With Dale Tapping, Assistant Coach Of The Western Jets in the TAC Cup and former Defensive Coach of Williamstown In the VFL

SUMMARY: A lot has been said about the importance of developing team rules so players know how they and their teammates should play certain situations. This article details the philosophies and team rules that Western Jets assistant coach Dale Tapping has developed for his defenders. These rules are based around 7 key defensive areas Tapping sees as important, and are the basis for his specialist training for defenders.


There’s no doubting that the new hands in the back rule has changed the way defenders approach each contest and that coaches are now developing ways to help their defenders win those crucial areal battles without infringing.

So it begs the question – what rules are defensive coaches preaching to defenders nowadays?

This month we decided to ask defensive coach Dale Tapping just that.

Dale is a specialist defensive coach who has carved a name for himself in the VFL, VAFA and now as an assistant coach of the Western Jets in Victoria’s TAC Cup competition.

In 2006, Dale was the defensive coach of Williamstown in the VFL where he was in control of a group of young defenders, some on Collingwood’s senior and rookie lists. So he understands the need for a consistent coaching message and one that would help these young defenders become proficient in this area of the ground.

Prior to that, Dale had a successful coaching career at Old Scotch and Old Brighton football clubs in the Victorian Amateur Football Association, winning a B Grade premiership in 1997.

Dale Tapping

Tapping’s 7 Key Areas For Defenders


Tapping bases his philosophies and rules around 7 key areas that he has identified for defenders. These key areas are as follows:

  1. Starting points against forwards
  2. Spoiling at marking contests
  3. Closing down space
  4. Protecting top side kicks to forwards
  5. Protection for team-mates
  6. Maintaining possession of the ball out of defence.
  7. Playing the percentages

These areas then serve the basis of Tapping’s philosophies and training. According to Tapping, “I have developed a set of principles for my players around these 7 areas, including specific principles tall defenders and smaller type running defenders. We then base our defensive training drills around these areas and principles. ”

Below is an outline of Dale’s defensive philosophies and principles for defenders. How do they match up with your teams?

Starting Points

  • Stay goal side of opponents at stoppages at all times.
  • Touch & Feel. Push opponent up and away from goal zone.
  • Play opponents on their strengths and weaknesses (whether that be from behind, side by side, or in front).
  • Gather as much information on your opponents as you can, such as how they set up, team structure, names / nicknames and rotations.
  • Always guard the corridor and force opponent wide (boundary) in the forward line.

Spoiling at Marking Contests

  • Always spoil if caught behind.
  • Always spoil aggressively.
  • If 3rd man in at the contest, spoil to the nearest boundary.
  • Always force ball forward of contest (and preferably to the boundary). Don’t let the ball get behind you.

Closing Down Space

  • Getting numbers pushing back when possible (wingers/on ballers) to crowd space. Conditions will also play a part.

Protecting Top Sidekicks to Forwards

  • Midfielders need to get back and push into 30 – 60m out from goal to clog space.
  • Be corridor side of your opponent so that you can peel and help if the ball isn’t coming to you or opponent.
  • Be pro – active and understand that the ball is going to go to the hot spot and be first to react.
  • Put loose man back in the hole to block their run.

Protection for Teammates

  • Protect your team mates coming back with the flight of the ball by placing yourself between your opponent and team mate
  • Provide STRONG VOICE to give the player coming back confidence and support.

Maintaining Possession of the Ball out of Defense

  • Defensive players need good kicking skills so they can maintain possession
  • Work hard to create space and find spare / free player,
  • Understand you that one defender may have to drag their opponent away to allow another team-mate space to get free (operating as a team within a team).

Playing Percentages

  • Defensive plays should be as uncomplicated as possible. There will times when you take no unnecessary risks (stoppages), or knocking over the goal line on the last line of defence.
  • When defender’s backs are to their goal, always turn boundary side, (the voice of other team-mates off the contest is vital in this situation).
  • Defender’s should cover for team-mates if they are caught out of position (push back and take his opponent),
  • If caught out of position, then defenders should call opponents out of the contest (using their name / nickname). They might just be bluffed and drop or not go for the mark.

Special Requirements For Tall and Small Defenders

As mentioned, Dale also has special rules for both tall and small running defenders.

Tall Defenders

  • Needs to have a clear understanding of defensive team rules
  • Need to have the ability to play at full back and centre half back
  • Need to be able to ruck at stoppages in defensive half
  • Needs the ability to keep feet
  • Needs good disposal skills (by hand and foot)
  • Needs good tackling skills
  • Must be able to WIN 1 on 1 contested situations
  • Needs good marking skills
  • Has to communicate (opposition scenarios eg, spare players etc)

Small Defenders

  • Needs to have a clear understanding of defensive team rules
  • Needs to be able to play out of the goal square (as full-back)
  • Needs to be able to move into midfield with opponent (needs endurance)
  • Needs good disposal skills (by hand and foot)
  • Needs good tackling skills
  • Must be able to WIN 1 on 1 contested situations
  • Needs the ability to keep feet
  • Must be able to break the line and create run
  • Has to communicate (opposition scenarios eg, spare players etc)


Having a clear set of guidelines to teach young players is vital to maintain a consistent message throughout a season. It gives players something to rely on and fall back on when things aren’t always going to plan.

Does your team have team rules for the defenders? Do defenders know what they are? And are you training these rules at training to teach defenders how and when to use them?

If not, then hopefully Dales rules and philosophies can help you.

Remember, these are Dale’s and his clubs principles. Each coach knows how he wants his own team to play and when constructing your own set of values and principles, make sure they are based around your own philosophies.  A similar set of teaching principles can easily be manufactured to suit a midfield or forward group.
Title photo by Amy Mergard 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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