Four Myths of Strategy

Thursday, June 12, 2014

The Art of Coaching draws on David Wheadon’s extensive career as an assistant coach at a number of AFL clubs. As one of football’s most innovative thinkers, Wheadon demonstrates his deep knowledge of coaching and details the principles that underline the game of Australian Football, and how to get the best out of diverse groups of talented young men.

The following is an extract from The Art of Coaching.

Four Myths of Strategy

Allan Jeans once said that football is full of myths and legends, and there are certainly a few that have surrounded the AFL for many years. Statistical analysis shows that most of these myths are not backed up by the facts. 

Myth 1: You have to win at the centre bounce and clearances in general to be successful. 
A team would prefer to win centre-bounce clearances as the ball is going forward, but these clearances do not carry the weight that people think they do. Sydney, for example, was ranked 16th in percentage of centre-bounce clearances success in 2012, the year it won the premiership. This trend continued in 2013, with Hawthorn ranking only seventh in total clearances (second in centre-bounce clearances). The other team to make the Grand Final in 2013, Fremantle, remarkably was 17th in clearances for the season.

Myth 2: You must have a high number of contested possessions to be successful.
Achieving high numbers in contested possessions tends to lift coaches’, players’ and supporters’ self-esteem, but this is not as important mathematically as generally thought. Sydney was ranked first in 2012 but the previous two premiers, Geelong and Collingwood, were fifth and 11th in this area. Fremantle and Hawthorn were just slightly above average in 2013, placing seventh and eighth in contested balls. Many good teams avoid putting the ball into contested situations to avoid the risk of losing possession.

Myth 3: Taking big marks is essential to winning. 
The number of contested marks taken by each team has shrunk from an average of around 20 per game in the early 1990s to only 11 in 2013. Zone defences, double teaming and a willingness to avoid kicking to contests have affected this. Big marks can be important in crucial situations close to the attacking or defending goal, but a spread of goalscorers is more important.

Myth 4: Having more tackles than the opposition is a prerequisite for winning a game.
This has been proven to be a fallacy. In fact, teams that have more tackles in a match win less than 50% of the time. A higher tackle count may indicate that the opposition had the ball more and was in a slightly better position to win. It is not the number of tackles that matters: what is more important is to make crucial tackles. Preventing a forward having a shot on goal or restricting a clean rebound can turn a game. Although not a tackle, the most crucial turnover I have witnessed in my coaching career occurred in the 2007 preliminary final when Joel Corey smothered Magpie Chris Bryan’s shot at goal in the last quarter. This enabled Geelong to win the game and eventually the premiership.

The Art of Coaching, By David Wheadon, is available at the special price of $20.00 from

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