By Ryan O’Keefe (Sydney Swans)
The role of the midfielder in the team structure can be many things, but essentially it is the workhorse of the team. Stoppages form a large component of the game and with midfielders attending most stoppages it is easy to understand why it is a primary focus for a midfield.
The main roles for midfielders are ball movement, support and communication.
Due to the midfield supporting both ends of the ground the midfielder’s relationship with other positions is vital. In today’s game midfielders also spend time either forward or back as part of a rotation.
Midfielders need to understand their role and responsibilities and carry them out to the best of their ability. This is the key to a long and successful career.
The main focus for a midfielder should be their work rate. The harder you work the more impact you are going to have on the game. Hard work also incorporates the lead up to games in terms of your preparation during the week. Perfect preparation delivers perfect performance.
Coaches should avoid information overload. Focus on the key points you wish to get across to your players. The main point is to understand your role in the midfield group at various game situations.
If stoppages are a main focus for the midfield group then that is a key element you need to teach. Teach the players their role at the stoppages, body positioning, reading the cues from both the rucks, opposition and team mates, and executing both defensive and offensive patterns during the scrimmage. It is also important to teach the players the offensive and defensive running patterns after the clearances; this can be just as important as winning the clearance.
Midfielders also need to understand their general field running patterns to help out the defence and launch attacking moves. The key is hard work. You can’t be lazy because it’s the players work rate that will get them to contests around the ground. Having high work rate boils down to fitness and preparation during the week and pre season.
Specific training for the midfield is based around running, stoppages, and ball movement.
Pre-match preparation is very important and you should use this time to work on everything that you want the midfield group to carry out well (eg. handballing, reading the ruck etc.).
In the week prior to a match players must understand the opposition’s stoppage patterns, game style, specific roles their players have, best match up options, strengths and weakness. Most importantly players need to understand what you are going to do tactically to break their game down while successfully playing your own game style. Opposition analysis shouldn’t be confined to stoppages, it should consider the whole ground and the general patterns of the opposition.
Players need to be well prepared, have good game knowledge and smarts, communication and synergy with team mates and be physically capable to carry out the roles. However the best advice is to work hard. Hard work is the foundation of all great successful people. They work hard at their trade, reduce their weakness and sharpen their strengths.
There are many drills that are used to develop the players’ competencies in the midfield:
One drill that incorporates all these aspects is this drill that I designed:
Ryan O'Keefe produced this article as part of the requirements of the AFL/AFLPA Level 2 Coaching Course