The Game 2012
"AFL football is a simple game", I hear people say. "Win the ball, kick it long and straight." If only it was that easy.The traditionalists may not like it but the game will never look the same as it did in "the good old days". Greater television coverage, more expert analysis and a multitude of coaches and tacticians scouring the statistics, vision and trends in other sports has resulted in rapid changes to the way AFL is played.
Coaches in all competitions face the challenge of keeping up with this change while continuing to coach the basic fundamentals. This requires an ability to speak the modern AFL language – after all, our players are exposed to it when bombarded with the saturation of AFL media – as well as an understanding of what is required to develop players and teams to play a modern style.
The most common theme addressed in-post match media conferences by AFL coaches is the performance of their team in the contested possession count. This sounds pretty simple. The ball is in dispute, a 50-50 contest. But what components of the game contribute to contested football?
The two facets of the game that contribute most to your contested possession count are:
Average per AFL game is 95. Win the clearance count to gain advantage.
- Effective Ruck Hit Outs. The value of a ruckman has never been greater.
- Midfield quality (clean hands, body work). One touch players who absorb contact and retain possession.
- Stoppage strategy (player density, roles and ball movement from stoppage). Ability to manipulate strategy to change momentum.
2. Turn-overs or potential turn-over situations
Average per AFL game is 90. Win the turn-over count to win the game.
- Efficiency (made up of skill level, game style and experience) to avoid turn-over
- Defensive skills and strategy to force turn-over. Tackling, spoiling and manning mark. Man on man or press defence
- Body work/ability to win the ball
Win these two elements of the game and you then win 'field position'. Keep the ball in your forward half (even better, your forward 50) for longer than the opposition and you will win more often than not.
So the tactical components of the game tend to revolve around creating advantage from stoppages and keeping the ball in your forward half.
The evolution of our game stems from detailed research into other invasion sports (soccer, hockey and rugby) and the dramatic improvement in player conditioning that has occurred over the last 10 years.
The defensive press can be traced back predominantly to Neil Craig at Adelaide and Alistair Clarkson. Both of these coaches were fanatical in studying other codes. Some people will say that the 2008 Hawthorn premiership was largely due to their unique defensive style. The term 'field position' has been lifted from the rugby codes.
Advances in player conditioning and interchange volumes have enabled players to maintain high intensity running for a greater percentage of the game. This effectively means the size of an AFL ground is no longer a factor that inhibits the way in which you can set up 'structure' with your players. Often you will see up to 12 pairs of players around a stoppage, regardless of where this stoppage is on the ground.
The game is relentless. Arguably the most demanding, physical team sport in the world. Attack, defend, interchange.
So what can coaches at lower levels do to prepare to play the modern way?
- Teach correct skill technique (particularly kicking). Repetition of good technique from an early age will engrain
- Teach 180 degree vision (decision making). Switch of play, finding open players in the defensive maze has never been so important
- Teach contested skills
- Teach work ethic (run)
- Teach stoppage strategies
- Teach team defence
- Teach offensive system