Game styles and trends are a direct reflection of coaching influence and not a result of rule changes, umpiring, interpretations and the like.
Coaches are currently locked into a defence paranoia and we have all been seduced into thinking “that’s smart”.
The facts are it is seriously affecting the games aesthetics and appealability.
In a brazen attempt to lead the pack and create something new, coaches are embarking on annual overseas sabbatical’s to analyse and learn about coaching methods, game plans and strategies.
Microscope focusses on NBA, NFL and EPL are at fever pitch.
To what end you may ask?
It is completely and utterly fruitless to attempt to apply the same principles on AFL to those applied on the aforementioned sports.
Our game is the most dynamic, instinctive, uncontrolled, speed driven sport in the world and we are fast losing that title by adopting “governor-like” conservative strategies similar to those applied overseas.
In games that allow “time-outs’ that is plausible. In games that stop and start every 15 seconds that is understandable. In games that have the predictability and precision of a round ball without physical contact, it is also a reasonable tactic.
AFL is the undisputed helter-skelter game of the world and that’s why it is both salivating and mesmerising for the fans along with the uninitiated. An overseas visitor is often heard to say; “I don’t understand it – but it’s exciting”.
We must vehemently protect it’s danger, risk, daring and gladiator-type competitiveness or otherwise it will become just another risk-averse ball sport.
Coaches have made a mistake by over-influencing and restricting players with burdensome, “safe”, conservative playing styles.
One must analyse the risk versus reward aspects of kicking the ball to a dangerous position where the chances of maintaining possession are significantly reduced against the sideways and backwards movement currently adopted by most teams.
Our game does not have the necessary characteristics to be be controlled and managed in the same manner as other ball sports and therein lies the definable beauty of AFL. Its rampant, unpredictable, unbridled and dangerous.
Attempts to maintain possession and play “tempo” footy drastically affect the appealability of the game along with indoctrinating a risk-averse mentality amongst players all of which significantly detracts from the spectacle.
A Sydney Swans player or coach may say they couldn’t give a continental what the game looks like, they’re only interested in winning. Thats a fair statement however I will challenge that apart from an anomaly when the Swans and Eagles seduced each other into a web of over-defensive evil for a couple of years (2005-06) the strategy has proved futile.
Our game cannot cope with risk-averse, conservative, low-scoring, defensive mindsets.
When you add that spectacle to the AFL’s strategy to drive fans (eyes) towards their television sets and not bums on seats, its not hard to see the recent reluctance for fans to attend games.
Every game has its moment of glory where teams with the ball roll the dice, throw caution to the wind and attempt to put pressure on the opposition with swift, corridor, long kicks to key targets rather than just putting pressure on the team with the footy. It’s what gets us on the end of our seats and generally off our seats. It doesn’t happen often but every game has its crowning moment. In isolated cases entire games are bathed in contested, competitive, risk-taking, fast-moving, man-on-man combat. Unfortunately the latter is restricted to one or two games a round along with one or two times a game for the rest of the FIXture.
Stifling and restricting is a basic fundamental of footy however when that mechanism is added to your ball movement as well then you have a dull, and boring spectacle.
Coaches are using the strangling effect on opponents to give their team some hope and to stay close enough to perhaps snatch a win at the death-knock. It rarely eventuates and we are instead left with a poor spectacle that reflects adversely on our great game which has been built on principles of competitiveness and daring.
I do not have the answer other than to expose the less than Australian approach to coaching and call out the blight currently on our game.
The gulf between the “edge-of-seat” anticipation, exhilaration of the contest against the staid, conservative, maintain possession-type spectacle is the widest it has ever been in my time involved in footy. Something has to give and I seriously hope its the coaches and game styles and not the game itself.