Paralysis By Analysis

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. 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 are evolvements over the last decade that 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, 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 daring, 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 offence mindset, still apply unrelenting pressure and intensity against the opposition. The greatest pressure of all is scoring. Sure their are risks associated with adopting this approach however I’d much rather dare to win than prevent a loss any day. Subsequently you can work off a defence 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. 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. And then…………….

Coaches protecting their numbers, their area, 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% 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 him to use them in a framework of strategy that embodies the spirit of AFL.

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

7 thoughts on “Paralysis By Analysis

  1. The most frustrating part in all of this is when they do their ‘safe’ backwards, chipping style that takes them back to their own goal square and then invariably end up kicking to a contest anyway – or worse a direct turnover – 50m or so further backward of where they initially had a clear uncontested possession. Numpties.

  2. Are they really more skilled? Or are they just able to do fancy things that blokes with real football skills didn’t bother doing decades ago because they were meaningless show-pony tricks that don’t win you a game of football?

    A bloke like Akermanis who could kick and handball as well on both sides of his body is what I would call a skilled footballer, not someone capable of doing some fancy trick but lacks the basic football skills on both sides of the body.

    Instead of stuffing around at practice doing Fancy Dan tricks, perhaps they should work on their footy skills and learn to kick with both feet and handball with both hands. They’re getting paid enough.

    As to the main thrust of your article? Malcolm Blight had the best approach to coaching an AFL team. He had two things in mind. Play attacking football (because if you score more than the opposition you tend to win the game – I love his dryness) and play September football in April and every other month leading up to September, because otherwise you won’t be able to play it in September, when it really matters. One of the great injustices of the game is Blighty never coached a Geelong team to a premiership. The greatest injustice was Gary Ablett Snr never played in a winning premiership. Now if you want to talk about skill? Name me one modern player with more football skill than Gazza.


  3. Hi Grant. I hope you are well. Have been trying to get in touch – would you be able to drop me an email on the address supplied? Cheers. James

  4. I couldn’t agree more and I am now wondering whether its our apparent obsession with the NFL (certainly the AFL administration is obsessed with whatever the NFL do) that we’ve become a “code of analysis”. The NFL is a quite a simple game that over the decades has become ridiculously fastidious and tedious with its overanalysis and micro-coaching and set-plays and has turned their players into absolute robots and ‘chattel’. AFL is quickly turning into that – no personality, no individual game style and no individual nuances and flair.

    The greatest footy ever played in my opinion was from the slick ‘Baby Bombers’ of 1993 through to the rampant juggernaut of the Lions of 01-03. Looking at all the replays and highlights of that era, I am blown away by the pace, the risk, the excitement and the flair – that 9-10 year period was AFL at its best, and when the footy talked, and not structures, set-ups, match-ups, score assists, one percenters and % efficiency.


  5. Grant, well done; I agree with all the thoughts you have on over-coaching and how it stifles player enjoyment of what used to be a competitive game within a near-anarchic free-for all. But now the over abundance of coaches have carved out jobs for themselves by introducing structure and set-plays. Sadly, the more set-plays and structures at ballups that occur, the more that assistant coaches can justify their existence.
    To return the game to anarchy (which is what we all liked) we need to return to the existing rule-book and direct the umpires to enforce rules that manage the stoppages.
    For an example, if player A is tackled he is actually only obliged to punch the ball ONCE. If that punch fails to clear his body then A should be required to move both his hands away from the ball to demonstrate he has completed the disposal. If the tackle continues the umpire then needs to adjudicate between the following three possibilities:
    i) the ball is being held to the players body by the tackler; DECISION … holding the man
    ii) the ball is being held in by the player A; DECISION … holding the ball
    iii) vision is obscured and no decision is possible.
    At the moment the umpires bail out of decision-making and choose possibility iii). Probably 90% of the time.
    If we directed the umpires to use their judgement and reduce 90% to 30% (say) then there would be a lot less stoppages and a lot less coaches.

  6. Carlton under Mick. Three or four taggers and every other player worried about what the opposition and/or his own teammates (in the ‘structures’) were doing rather than playing his own game. Negativity breeds negativity and, indeed, paralysis. Result: skilled players doing nothing at all, unsure what they were supposed to be doing.

    Carlton under Barker. Have a go. Back yourself. Just make sure you go just as hard at the opposition to win it back as you were already going to win the ball yourself (the Blues have been right up there in winning the contested ball all season, which makes their inability to do anything positive with it under Mick all the more damning).

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