The game of Australian Rules Football has evolved tremendously over the years at the elite level, even in the last 20-30 years. There is more running needed, more rotations off the bench, less key position players and more utility players. Players can and must play now anywhere on the field. However for us the most fascinating fact of all the changes is that the skills to mark, handball and kick have become so mastered by AFL players, there is hardly any difference now from player to player.
These hand and foot skills are now taught and learned in Australia from a very young age. Kids as young as 5 years old are taught to mark (catch) the ball often only with their hands and kick and handball with both left and right sides of their body. Nearly every one of those kids also has a football at home to practice with.
This wasn't always the case, in fact most AFL players didn't even touch a ball during the week other than at practice sessions, until probably the 80s. The change to that was brought about by the legendary Australian and then Essendon coach Kevin Sheedy. Sheedy is commonly regarded as the Vince Lombardi of Australian Rules Football. Through his 650+ AFL game coaching career, Kevin Sheedy has shaped many facets of the game that is seen today.
We can only assume from Sheedy's travel overseas to seek out the best coaching techniques and sports advances in his early coaching days, that he noted that USA sportsman in particular, NBA players, carried a ball with them at all times. Sheedy in the 80s requested the Essendon Football Club to buy 50 Sherrin AFL footballs, one for each of his players, a request that actually put a strain on the finances of the Essendon club at the time. Kevin wanted his players to live and sleep with a ball, to better understand its nuances, and to train their hands to its shape.
As the writer of this piece and having many years of coaching players to play Aussie Rules Football in the USA, I believe the greatest thing any player can do is have an Aussie Rules Football with them at all times. Yeah, I know what you are thinking, this guys sells footballs, of course he would say that. But you don't have to buy one, you can borrow one from your club, or ask your club to follow the lead of the greatest coach in AFL history Kevin Sheedy, and buy each of its players a ball. It would be an investment we believe would change you and your team in amazing ways.
Kevin Sheedy has long been a supporter and promoter of international Aussie Rules Football. Having made several visits to the USAFL National Championships and was a guest speaker as early as 2004 in Atlanta. We welcome you to read more about the man that probably shaped Aussie Rules Football the most and continues to do so for those of us around the world. Visit Kevin's website at, www.sheedyvision.com.au