SUMMARY: Imagine going behind the closed doors of a leading WAFL football club and seeing what they were doing to develop their forwards.Well in this article, Subiaco Assistant / Forwards Coach David Sierakowski does just all that and more to show you what they are doing at the Subiaco Football Club with their forwards.

Includes insights on game-based training, goal kicking training and more.

Background

David Sierakowski

David Sierakowski, former player with the West Coast Eagle and Saint Kilda,and current forwards / assistant coach at the Subiaco Football Club.

If you were to name the three strongest football teams in Western Australia, who would you choose? The West Coast Eagles and Fremantle Dockers are two that come to mind immediately… But how about the Subiaco Football Club in the WAFL as well?

Subiaco might be a surprise pick for those outside of Western Australia. However, anyone following the WAFL this year would not be surprised at all. Subiaco are doing to the WAFL what the mighty Brisbane Lions team did to the AFL in the early 2000’s.

At the time of this article, Subiaco were sitting on the top of the WAFL ladder with 17 wins, 1 loss, and an amazing 182.63 percentage points. They have been one of the most dominant and high scoring teams in the history of the WAFL.

So how does a team like Subiaco amass such an amazing scoring record? What are they doing to give them an edge over the competition? We asked their forward coach David Sierakowski (Siera) to shed some light.

Siera was recruited to Saint Kilda in the 1992 AFL draft and eventually debuted for the Saints in 1994. He was part of the Ansett Cup winning 1996 side and the 1997 Grand Final side, before eventually moving to the West Coast Eagles in 2001. Unfortunately Siera suffered a serious knee injury that same year, and the resulting knee reconstruction forced him out of the game.

Siera is now the forward / assistant coach at Subiaco. And here are the insider secrets he shared with us about Subiaco’s coaching methods for their forward line.

Game Based Training

Firstly, almost all of Subiaco’s training drills are game based. In other words, they are based around real match day scenarios that players are likely to encounter as part of Subiaco’s overall game plans. This enhances the learning experience and enables the rapid development of decision making.

But rather than splitting the team up into positional groups (eg. defenders, midfielders, forwards), the team stays together for pretty much the whole training session. So how do forwards get their forward specific training? The answer is simple.

# 1– All Drills Have a Forward Component

The coaching staff ensures that almost every drill has a forward component designed into it. For example, a rebounding drill from defence will move the ball through the midfield and onto the chest of a leading forward. Or a stoppage drill will finish by delivering the ball to a marking contest in the forward line. This ensures that the forwards get ample opportunity to practice their skills along with the rest of the team.

According to Siera, “You can’t train forward play in the traditional sense. The only way you can really train it is to play it.”

# 2 – All Players Are Rotated Through Forward Positions

Every player gets a chance to rotate into the forward roles – not just the forwards. As Siera explains, “We have midfielders and defenders that sometimes play forward for us, so it is important that we give everyone some forward training to give us that flexibility.”

# 3 – Coaching and Reflective Tutoring During Drills

Finally, Siera positions himself near the forwards where he can coach players. He runs in the background watching every action taken by a player and provides advice during and/or after the drill. Each action is assessed as correct, incorrect, or mixed depending on the learning objective. Feedback is both negative (for errors) and positive (for correct play), and designed to enhance the players decision making associated with the match day situation being practiced.

This strategy is sometimes referred to as “reflective tutoring” and means players get the optimal learning experience out of each drill.

Goal Kicking Training

Interestingly, the coaching staff does not do a lot of goal kicking training with players. Instead, they rely on players to do this outside of the main training sessions. As Siera explain, “Our players do goal kicking training, but mainly after hours or before and after training. So we give them a set routine and then rely on them to practice it in their own time.”

This is pretty much consistent with arrangements at other clubs. Goal kicking ace Simon Goosey (with fifteen 100 goal plus seasons under his belt in Victoria) for example, used to arrive at training 30 minutes prior everyday to practice goal kicking. In fact, most star forwards we have spoken to do the same. You can read more about Simon in his article on Goal Kicking techniques.

This allows Subiaco to utilize more game based training in their main training sessions.

Defensive Pressure

According to Siera, “Today’s footy is about what players do when they don’t the footy.” Siera continues, “Players need to think about what they can be doing to help the team even when they aren’t in the contest.”

And one of the most important off-the-ball factors that Siera pushes is defensive pressure in the forward line.

In fact, Siera points out that “Forwards who don’t apply pressure once the ball is turned over inside our forward half or inside 50m quickly find themselves not part of the structure.”

According to Siera, “Defensive pressure can create quick turnovers, catch running backs out of position, and make players panic and make mistakes.” He continues, “Constant pressure leads to perceived pressure, and give you a psychological edge over the competition.”

Siera also tells us that Subiaco actually trains defensive pressure at their main training session on Tuesday. According to Siera, Subiaco uses several kick-in drills and general play drills (that are once again game simulated) at this session to reinforce this skill to their players.

Structures

Without going into specifics about Subiaco’s forward structure, Siera gave us some hints on how he likes to set up his forward line.

  1. Obviously you need some sort of marking power deep inside the forward structure.
  2. You also need to have mobile players that hit up at the ball and that create space, move up into the mid field and then push back hard with the flow of the ball and can attract the ball in front of goal.
  3. You need a small, quick forward who can also tackle. This is critical as it assists in keeping the balance of the team right and creates opportunities not only for the small quick forward but also for the rest of the forward line.
  4. Siera also likes to play a seven man forward line and tell the half forwards to play a touch further up the ground. This provides a one extra in two out scenario and keeps the defence solid when the ball come out of our attacking 50m area. It also helps when the opposition drops a loose man back into defence.

Of course, Siera points out that “The key to your structure is to understand the mid fielders capabilities and work from there.”

Siera also isn’t a fan of set plays and rigid structures. Siera points out that when he and his team mates tried to follow a set play in the AFL, they would all generally hesitate and loose fluidity in their games. This in turn hindered their team’s performance.

As he explained, “The game is not played in a vacuum and there are always factors that will influence the situation such as extra defenders, match ups etc. I learned quickly that you have to play what’s in front of you and on instinct as a forward, not necessarily a set structure.” (Which is probably why Subiaco focuses so much on game-based drills at training).

Conclusion

Subiaco focuses heavily on game-base training for their forwards, built around correct decision making both at the contests and off the ball.

It’s one of the secrets behind their success this year and why they are one of the highest scoring sides in WAFL history (although Siera also admits a strong player list hasn’t hurt as well).

Readers of Coach AFL will know that game based training is not new. It is used by almost all high level coaches in Australia. However, this insight into how it’s used to train forwards at such a successful club as Subiaco this year is invaluable.

Hopefully it will work for your team like it has for them, and that bigger scores result. And that can only be good for the spectacle of our game.

Here’s to high scoring football!
Title photo by Bob via: freeforcommercialuse.org.

Posted by David Johnson

David “Johnno” Johnson is our chief football researcher and writer. With over 20 years of coaching experience in all grades of football David was also a prominent footballer himself, having played at Teal Cup level and was even recruited by the Essendon Football Club. The pinnacle of David's coaching experience saw him as the assistant coach of the East Fremantle Shark Football Club in the WAFL for a number of years.

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