Centre Bounce Stoppages

Monday, August 14, 2017

By Adam Selwood

In football, Centre Bounces (CB’s) can be seen as the ‘sexy’ part of the game. It is the one time where players are given at least a 30 second break to reset and strategise how they are going to win next possession and surge the ball forward their team’s way. Although there may only be 15 – 30 CB opportunities within any given match, they are seen as a crucial part of the game to gain ascendancy. It allows the game initially to be played in your half of the field, creating potential scoring opportunities. 

Unfortunately there is no exact winning formula to CB’s, as each stoppage presents its own set of challenges and complexities. You will not win every clearance out of the middle, however with good coaching you should be able to provide your midfield group greater awareness and improved opportunities of getting their hands on the ball. In this article, I will discuss the core principles around CB’s and how your group might be able to swing the percentages in your favour whilst also restricting the impact the opposition could have.

The level of strategy that can be discussed is extensive. I will keep this uncomplicated by focusing on the key factors that need to be assessed and developed across all levels within the game. 

These include – 

Personnel – The type of midfield mix you have and how to play to the strengths of this group. 

Fundamental skills – The skill set required by both midfielders and rucks to ensure they make the most of their opportunities inside.

Structure - Basic balance or ‘ownership of the circle’ that provides space and opportunities for rucks to connect to midfielders. 

Player’s roles – Providing clarity to the roles within the stoppage, ensuring players are aware of their responsibilities and expectations.

Personnel:

Not every midfield group is blessed with Nic Naitanui in the air or Patrick Dangerfield at ground level. As a coach, it is important for you to identify and understand what the strengths of your midfield are, and the skills each individual brings to the group. This provides direction on how you can connect inside the stoppage and the strategies that can be put in place to take advantage of the opposition. Examples include:

-       If you have a quick midfield you may work to connect to space and use your team's pace to win ground balls.

- If you have a big bodied midfield you may use fundamental bodywork and hit to players advantage side and allow them to get to work in a contested environment.

- If you have a smaller ruck you may stress the importance of follow up and spread to beat your opposing ruck through run. 

- If you have a dominant ruck you may stress the importance of varying your hit zones so it keeps the opposition team guessing where the ball is going. 

Fundamental skills:

There are a variety of skills that both midfielders and rucks continually need to develop to ensure they can take advantage of stoppage opportunities. These skills can be applied all over the field, not just limited to CB stoppages.

They include:

- Clean touch / 1st takes – This is a key area of any inside midfielder's game that should always be continually developed. Training your reflex touch and having the ability to take the ball cleanly around stoppages is a huge advantage to any midfielder’s game. Brownlow Medalist Matt Priddis completes 5-10 minutes of purposeful touch drills pre/post training sessions to ensure his skills are clean and sharp. This attention to detail has allowed him to develop a key strength to his game, allowing him to have a great impact around contested situations. 

- Bodywork – This is a skill that not many players are taught during their junior years of development. It is the ability to be comfortable working off an opponent at stoppage, then having the skill and strength to use your body to turn a 50/50 ground ball opportunity into a 60/40.  There are a variety of methods in using your body to gain separation off your opponent depending on where they are positioned and the space that you would like to utilise.

- Depth at stoppage – A lot of midfielders can be quite eager to win clearances and get the ball going their way. When they arrive at a stoppage their first thought is to look at the ruck and then start in front of their opponent (not a bad philosophy). The key to clearance work is to stay patient with the stoppage and keep reading the cues of the flight of the ball (CB, ball up or throw in) so you can adjust your positioning accordingly. Too often midfielders take their eye of the flight of the ball and find themselves too close to the rucks at point of connection – making it difficult to take the ball cleanly. 

- Soft hands (Rucks) – Ruckman must always continue to work on their ruck craft. Soft hands and deft taps to their midfielders advantage provides them with a greater opportunity to be one touch players and have greater impact. Tapping balls into bins is a great way for rucks to gain greater control of how they are able to move the ball around and the force they are required to hit at. They must always explore all hit zones and not just the ones that are comfortable to them, otherwise they will become very predictable to read for opposing sides.  

Structure:

Coaches will have their own theories around what structure works best for their midfield group as it is important to consider the ‘ownership of the circle’ for not only your ruck connection but also your opponents. You want to ensure you open up as much space as possible for your rucks to utilise whilst restricting the opposition's area to connect in.  Most midfield groups usually have a sweeping player at the back of the stoppage as it protects any dangerous clearance wins and forward thrusts from the opposition.

Outside the square you, as a coach, have the ability to be attacking or defensive with your wingers depending on how much protection you require and the state of the game. A strategy commonly used by many AFL teams is starting a half forward off the back of the square to run in hard (providing protection) so players in the midfield can be more aggressive with their stoppage work.

Player's Roles:

At all stoppages, it is important that players have a role within it so it provides balance in winning the stoppage. You always look to have one ‘go to’ player whose role is to read the tap from the ruck with the intention of winning the clearance. You can use another midfielder to work his opponent over through defensive pressure and read the opposing ruck's tap with the aim of disrupting what they are trying to do. The 3rd midfielder will usually hold the sweeping position and assess whether they are required for defensive pressure or for a feedback handball depending on who wins the ball.

It is important that players get to the middle quickly to discuss their roles and structure to ensure they are fully clear of their responsibility and how their side is going to win the CB. As midfield groups gel and build greater chemistry, having the ability to change up structure and roles late (according to how opponents are setting up) will create even greater opportunities to win clearances by remaining flexible. 

As you can see there are many factors that need to be taken into consideration to gain dominance with CB’s. You as a coach need to recognise and understand what will work for your midfield group and how complex you want to make this area of the game. Winning CB stoppages provides a positive mindset for other contests around the ground, building confidence and belief amongst the rest of the playing group. 

Good luck!

* Adam Selwood is Manager - Game Development at the West Coast Eagles. 

This article was written as part of the requirements for AFL High Performance Coach Accreditation. 

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