As a long-time coach of junior footballers in Australian Football working with from under seven years to under sixteen years players in the Queensland State Schoolboys team at the all-Australian National Championships, I want to share with emerging coaches some of the reasons why some of my teams lost games that perhaps they ought to have won. Sometimes, it was a mistake I made in planning while other times a player may have failed to follow the team rules.
In three Australian Championships in games against Western Australia, my Queensland schoolboys’ team were performing well and in a position to win the game when errors were made by players encouraged Western Australia to lift their game after scoring two or three easy goals through our simple but preventable mistakes. In Tasmania, in 1967, we played them in our first game. Twice, the umpire awarded a mark to one of their forwards that appeared to have been touched by our defender who was playing in front. Our defender stopped and appealed to the umpire to no avail. Meanwhile the forward plays on and kicks a goal. The same player didn’t learn from his first mistake in not playing to the whistle and allowed it to happen a second time soon after.
In Darwin, our centre half back broke our team rules during the second quarter when we had the game under control. The team rule he broke twice involved a defensive strategy. If a defender had the ball but did not have a target free he was to kick the ball towards the grandstand wing on the defensive side of the field. Instead he kick the ball to a contest in the centre of the ground which allowed an opponent to swoop on the ball and deliver it to a team mate who goaled easily. We lost the game then and not in the last minutes of the game when both the goal and field umpires made two blunders allowing a point to be awarded when our fullback had clearly marked the football in front of the goal line. He played on and we had the football beyond the wing in the clear to put the game beyond doubt. The recall cost us a goal and the game. But if that simple team rule had been obeyed, the sandgropers would not have got back into the game.
In 1970 at Chelmer Reserve in Brisbane, in the final five minutes of the game, the Western Australian captain was allowed to lead wide to the forward pocket uncontested to take a mark on the boundary line. He kicks a great goal from fifty metres. His opponent didn’t wake up to his talent and allowed him to do twice more to create a win for his team. A runner, one of our players, was sent out to give the message after the first goal. But he didn’t get across the seriousness of the situation to that defending player.
Again in Darwin, when we played Victoria, we were a chance to win at three quarter time, but the Victorians finished strongly as we gave away six careless free kicks in a row. These free kicks led to several Victorian goals. This meant we lacked any chance to score since we were not able to retain or get the football.
In 1968, at Collingwood, we played Victoria. In this game coming up to half time we were leading and playing well. Then one of better players on the wing in the space of a few minutes had marked the football twice ready to kick the ball into our forward only to kick the ball into the man on the mark. This resulted in the Victorians kicking two easy goals and going on to win by a much smaller margin than in previous years.
Let me now look at an under ten game that I coached in 1980. It was a preliminary final. The reason we lost was my error. With high school players, they will accept the reasons you move them around to try to win a game. This is not so with under tens. At three quarter time, I moved one of my half forwards onto the wing as an attacking and defensive strategy. He had been one of our best players up until that time. He dropped his bundle and his opponent ran riot. To make matters worse for our supporters, he marked a football over the back of a pack, played on only for it to be disallowed with a free kick being awarded to an opponent. Yes, the umpire had made a mistake. That happens. But the greatest mistake was made by me.
The last one I’ll mention occurred with a regional team I coached in the Queensland state secondary schoolboys’ championships. I had two tall talented players who could play centre half forward and dominate. One was a left footer. So I played him on the right half forward hoping that when he got the ball he would turn on to his left foot and swing towards the goals and kick a few. What happened however was they simply got in each other’s way. So our attack kept breaking down. Unfortunately, I persisted with the tactic hoping it would work out. But it did not. (As an aside, the other player was relatively unknown to me since his school played in a different competition to my school. He made the state team and later was recruited by Collingwood where he became a premiership player). That was one of the hazards associated with regional teams because you have so little time to get to know the players.
These are but a few significant mistakes I made early in my coaching career. There were many others, I’m sure. What you need to do as a developing coach is to review each game looking at and noting successes and failures, keeping a record of each and reviewing your notes from time to time.