Coaching Half Backs

Friday, March 13, 2015

By Rhyce Shaw
Current Sydney Swans Player

Position Description and Roles:

Role of the Half Back in the Team Structure:

Half Back – As a small defender, there are a few specific roles that make up this position:

  1. Defend – Restrict opposition small forwards.
  2. Attack – Rebound from defence is a huge part of today’s game and running half backs are crucial to a team’s ability to move the ball.
  3. Communication and Set-up – As a half back or defender, you can see the whole field from where you are so it’s important to get the correct setups at stoppages and in general play.

Key Relationships to Other Positions in the Team:

As a small defender, you will most likely end up playing on a resting midfielder at some stage. It is important to identify this and work with your winger and midfielders when a change might happen.

It is also important to identify match-ups in the defensive group, so you must work with other small defenders and tall defenders to get the match-ups the team wants.

Main Player Responsibilities:

As a half back, your responsibilities are mainly to restrict the opposition. Take care of your opponent first, then, just as importantly, attack from this position. You also can’t let the team get opened up, so sometimes you are like the quarterback – sit off and read the play in front of you.

Expectations and Role of the Half Back in Specific Situations:

Stoppages – Half backs will usually be at back and mid stoppages. They will be either a sweeper, or a sweeper that splits their opponent with the winger, in mid stoppages to catch midfielders flying through, or an attacking option with a backward handball. The main role at a defensive stoppage is to be one-on-one with an opponent. 

Inside 50s – Set up a mini wall looking for breaking players and try to get repeat entries to put pressure back on the opposition.

Kick-ins – A huge part of today’s football. Getting the ball in and successfully past halfway is important both offensively and defensively.

Player Characteristics Required to Play Successfully:


  • Knowing where to run offensively
  • Cutting angles of opposition
  • Reading play to cut off leads
  • Keeping trail-ins to a minimum
  • Reading when to attack or defend


  • Integral in today’s game to have speed, especially closing speed

Good one-on-one: 

  • A lot of the time, there will be defensive help in contests, but when there isn’t, your ability to win or break even in a one-on-one is really important.

Good skills:

  • No brainer, but especially down back where skill errors can result automatically in a shot on goal and score to the opposition.
Coaching the Position:

Key Points to get Across to Players:


  • Win one-on-one contests
  • Help defence (third man in)
  • Alert at stoppages (different roles/positioning)


  • Effective possessions
  • Run to receive
  • Get involved

Without the ball: 

  • Communication
  • You have your opponent – what else do you see?

Specific Training:

One-on-one drills:

  • Leads
  • High balls
  • Defence working as a team to win the ball from a forward entry
  • Hit up kicks to receive
  • Bag work for spoils
  • Stoppages with midfielders

Specific Pre Match Preparation:

Scouting players is a huge part of today’s football, and specifically for defenders. Knowing what foot a player kicks with, their leading patterns, where they are most dangerous, who they link with, do they change in the midfield or how they gather possessions is a must for defenders. Also knowing weak links when we have the ball, which players we can catch out on a turnover, and where they defend from as a team.

Key Hints to Becoming a Better Half Back:

  • Knowing when to defend and when to attack. Today’s game is so fast and knowing when to go from defence to offense and back to defence is crucial for the side.
  • When to influence as a third man in or drop off.
  • One-on-one defence.
  • Kicking skills
    • Hitting switch kicks
    • Short 45°
    • Up the middle

Specific Drills to Develop Players' Competencies:

One-on-one/Skill drill

The point of this drill is to defend multiple contests and then get into a position to attack. It requires two coaches or feeders.


Coach kicks high ball to one-on-one contents


Coach kicks to a leading one-on-one contest


Coach kicks high ball to one player who marks and gives handball to Player B who is in a position to receive, and receiver to coach who has lead.

See diagram below:

This article was written as part of the requirements for the AFL Level 2 Coaching Accreditation.

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