Reaching 100% starts with 1%

Look closely at some of the greatest grand finals in sport of the last few years, and you’ll see Dr Craig Duncan on the sideline.

When the Socceroos won their first ever Asian Cup title in 2015, Football Federation Australia (FFA) chief executive David Gallop reserved special praise for an overhaul of the team’s sports science — and the addition of Dr Craig Duncan.

The sport scientist and ACU exercise science lecturer had been working with the Socceroos to maximise the performance of each and every player. When the team clashed with Korea in the final, in front of more than 70,000 supporters at Stadium Australia — he was right there on the sideline watching weeks of careful planning come to fruition.

It’s not the first time Dr Duncan has been on the winning side. He was with Sydney FC when they took out the A-League Championship, with the Western Sydney Wanderers when they became the first Australian side to win the Asian Champions League, and with the NSW State of Origin team for their drought-breaking series win in 2014.

He was also named ‘Sport Scientist of the Year’ by Exercise and Sport Science Australia in 2014.

A life of sport

“I was an athlete myself and I think that’s how a lot of us started out, but I always had an interest in coaching, and I started coaching my first soccer team when I was 12 or 13.

“Getting into the performance side of things became an interest, and while it wasn’t always a linear path to get to where I am now, it’s certainly been a most enjoyable one.”

Dr Duncan’s role can involve overseeing the sports science, the rehabilitation, the sports medicine, the strength and conditioning, and even the game analysis for the team.

“My priority is to maximise the performance of every player we work with,” he said. “Effective management involves careful monitoring of training loads and markers of fatigue to ensure athletes are adequately prepared for competition.

“We need to balance fitness and fatigue in order to prevent injury. Preventing problems before they arise is much easier than solving them after they’ve happened.”

It’s not rocket science

A strong advocate of athlete monitoring, Dr Duncan said there was an increasing avalanche of new technology in the industry, but keeping it simple and understanding the human body got the best results.

“Part of my work usually involves implementing a player monitoring system, where we gather an extensive amount of data even before training starts. So from right after waking up the players would be entering data such as how they slept, their muscle soreness, their psychological wellbeing as well as objective measurements like heart rate variability. I can watch that data come in and see if there are any red flags that might show a player is struggling.

“But it’s not rocket science, it’s the basic fundamentals such as sleep and nutrition which are the most important for our players.”

Learn more about studying exercise science at ACU.