AFL NEEDS A NEW GAME PLAN

It would be interesting to see how sports such as Soccer, Netball, Basketball, and Hockey would be received if players at the elite level did not have the skill sets or game plan to be able to move the ball fast and accurately to a teammate “in space”. How would the onlookers react if the players receiving the ball when they were in space could not control it and move it on?

Recently I spoke to an American chap who up until two weeks ago had never seen an AFL game before. I asked him what he thought and he said that he found it a bit boring. He observed that the players seemed not to be able to pass the ball accurately by hand or foot and that when shooting for goal with a free shot, as he put it, they invariably missed. He also said the ball seemed to go between the two quarterback lines back and forth for most of the match with goals coming mainly from an error by a miss-pass or a fumble. The team that makes the least mistakes wins.

So much for promoting the game to overseas markets.

There was a time when the basic skill sets of our elite level footballers included the ability to hand pass the ball over 5 to 10 meters (sometimes longer) accurately to a teammate. In most cases, the player handpassing the ball was coached, trained and skilled to look for a player wide of the play and out in space where there was no congestion and who was general moving. Players would also move the ball onto a teammate by foot. Generally, that involved the ball being delivered to a receiving player who was on the move running into space either in front of him or on the opposite side of his body to where the defending player was situated. Another skill, particularly possessed by key position players and attacking flankers, was that set shots at goal, more often than not, went through for a goal.

The modern game is all about congestion and breaking away from the congestion. Little if any creed is given to the art of creating space in front of a player and in moving the ball fast and accurately to a player moving into the space . Forwards are often running onto balls that are being directed to the space behind them or they are standing and waiting under a high ball falling to where they are standing. The later makes life easy for players like Jeremy McGovern to stand to one side of the drop zone then simply time a leap in front or across the forward to take an intercepting mark. He would not be able to do that if the forward was moving for a pass that had been directed out in front or too the favored side of him. A well-executed pass between points A & B moves faster than any player can run between A & B. Fast accurate movement makes for a faster game and invariably more goals and a more entertaining spectacle.

I often hear in a commentary that there is no space for a player to run into. Players take up less than 1% of the ground area of a football oval. Even if there were 36 players in the back third of any oval they would only take up about 4% of the ground are. – No space !!!! – There is plenty of space but coaches seem to lack the knowledge involved to teach their players how to use it and how to create it. Running and movement creates space. If a player runs from point A to point B space is created at point A. If a key forwards stay deep and the flankers and wingers stay wide gaps open up in the middle for players to run into. If the opposition wants to stay in that space then let them. There will always be space in and around them which eventually will draw them out.

Then comes timing. I watched a game on the weekend and counted umpteen times in free-kick situations when players were leading for a ball when the player who had the free-kick had not even picked the ball up off the ground. Leads need to be timed and players need to be taught when to lead and when to move to ensure fast accurate movement. The same applies to movement by hand.  

I thought modern-day coaches knew this but maybe they do not. It seems to me that players are not drilled in the art of creating space and they are not coached to possess the skill sets needed to move the ball fast and accurately to a teammate moving into space.

It is somewhat surprising that coaches such as Ross Lyon who needed to do something different to save his job did not have the skill set or knowledge to think outside of the square and stamp an alternate approach to the congested game plan that all teams are playing. It also staggers me when I hear that Dockers players such as McCarthy, Hogan and to a lesser extent Kirsten are brandished as not being good enough or not putting in when they are forced to play in games where the game plan is not about utilizing the talents of key forwards; rather stifling their talents by using a game plan that is reliant on long balls dropping on top of their heads. To me all three of these players have talent but the game plan is not designed for the team to benefit from such talent.   

Fast-moving, free-flowing, high scoring football is a spectacle to watch. It is exciting and it exhibits the unique skillsets needed to excel at our game. It puts bums on seats and it captures more advertising dollars. Presented correctly it would certainly appeal to overseas markets.  

Bring it on.