Sport AFL Grant Thomas: over-coaching is ruining footy
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Grant Thomas: over-coaching is ruining footy

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Coaches once upon a time used players to win games – now players are secondary to the process.

Players are reduced to being mere pawns in the game of chess being played out by an extraordinary overuse of coaching input.

Coaches now firmly believe strategy and tactics wins matches.

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One man who does play on instinct: Gold Coast's Adam Saad. Photo: Getty
One man who does play on instinct: Gold Coast’s Adam Saad. Photo: Getty

Players are there to guard a position, block some space or exits, press up the ground, marshal/guard a piece of the arena, drop off a contest, flood an area and clearly get extreme numbers around the ball which packs 36 players into less than half the ground.

These evolvements over the last decade are now part of the mantra of a game of football and it is destroying the very fabric of the spectacle.

Over time we have become accustomed to, and used to, seeing the implications of the strategic and tactical plans imposed on the game.

Now we expect it – it’s an integral part of the game.

It’s time to revolt! Give the game back to the players!

Instinct, intuitiveness, reflexes, talent, flair and skill are all attributes we have grown to expect in our game unless you were born this millennium.

Kids these days think footy is about strategy and tactics.

They have never seen a game where players back themselves with instinct and dare, where a team goes head-to-head with the opposition, where there are one-on-one contests all over the ground.

Numbskulls think defence wins premierships – history proves it doesn’t.

They also think there was little or no pressure, intensity or defence prior to the last decade – another myth.

You can enter a game of football with an offensive mindset, still apply unrelenting pressure and intensity against the opposition.

The best sort of pressure - scoreboard pressure. Photo: Getty
The best sort of pressure – scoreboard pressure. Photo: Getty

The greatest pressure of all is scoring.

Sure, there are risks associated with adopting this approach, however, I’d much rather dare to win than prevent a loss any day.

You can work off a defensive mindset and force your opponents into error and sweat on their mistakes to score, however when you do win the ball, the opposition is doing exactly the same thing. It becomes a defensive, boring, arm-wrestle.

The overburdening influence of too many coaches and too much time is creating an over-orchestrated, manipulated game of chess which sucks the intuitive life out of most players.

Coaches are heavily scrutinised on their portfolio, whether that be offence, defence, forward, back, midfield, stoppages etc etc.

Over-coaching is rife. Players are mechanical robots.

Their individual video review significantly affects their decision-making in a game where they take the most conservative approach in a bid to appease coaches and avoid video review scrutiny.

That’s why that “un-Australian”, pathetic, backwards, sideways, slow kick has become so prevalent.

Players are petrified to pull the trigger and take the risky option in the corridor, forward of the ball, because if it fails they will be the centre of attention in Monday’s game review session.

We are coaching the life out of our incredibly talented and skilled footballers.

Is Buddy Franklin the most-skilled player in the game? Photo: Getty
Is Buddy Franklin the most skilled player in the game? Photo: Getty

Without doubt players have more skill today than ever before.

They can do things with the football that were unimaginable 20 years ago. Unfortunately we don’t get to see it often.

Go to training and watch some of the “off-time” antics and you’ll get an appreciation of just how skilled these guys are.

Coaches protecting their numbers, their area and their careers, influence those skills, talents, instinct and intuitiveness beyond recognition.

What’s left is what we currently have – and most think it’s pretty good. My point is it’s only 70 per cent of what it could be.

We should encourage our coaches to stop protecting their careers, stop minimising players’ talents and instinct, cease the retarding influence of over-burdensome tactics derived from too many overseas sojourns to soccer clubs, basketball clubs and gridiron clubs.

Develop the players God-given talents, encourage them to use them in a framework of strategy that embodies the spirit of AFL.

Our game is unique – let’s leave it that way.

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This column first appeared on Grant Thomas’ blog.

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