The Importance of the Wings

Friday, April 15, 2016

by Damian Truslove, Midfield Coach Northern Blues/Carlton VFL

As coaches, how often do we hear wingers say “No one will use me; I can’t get my hands on the ball; can I go inside?”

I have coached 14 and 35 year old players at various levels and it is always the same feedback!

Occasionally you will come across a player who is happy to play the wing role for the team, however, from my experience most feel isolated in space.

The question is: How do we get individual players to own this position?

Attributes and Roles

Different coaches require different attributes from their wingers but most look for ‘outside’ coverage:
• A player who will protect space in a defensive situation and assist in preventing opposition outlets
• Offensively they need to be the ‘outside’ outlet option by hand or foot
• They may never get 35 possessions and 10 tackles, but the wing role is critical to team structure and balance

At stoppages the wing starting points may vary but the overriding principle will have these players covering the perimeter of the congestion.

The most common structure at stoppages is the skinny side winger becomes wing sweeper (behind the stoppage) and fat side winger becomes wing lateral (to the side), usually 8 - 10 metres from the stoppage.

If we are losing inside contested ball, a common move is to play wing on wing to restrict the opposition outlet opportunities.

As coaches we need to identify where we can gain the advantage for each game. Don’t just stick to the same structure - assess each game and have a strong understanding of your opponent’s strengths and weaknesses. For example, if you have the advantage in the ruck you may choose to position your wing lateral in a more attacking position at stoppage.

As with stoppages, the wing role is also critical to your defensive and offensive structures. They may find themselves a long way from the ball at times, but when required they are critical to team balance. Having that fat side option in offensive transition and fat side exit cover when in the forward 50 is critical to team success. The old term ‘unrewarded running’ is critical for a wing player.

So how do we get players to ‘want’ to play this role for the team?

Positive reinforcement is one answer. Make players feel like they own the role and all the space that goes with it.

During training sessions when you are doing game simulation make sure the individual in mind plays wing and it becomes ‘his or her wing’. A discussion with the player may be “Here we go Johnny - match simulation drill, this is where you shine and own your wing!” Say it with passion and plenty of energy. Stop the drill when wingers are in correct structure and say to the group “Look at this wing structure boys, how good is that?”

Even after transition drills, highlight the importance of the winger playing their role and the positive outcomes created.

Don’t forget about the power of vision! Whether you use a mobile phone, iPad or permanent camera, make sure you highlight the positive actions of the wingers to the entire playing group, fellow coaches and of course the individuals involved.

Once players own this role you can then give them the opportunity to show some flair. This may be encouraging them to fly for marks or run and carry. After all, if they are enjoying the role you will see continual improvement.


Damian Truslove is the Midfield Coach at Northern Blues/Carlton VFL.

This article was written as part of the requirements for AFL High Performance Coach accreditation.

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Michael Wright, 20-04-16 12:59:
This is a fantastic topic the wingman is critical to structure but also how we want the game to be played. The use of wingman as running options to create and reduce space and to be a weapon offensively when the football is won is crucial. Wonderful.
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