I had the privilege of playing for 8 years then coaching for 6 years the varsity football team of the University of Western Australia. I have always had a great love for Australian Football and the idea of coaching was very attractive to me. I finally retired because it was simply taking up far too much of my time and, worse, my emotional and thinking energies. I loved those years. When I see the players again now I always feel a great warmth towards them. We won one premiership whilst i was a player and won 3 when I was coaching, and at one stage held a record of 52 games undefeated. I loved those years and remain very close to many of those players to this day.
With regard to coaching, it just takes thought, logic and imagination. It amazes me that even now, years later, I see players in the AFL doing things that are low percentage. One of many examples of this is the annoying unconstructive backwards handball by a player who has a mark or free kick. Unless executed well, this uoften puts the receiver under unnecessary pressure and doesnt ‘break the lines’. So we rehearsed over and over again a move where the receiver actually runs past the man on the mark and receives the attacking handball over the top. This removes most of the pressure that the man on the mark can generate and puts the receiver in an attacking position downfield where he can break up the lines. But it is hard to do without practice e.g. the deliverer forgets to move forward (to make the man on the mark stay committed, to get forward momentum and height into the handball, to shorten the distance etc) and the receiver forgets to pick the right line and the other players forget to create the space for that receiver to move into over the mark.
Another example occurs when a ball is kicked to the goalsquare. There are a lot of low percentage things to do, but a good strategy is to start behind the pack as the kicker moves in, then build up speed so that as the ball is kicked you are on the move to the front of the pack in the square. That makes you the most likely to mark a kick that goes left, right or drops short, all of which are more likely to happen in the last quarter when legs are tired.
Lack of creativity by some players and coaches is also frustrating. Our philosophy was to develop new high percentage moves which were just a bit different and, most importantly, to rehearse them over and over again at training. I recall something I heard once on the radio, a phrase that is on the wall at the BBC, which says ‘if you want anything to look spontaneous, rehearse it’. Of course many of the moves never worked in games, but at least it kept the opposition guessing. Once I made the blokes do some moves which I developed from watching gridiron when I lived in the USA. They had to criss-cross the square at bouncedowns and ‘roll out. It never worked once and guys were confused. But so were the opposition and we just seemed to cut through their defence like knife through soft butter. After the game the opposition coach came and congratulated us for our brilliant strategising. We thanked him and laughed, because the move hadn’t worked once. But a perception of unpredictibility by opposition backmen is as important as structure in the forward line. But this should only be a perception to the opposition.