Mark Blicavs is the modern day player, filling a variety of roles for the Cats

Coaching with the Big Picture in Mind

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

By Torin Baker
Coach - Western Jets


The following scenarios are a common occurrence with tall junior players.

Player A grows up always being one of the very tallest players in his junior teams. Throughout his junior career, his coaches identify Player A as the ruckman for all his junior teams and in his later teens he stops growing and now stands 190cm tall.

Player B kicks some goals early in his junior career and quickly becomes known as the teamís sharpshooter. He spends the majority of his junior days as the teamís gun full forward. He generally is on the taller side throughout his junior career and by the time he finishes growing is in the 180-185cm range.

In both examples, the player has some talent and is generally one of his teamís key players and gets invited to play representative football in region squads.

At around the age of 16-17 years when most adolescents have done the most of their growing, a major problem can occur for Player A and Player B. Suddenly they are faced with the situation that they are no longer tall enough to play the position they have played for almost their entire junior playing career.

Player A who has been his teamís ruckman is now required to play in a key position and Player B is asked to play a midfield role after having always been his teamís full forward. This can be very challenging for both types of players as they are now being asked to play positions that have an entirely different skill set. Both Player A and B are now required to read the game in a different way and need more skills at ground level.

What can be done!

Well the obvious thing is for both players to spend time in another position. In Player Aís example, he may spend time as a key forward or defender. This will teach him to read the game in a different way and now the focus of his game can go to his kicking and marking skills as opposed to his ruckwork. He will also be exposed to more ground work involvement. At training, Player A should not always be the player who does the ruckwork in drills. Involving him in drills where he is required to pick the ball up off the ground and defend will help develop a new skill set and make this player a more versatile footballer.

Player B should be given opportunities to play higher up the ground where the ball is not necessarily being delivered to him. A midfield role would be suitable. Here, the player learns how to win his own ball, learns new running patterns and will get greater opportunities to defend. At training, Player B should not always be the player who leads out and gets the ball kicked to him during drills. 

As a Coach...

Coaches at junior level have a great opportunity to develop and shape football careers for individuals. It is often difficult to balance what is best for the team and what is best for the individual. It is possible to do both with good planning and identifying a variety of roles for players. Prioritising versatility and selling it to your team can be an excellent quality of a coach. It takes courage for a coach to do this as there may be some trying times to work through as a player comes to grips with a role that may be completely foreign to them.

The FutureÖ

At present, AFL clubs are allowed 120 rotations per game. That figure will remain next year but there is strong thought that player rotations will reduce in future years to combat player congestion. With fewer rotations, player versatility will become an even higher priority. As is the case at most levels, we play catch up to what is occurring in the big league. Coaches who equip their players with the capabilities and experience to play multiple roles will be greatly benefiting each player, no matter what level players reach. In the case of Player A and Player B, you just may be responsible for saving their career.

This article was written as part of the assessment requirements for AFL High Performance Coaching Accreditation.

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