat, the sports dietitian can guide them to make changes to improve their diet. The aim of all of this is to improve the player, not to shame them. It is an opportunity to improve, not an opportunity to put them down.
I don’t think there is any chance of the test being put back on the combine tests list. It is going to leave the clubs to use other methods to estimate body fat of their potential draft picks, such as using the height and weight measurements to calculate BMI, and we know how badly that works as a measure of body fat in muscular individuals (like football players!). If the clubs see value in the skinfold test, it will probably stay as one of their assessments within the club for the time being, they just won’t have that information at hand when they are looking for new recruits.