In 1986, I was charged with the responsibility of coaching the second string team from my region in the State Schoolboys’ Australian Football Championships. Most of the boys were not known to each other. Our few training sessions were combined with the boys that would make the first regional team. This happened to allow the selectors more time to sort the two teams out. Consequently, my team had only one short training run together.
In that training session, we concentrated on a long kicking approach to the game and on getting to the contest. I explained to the boys that our game plan would be simple direct football as each game was only four by fifteen minute quarters. I explained how we would set up for each central bounce and we set that up at training to show the boys what was required. We also practiced ruck and throw in drills with all the players.
On an information sheet, I asked the boys to indicate what position was their preference and where they played best. On the plane flight to Cairns I gave each player a sheet of paper and asked them to pick a team based on their knowledge of the boys in the team. (Many of the boys had played with or against each other in school and junior club fixtures). I collected these teams. I also asked the boys to indicate who they thought would make a good captain. This helped me make that decision. I perused all the suggested teams taking particular note of the teams that the boys most likely to be captain had submitted. With all this data plus my own ideas, I pick a team. In our championships, we were able to have 25 fully interchangeable players. So I picked a team where every player had a position. The followers (today midfielders) interchanged off the bench. This meant the four remaining player shared a position with four others getting, in theory, half a game each. In reality, some boys performed better than expected and changes were made throughout the game.
After our warm up, the team was announced. I made sure each player who was interchanging sat with his counterpart during the pregame address, knew his name and number. One of the interchange players acted as the runner and two others collected “stats” to keep them concentrating on the game. These players could decide to share each quarter or played for a quarter and then rest.
The pregame instructions were simple. They were:
• Play simple, direct and long football. Move the ball quickly.
• Kick over the next line. (This means you are running after the ball towards the goals. Your opponent has to get the ball and turn back into a contest).
• Contest every possession.
• If we have the ball, go into attack mode. If we don’t have the ball, i.e. it is in dispute or the opposition have it, you go defensive and pick up your opponent no matter where the ball is.
• When the ball is in the forward line the followers and the centre line players (midfielders) form the wall.
• If you are within kicking distance, you kick for goal.
• Remember to make allowance for the wind;
• And I reminded them of the size and shape of the oval. (In our warm up, outside on the oval, I had talked about the oval discussing the defending and attacking avenues).
At quarter time after I had made sure everyone knew where they were playing that quarter, I discussed the first quarter. Some of the boys were a bit hesitant going for the ball. So I said “Back your judgment and go for it and get two hands on the ball”. The wind was an issue in the second quarter as we were kicking into it. So I stressed to be in front of the pack.
For the rest of the game, I just reinforced those simple ideas and offered individual advice to players where necessary. Our team beat North Queensland by 5 goals. The team went on to win the second division trophy. In the finals, they played and beat the bottom team in the first division. Our success can from a simple game plan that the boys followed; improving with each of the five games they played in four days.
What was also important to note was that the boys bought into the plan because they knew from the beginning that they would all get the maximum time on the field and the fact that I had asked for their input into team selection and the selection of the captain made them feel an important part of the team. Almost from the beginning of my coaching career at state level and at school level, I used this same approach.