Small Sided Football (SSF) and Australian Football

I arrived early to give a talk to junior football delegates about game sense coaching and skill development. I listened with interest as the delegates discussed the by-laws of the association pertaining to the numberof coaches permitted on the field. Six - did I hear right? I hadn't coached junior Australian football in twenty years, coaching mostly at U14 through to U18 level, but I had been coaching junior soccer for the past eight years and I was familar with the small-sided association football model that developed progressively from U8's. Why did junior Australian football matches need up to six coaches on the field - soccer had only permitted one per team, and one was plenty. Six coaches on the field, an umpire or two - where were the players going to go with all that space being taken up by the mums and dads? It then became apparent that the games consisted of full side 18v18 games on reduced but not small fields.

Small sided teams playing on small areas is the common sense way to go. Daniel Coyle gives this aspect of the Talent Code good treatment in his book of that title Players touch the ball more often, there are more scoring opportunities, players can't rely on booting the ball out of defense inthe tighter space of a small field nd subsequently learn the need for possession and the skills required to play the ball to keep possession. Small sided teams playing on small fields works with young players motivations - to touch the ball and score goals. Gone should be the days when the young Australianrules footballers spend all seasoninthe back pocket fortunate to touch the ball once or twice a game (the experience of one of my mates boys first season of U8 Australian football).

I know a lot of dads think that young footballers have to play the real game, the one they see on TV. Butas long as the small sided modified game retains the essential logic of the game through rules thst create a game anyone can recognise as Australian football the players are playing THE game. That could be 6v6 football (ideal for U8's), 8v8 football (for U10's) and then 9v9 football (for U12's). A progression such as this would see pitch side, player numbers and therefore the complexity of play increasing as players grow and develop physically and move from coordination and control of fundamental sport skills through to the development of more complex movement sequences.

Even if players want to play 18v18 games junior leagues shouldn't let the players - the players are not ready. The need is for age and experience appropriate, player-centred development in a cogent and sequentially coherent model.
The AFL Next Generation match policy for U8's suggests 6-a-side to 9-a-side football as appropriate for that age, through to 15-a-side or 18-a-side for U12's. A developmental progression is evident, but the progression is not nearly as well defined as the FFA curriculum ~ however, why aren't junior Australian football clubs and leagues following the AFL Match Policy emphasising reduced player number teams on small sized fields?

The observation of a persistence of relatively large field 18-a-side football at junior level was one of the reasons I wrote Play with Purpose: Developing game sense in AFL footballers. The other reason was,how often I still see coaches at all levels of game development out the front feeding the ball to lines of players cued waiting for a turn....but that will be the subject of another blog.

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