Every football program has a form of development, the difference between them, is the methods used by the coaches to implement it. Throughout my time from playing in the Bendigo Junior football league to becoming an analyst in the AFL, I have constantly found that my philosophy of development has evolved from each football program I have been a part of, as a player and a coach.
In this article I will share some of my learnings, this will be based about junior development, but it can be relevant for all ages and levels.
In every junior team I have been a part of, every side we played against and including the team I was in had some players that were not very talented, also known as “A witches hat”. I recently heard this philosophy from Andrew Toop, who is an experienced local football coach and a general manager for a major construction company. “People are more motivated when they have a sense of direction”. I believe the most important part of development is providing clarity for the player, so that they know what to work on and they know where they want/need to get to.
Sense of direction
My first philosophy of junior development that I will share “is give every person a sense of direction, this will give every player on the list something to work towards”, especially the time they spend alone playing with the ball. This will allow players to improve their skills and advance from the cognitive to the associative motor learning stage.
Developing motor learning
Children have the most free time of any human being that play sport non-professionally, children that are truly passionate about their sport will spend time getting familiar with the ball. Because children are always learning, they are often in the cognitive motor learning stage, which is where players learn new skills and then improve it the most of any learning stage. Encourage juniors to kick, mark and handball at home as often as they can.
We always hear about junior sport needing to be inclusive, to include players more create a tailored development program for those players that need the improvement. I believe “People feel important when they have something tailored personally for them”. The more players that feel valued by you as the coach, the more they will be willing to improve and work hard for you, even though you are doing this for them.
How do you create this development program? “At younger ages most players have the same weaknesses because they are all new to the game”. Compare this to seniors, where players have had time to acquire their skillsets so they have significant differences in their skills and abilities. Put the players that are working on the same skills together so they can develop at the same rate.
You will find also at a younger age that the difference between the defending abilities is significantly different. I believe this is because “From a young age we teach attack first by giving them the ball to play with. This does not teach defence which is okay, but we do need to teach defence more at junior training”. This is also because some children are raised with siblings where they wrestle and play physically, compared to others who are not exposed to that.
Coaches will ask what defending methods should you teach the juniors? I recommend “Sticking to the basic principles of defence which are, tackling, when they have the ball find a man and also spoiling”.
Do you have players that feel intimidated when they are in the contest? Try and create drills which constantly expose them to receiving contact or making contact with another player. Brendan Bolton says “Put players in uncomfortable situations so they become more comfortable when they encounter them next time.”
Look to challenge players as they improve their skills, the more often they adapt to change the more often players will be able to execute skill in specific situations. “Some ways to challenge players while they execute skills are: increase speed, refine the space, add pressure, add moving targets, execute the skill on the move.”
Game day development:
If your developing players in all positions in juniors through a rotation, what’s your process to develop them? “Give each line the same cues throughout the match. Players will perform better when they are consistently told the same messages”. For example, forwards always need to have the same messages throughout the match, you don’t want to tell them one thing and the the next group something different when they are learning the game.
Developing decision making
“Instead of drills, put players in regular situations that they face during a game.”
When you are coaching a players technique you need to ask yourself am I educated enough about the skill I’m coaching to correct a player’s technique, do I know what the outcome will be? Many coaches are so enthusiastic about coaching they believe they know how to coach a players technique when they really don’t. Some coaches haven’t ever studied fundamental AFL techniques so they can’t coach players effectively, they are impacting a players development negatively by teaching them the wrong information. If you would like to improve your knowledge of coaching.