Coaching Ruckwork

Friday, June 13, 2014

Good ruck players are worth their weight in gold in big games. Where can you find them? 

A good start might be to develop your own and Ben Hudson may have some answers. For the last two years, the Collingwood rookie and ruck coach has been mentoring the teamís young ruckmen, including Brodie Grundy and Jarrod Witts. Now, heís looking to assist other young rucks who are looking to make their way in the big league.

Benís approach to coaching rucks and his top 5 tips on becoming a better ruck player are outlined in the following article


By Ben Hudson

Role of the ruckman in the team structure
The primary role of a ruckman at AFL level is to provide a physical, aggressive contest at every stoppage; be it at centre bounces, boundary throw-ins or ball-ups. They play a vital role in assuring their team can establish an advantage at stoppages and clearances, giving their team first use of the ball. Winning a hit out is not enough; it must be a hit out to the advantage of the teamís midfield.

Having played the position for a number of years now, I have seen the position of the ruckman evolve, as a modern day ruckman is now an essential part of the mid field and must be able to provide second efforts, and be able to spread offensively and defensively from the contest.
Relationships to other positions in the team
The ruckman is the keystone of the midfield. The ruckman must have a close working relationship with the midfield understanding each of their strengths and weaknesses to gain advantage at stoppages and clearances. 

The ruckman plays a leadership role in the midfield directing the midfield players on positioning, after assessing the opposition, to ensure the midfield gets first use of the ball.

Characteristics required to play the position successfully
The characteristics of a successful ruckman are limitless but the essentials would be an aggressive and physical determination. These are the cornerstone of a great ruckman. Aside from these I believe the key characteristics are:

  • Aggression
  • Determination
  • Competitive nature
  • Relentless
  • Vocal leader
  • Sacrificial
  • Speed and agility are a bonus

Another interesting characteristic of ruckmen is that while most grow up playing Australian Football they can also come from a range of sporting backgrounds such as basketball, rugby union, and soccer. These sports provide transferable skills to AFL which is why mature age ruckman can be recruited. Examples of this are Zac Smith from Soccer background, Kurt Tippet and Todd Goldstein from basketball.

Coaching Rucks

Key points to get across to ruck players
Successful coaching of the role is achieved by keeping it simple when training, focusing on the major objectives such as contesting at every opportunity, hit outs to advantage, spread from contests and stoppage set ups. Learning is achieved through repetition, practicing centre bounces with a ruckbag and one on one contests for ball ups and boundary throw ins. Repetition ensures the ability to fine tune rucking techniques as it is the only specific role that exists in the ever changing game of AFL.

When coaching an inexperienced ruckman around positioning on the field, the best way for them to learn is to watch other more experienced ruckman as this skill is harder to teach. The communication and leadership aspect can only be learnt by practising this in a game experience/situation.

A coach should also encourage a ruckman to review other ruckman in the competition to pull specific skills which may transfer into that ruckmanís game to make them more successful.

Specific drills to develop playersí competency for the position 

  1. Centre bounce bag to practise aggression and body work.
  2. Boundary throw-ins to practise specific hit spots (both competitive and non competitive).
  3. Ball ups to specific hit sets (both competitive and non competitive).
  4. One on one contested marking to develop around the ground tall targets.
  5. Second/third efforts to ensure the ruckman follows up after a hit out.
  6. Spread from stoppages, running with purpose both offensively & defensively.
  7. Centre bounce ruckwork with the mid field group.
  8. Centre bounce ruckwork without the mid field group but with a wheelie bin to practise soft hands and aiming to land the ball in the bin.

Helpful hints to becoming a better ruckman
If I was to give advice from what I have learnt over the years, it would be:

  1. Be competitive and aggressive at all times on the field.
  2. Develop strong working relationship with your midfield.
  3. Work to your strengths and know your limitations.
  4. Watch other ruckmen and know their strength and weaknesses. 
  5. Develop a strong voice that provides direction and leadership on and off the field.

Click here for a more detailed article discussing the craft of ruckwork and coaching ruckman

Watch the Ruckwork section of the AFL Skills Guide here

You might also be interested in Ruck Development Program by Steven King


Ben Hudson and his wife Rita have also created Tall Performance, a coaching program for young ruck and key position players or teams at school, local or TAC Cup level seeking specific ruck or tall player coaching throughout the season.

Tall Performance is also open to individual rucks or tall players who wish to gain a competitive edge by accessing one-on-one coaching. The program also integrates tall training techniques into fundamentals for midfields as a whole, including structures and set ups for stoppages and clearance techniques.

Hudsonís 18 months working alongside the teenaged Grundy and Witts has provided him with a solid ground for teaching the fundamentals of ruckwork to younger players.

ďThere are younger ones coming up but in saying that, the reason Iím still running around is the gap in the market which I think is because the ruck is one of the last specialised positions left in footyĒ, said Hudson.

To learn more about the Tall Performance program, head to or call 0411 678 627.

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