With a range of top 8 AFL Sides playing against each other coming into Round 14 of the 2022 season, we thought it was a great opportunity to discuss making tactical adjustments to solve different problems and help create or maintain an advantage within a game. But before making any changes its important to understand what tactics really are, what their purpose is and then having a philosophy aligned to the changes you want to create.
What Are Tactics & Their Purpose?
A tactic is a plan within a game or sport to gain an advantage. It is something you don’t use every game, but you may need to Implement tactics against specific types of opponents to exploit or nullify the oppositions strengths or weaknesses.
e.g. “Normally our team does not play a tagger, but in this game we will do so because there is a player for the opposition that is really important for them, if we can nullify their influence then it increases our chances to win the game.” Different types of games within sports have different tactics, they can be used for an individual or team, we can transfer the tactics from one sport into another.
In the early 2000’s David Wheadon brought the tactic of “Killing the clock”,to the AFL, where teams maintain control of the ball and take low risk passes to use up time in order to assure a win. In 2012 Alistar Clarkson travelled to the US to learn from the San Antonio Spurs to study this further and how to win close games, as they were an Achilles heel for the Hawks in 2011 and 2012 with a 5-7 record in games decided by two goals or less. After a successful study tour, The following season Hawthorn went 4-2 from close games thanks to practicing these scenario sessions at Waverley. Clarkson would set a timer and give the playing group a limited time to either win the game or save the game. He taught and implemented tactical guidelines for the players to use within these situations to assist his players with their decision making. These situations are an example of where tactics were required, these scenarios weren’t happening every game, but we’re required at different times throughout the season.
Philosophy Of Tactics
Tactics can change regularly depending on the situation of the game. You won’t constantly beat good opposition with tactics but you will with strategy. Strategies are reliable, you will use strategies every quarter, tactics you may not use every match.
“If you are losing, inject speed into the game” Craig Jennings
I believe that tactics need to somewhat resemble the way you play naturally but with slight modification or at slightly higher risk. When a tactic is implemented, try to avoid making the players do something they are completely unfamiliar doing, instead making the players do something that is in relation to what they are already doing with minor differences, this keeps predictability amongst one another and avoids drastic changes.
Types Of Tactics
There are many types of different tactics that you can use as alternatives to gain different outcomes depending on what you have at your disposal and the situation you are in. Here are some to list a few.
- Physicality & Targeting
- Weather Conditional Tactics
- Miss Leading Information
- Save & Win The Game Tactical Scenarios.
- Attacking & Defensive Tactics.
- Stoppage & Set Plays.
- Outnumber Tactics.
Examples Of Tactics
In recent seasons I have admired how the best sides have been able to make adjustments within games to change the way the game is being played, through a range of different modifications that have all been effective for different teams at different stages.
Richmond often make player positional changes in various games throughout the past two seasons, the tigers have swapped experienced players into their front half to lift the pressure and create more forward half turnovers. Another example we have seen recently is swapping Noah Balta or Josh Gibcus forward at different stages of the game.
Outnumber tactics are used to create an outnumber in a specific area of the ground, common outnumber tactical adjustments include a spare behind the ball in defence or a spare at the stoppage. But these tactics dont guarantee an advantage, because if you outnumber somewhere, then you are outnumbered somewhere else.
Tagging & Cooling
A common tagging tactic that teams use in the modern game is also known as a “Cooler”. This is where you send a player to nullify an opposition player in a specific situation, such as paying close attention to them at the stoppage and then releasing them post stoppage.
Physicality & Targeting
But some teams prefer to physically target opposition players without tagging them, previously Hawthorn used bumping, pushing and shoving specific opposition players around the ground to take their mind off the game. They would keep records on how many times the player was targeted physically within the rules throughout the match. They would set goals on going into the game about how many times they wanted to target them in order to disrupt the performance of the oppositions most important player.
Other stoppage tactics can include how the midfielders position on their direct opponents. Essendon in 2019 had injuries and smaller sized midfielders to some of the other AFL sides, so they asked their players to own the outside of their opponents. This meaning if the opposition won the ball in close they would be tackled with little room to move and evade, but if the ball spilt out, Essendon would be first to the ball since they were closer to it.
Windy Condition Tactics
Windy Weather conditional tactics can include changing where your forward structure positions down the ground. If the breeze is blowing heavily across one side of the ground and the ball is to be kicked long down the line, it could easily blow over the boundary line to being out of bounds on the full. But if the forward structure is set closer to the corridor instead of being wide, then when the kick comes long and blows across, it can stay in play with space for the forwards to lead into.
Miss Leading information
Providing miss leading information going into a game can be very powerful, telling the media you are planning to attack a specific way this week and then you don’t, you may make the opposition prepare for something that won’t happen, allowing you to surprise them come game day. Naming players that aren’t going to play and extended interchanges can also cause opposition head aches.
Some Questions To Ask Yourself
Have I prepared my playing group for save & win the game scenarios? If so what have we asked them to do?
Do we have tactical adjustments for rainy or windy conditions?
How can we nullify an opposition player through tagging or cooling?
What is my philosophy of how we want the game to be played? What are my tactics that align to that?
Which of our players are most versatile that we can rely on to make impact in a different position?
Lastly a philosophy of mine to take away momentum from the opposition is do the following.
- Congest Stoppage
- Play A Spare Behind The Ball Or Equalise
- Tag or Cool
- Slower Ball Movement
- Move The Ball In A Different Direction.
- Score From Centre Bounce
- Come Forward To Defend
Champion Data will tell you most games are won or lost by four goals, so a couple of good tactics are crucial, if you stop them scoring a couple of times and you score a couple of extra times, then you go from a loss to a win pretty quickly.
If anyone would like to learn further about tactics, strategies and game plans please get in contact with us, or book a coaching education session today (Link below). We also provide courses on creating and coaching AFL game plans partnering AFL SportsReady & The AFL Coaches Association.