Coaching from the boundary seems to be coming back into vogue.
St Kilda’s Alan Richardson, Greater Western Sydney’s Leon Cameron and Hawthorn’s Alastair Clarkson are just some of the coaches to try their hand at observing things from ground level.
They are all trying to find a different way of communicating with their players during a game and obviously the sideline method is much more immediate and direct.
The capacity for players to hear the message from the most important off-field person is powerful.
Another benefit is that there can be no doubt as to what is being said and, for the coach, what is being heard.
These advantages come at the price of the coach losing their vantage point of elevation and the key challenge of communication with their fellow coaches, who they rely on even more as a result.
The communication should remain regular as coaches remain wired into the information coming from the box, thanks to a headset.
But, naturally, coaches on the bench and in the heat of battle will get more involved in communicating with those most present. This may not be a bad thing.
Richardson said on Fox Sports’ AFL360 this week that he was surprised at how helpful coaching from the bench had been.
“It’s a tool that coaches use. I’m doing it at the minute to try and change things,” he said.
“I’ve found from a coaching perspective, I’ve had greater impact than I thought I would, given the areas of coaching that you miss.”
Ultimately, whatever a coach decides, match day is all about technical analysis and effective communication to achieve a victory.
I find it interesting how much we expect from an AFL coach on match day.
The motivational aspects both before and during a game are not as important as they used to be, as we move to a more process-driven approach around performance.
The modern player is not as stimulated to action by passionate words or stories that do not connect to how they need to play to win.
In my experience, players need correct information to assist performance. Basically, that means they need to know what they need to do – or keep doing.
A bit of positive praise also helps as it reinforces behaviours, and, like most humans, they will keep trying to do what earns them praise.
Delivering accurate technical analysis of the game at any point is not easy for a coach, who must observe, make sense of what they see and then deliver messages in such a way that the player not only understands what is being asked of them but can do it.
An AFL coach has lots of help in the technical analysis of the game, as you can see by the number of people in the coaching box on match days and the many people on the bench at ground level.
Traditionally, coaches operated from the sidelines, with no runner until 1955 and very few assistants.
At some point, the coach elevated their view and moved into the stands and then into the modern coaching box.
I find it interesting to note that in NFL football, head coaches appear to have always stood on the sidelines, close to players, feeling anywhere else was too far removed from the battle.
So, where should our AFL coaches position themselves? Why should every coach in the team be positioned in the one spot? And what are the advantages of different viewing positions at the ground?
The current coaching box has its advantages, namely elevation to view player positioning, the whole ground and patterns of play. Clear and multiple-angled vision from computer and television screens adds to what is seen with the naked eye, too.
And while being at ground level is an option for coaches, other parts of the ground should be also available.
Stationing a coach behind the goals would have advantages. It would not be easy to arrange and would place a coach in with the public. Perhaps a club person who is not well known may be a better option. They could text information to the box from their vantage position.
Such a move could deliver improved analysis to head coaches and help them in the all-important win/loss column which is, ultimately, what all coaches are judged on.
Peter Schwab played 171 VFL/AFL matches for Hawthorn from 1980 to 1991, winning three premierships. He later served as Hawthorn coach, AFL National Umpiring director, AFL Match Review Panel chairman and Brisbane Lions list manager