By Mark Neeld, Head Coach Western Jets FC (TAC Cup) and Coordinator of Health & Physical Education Geelong College Preparatory School
Simply put, an invasion sport is a game between two opponents, one an attacker and one a defender, where the space of one team is ‘invaded’ by the other. Common sports that fall into this category include; Australian Rules Football, Soccer, Basketball, Hockey and Netball.
In their basic form the strategies of all these sports are quite similar. The role of the defending team is to slow up the ball movement of the attackers and attempt to get the ball back. The attackers’ job is to maintain possession of the ball and get it into a position where a score can be attempted.
With ‘decision making’ and ‘execution of skills under pressure’ at the top of every AFL recruiters’ checklist it is vital that all young footballers be given exposure to a variety of invasion sports. If time is not available to join other sporting clubs or codes it is possible within a football club to provide such experiences.
Training ‘Game Sense’ in Training Sessions
In essence what the ‘Game Sense’ philosophy is trying to achieve is to provide opportunities for players to become more tactically aware and be educated in how a game is actually played. It also provides a realistic environment where players are able to practise and improve their skills under game-like conditions.
Yes skill technique is extremely important however, it is best taught in isolation, perhaps through the use of ‘skill cards’. Traditional ‘skill only’ football training does not take into account factors that effect skill execution such as; selection of what type of pass to use, deception of a defender or being tackled or chased.
The use of correct skill is not ignored in game sense training rather it is incorporated into the activities planned by the coaching staff. Players have a far better chance of making good decisions and displaying good skills in a game if they have previously practised them in a similar environment.
Game Sense v Practice Match
It is naive to think that playing practice matches at training is following the game sense philosophy. Game sense is also about practicing parts of the game in isolation. For example a simple 4 v 4 stoppage activity or a 5 v 3 activity to practice outnumbering the opposition at the contest will serve a far greater purpose than an 18 v 18 game with one ball where the mid fielders dominate.
True game sense activities need to be played in confined space with small-sided teams. It is suggested that the teams be no greater than 6. This is to ensure that all players are given the chance to participate and therefore improve. The activities should go for no more than 7-10mins (remember it is practicing components of the game).
The rules of each individual activity are the domain of the coach. They can be adapted to suit the team’s game style and to practice areas that need improvement. The key is that the coach becomes the facilitator in that, once the situation has been created let the players solve the problems and make the decisions. As new skills are attempted, or need refining, it is here that skill instruction can take place.
The Questioning Technique
To produce educated young footballers it is vital that the coach employ very good questioning techniques. Game Sense Invasion Games provide an excellent opportunity to provide immediate meaningful feedback. The coach must move away from ‘the barracking’ feedback and towards the ‘instructional feedback’. It is not the role of the coach to solve all problems. Remember that the players are out there and you are on the sidelines.
Open-ended questions should be used to compliment this approach. This promotes thinking among the players and this will also result in learning. Some examples of appropriate questions are: How can you make it more difficult for your opponent to score? Is it better to run and carry the ball in that situation or deliver the ball immediately? Where can you position yourself to be of benefit to the team? Where can you run to assist your team in scoring a goal?
Coaching the Modern Student
It is worth remembering that the young footballers of today have had a completely different educational experience than that of many coaches. Young people have been educated in an environment where many things are negotiated, discussed and left to them to make choices. They are encouraged to explore, experiment and it is explained to them that mistakes will certainly occur and that is fine provided you learn something from them.
Game Sense is a training technique that embraces the modern society that we currently live in. Some young people find it difficult to adapt to sporting environments where everything is given to them, someone else sets all the rules and they have had no input. Game sense empowers players and helps them take more responsibility for their own football development.
Mark has put together a number of ‘skill cards’ for Australian Rules Football. Players can use them prior to the main training session to improve their skills. Players go through the drills listed on each card before moving to the next card. Generally players would do each card before moving to the next card. This type of card system is popular amongst a number of high performance teams and allows players to improve their skills without the presence of a coach.