Highly contested football is a consequence of zonal defending

Characteristics of the Modern Game

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

By Peter Schwab
AFL Director of Coaching

AFL Football at the elite level of competition is a continually evolving game as coaches strive for a small advantage in a highly competitive environment and then, through training, teaching and feedback, they provide instruction to the players on how the game should be played.

In recent years there has been a focus on almost every conceivable aspect of the game from preparation off field such as pre-season training camps at high altitude in foreign countries, the monitoring of every aspect of their player's mental and physical state through daily information input into computer programs which can be accessed by coaches 24/7, through to the intensive individualised feedback to a player on a weekly basis. All are designed to produce the optimal performance under match day conditions. The outcomes of all this is what we witness on the field of play. In essence the environment in which the game is played.

While teams will vary in certain aspects of their method of play, game plan, strategies, structures and tactics there are clearly discernible characteristics which are currently generic to the game.

The essence of the following information is the result of gathering relevant information from game based statistical data, astute observation by a variety of people with a  role to follow the game through analysis, to those who influence the game the most - AFL coaches and players who live it on a day to day basis.

Information contained in making these assumptions has been sourced from annual research around GPS data analysis, injuries, statistics and other related aspects of the game, all of which are very helpful in providing a perspective of the AFL game as it currently is played at the elite level

The information attempts to establish the current characteristics that exist in elite AFL football and as such will provide over time, a basis from which we can continually reflect on where the game has been and where it currently stands at any given time.

Any analysis of elite level sport has two major implications the first is what impact it will have on the identification of talent by establishing what the profile of an elite player needs to be? And what the impact will be on the training and practice for players?

The following are considered the main characteristics of the game, but having identified them we also need to ask WHY these characteristics are currently at the fore of our game.

1. Zonal Defence (ground squeeze or 80 metre bubble)

The squeezing of the game defensively has primarily been established to keep greater pressure on the player in possession and on the team in possession collectively, by creating greater numbers and restricting the space the team in possession has to work in.

The corridor is usually closed off by the perimeter placement of defending players which in turn forces the team in possession closer to the boundary where it can be easier to defend.

2. Highly contested football

Highly contested football is a consequence of the zonal defending as more players are closer to where the ball is positioned and therefore greater pressure can be applied. As a consequence there is an increased likelihood of more contests occurring.

So being able to win the ball in a contested situation, let alone being able to use it constructively, is a key element.

The other major factor is the importance of winning stoppages and stoppages cannot be won without players being able to compete successfully in highly contested situations.

...more characteristics of the modern game to come.

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Denis Ryan, 22-02-13 00:50:
Peter, in a discussion I had with you at the IC11 you mentioned the amount of "ugly" games of footy. I believe they are a direct result of the 80m bubble tactic.
Generally I wish the AFL would stop tinkering with the rules every year (its like they do it for the sake of it) but one rule I'd like to see is an offside rule. Draw a line across the middle of the ground & at all times a minimum number of players must be either side of it (say 4 or 6).
It would stop 36 players being in one half of the field & end (most) of the ugly footy. It would also hardly be enforced as coaches would immediately adapt & change tactics.
The AFL is trying to achieve the same objective by restricting interchange to the dismay of coaches & players. An offside rule, although anemia to the spirit of our game, would solve their problem & relieve us of these ugly, rugby type games. It would return AFL back to the free flowing spectacle we all want it to be.
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