When you’re trying to teach a small child to do the right thing, it’s important not to encourage them to do the wrong thing – if you want kids to eat well, don’t give them junk food.
The same applies with AFL footballers. Don’t encourage them to use dodgy tactics, when it just leads to actions that are counter to the spirit of the game.
Specifically, here are six things that happen throughout matches these days that are a blight on the game.
A player takes possession of the ball and is wrapped up without prior opportunity. These days, the tackler inevitably pins one arm.
The player can’t handball. In fact, if they are on the ground, it’s impossible to dispose of it at all. But because they have the ball in one hand it appears they are not trying to get rid of it.
Often the tackler forces the ball to drop free. The ball holder shouldn’t be penalised, because they didn’t have prior.
And yet this often results in a holding the ball decision. It is counter to the intent of the holding-the-ball decision and is rather annoying.
Dropping the knees, leaning the shoulder
Slightly further along the annoyance spectrum is an art form that Joel Selwood excels in. An optical illusion is created when the ball carrier sinks the knee and slightly dips the shoulder into the tackler, just enough to draw a high tackle.
This is annoying because it penalises a good tackle and encourages someone to use their head as a prop to get a free, an act that should be strongly discouraged to reduce head injuries. Players should be rewarded for evading an opponent or disposing of it properly, not drawing high tackles.
Drawing the push in the back
The ball carrier gets tackled from behind and so they drop at the knees and let inertia do the rest. The momentum of the tackler inevitably leaves them on top of the ball holder and the umpire pays push in the back.
Again, this encourages the ball holder to effectively cheat, rather than actually out-running the tackler or disposing of the ball.
Release the ball, dramatically fall backwards
A close, but even more annoying cousin to the one prior, is one that Dusty Martin executes perfectly. A player leans forward to pick the ball up from the ground. They are immediately tackled.
Rather than dispose of the ball properly, they drop the ball or leave it on the ground, flail their arms and push their body weight backwards. Because it looks quite dramatic, it’s paid holding the man/woman almost every time.
Pinning the ball under
In this case, someone is trying to pick up the ball while they are under pressure. Often on their knees, they may momentarily drag the ball under. Just because they have dragged it in, shouldn’t mean that the tackler gets a licence to hold the ball in so the player can’t get it out.
If the AFL wants the ball holder to get rid of it, they shouldn’t encourage the person on top to hold it in. It should be a ball up (or possibly a free against the person holding it in). This is very annoying.
The biggest pain at the moment is the short kick, particularly because they are so common. It’s become a strategic tactic to combat defensive zoning (which itself is quite annoying).
These nauseatingly annoying string of kicks often don’t travel 15 metres, in fact they often barely go 10 metres and yet they are paid as marks.
These little kicks usually make their way along the boundary line. They prevent run and carry, they stop long kicks to leads and packs, they slow the game down and effectively diminish all that is good about football.
Most annoying is that umpires often have a poor sense of distance and continue to let these go.
Ultimately, if the AFL wants to improve the look of the game, they don’t need a committee to create new laws. We just need to be a bit smarter and stay one step ahead of dodgy tactics by players.
We need to bring out the best features of the game, and stop rewarding those players that spoil it.