With the opening rounds of the AFL now done and dusted, one thing has come to the fore – and it’s not good. In fact, it’s detrimental to the players, and the game itself.
We are speaking about it now, but Geelong skipper Joel Selwood has made it a sticking point in his game for half a decade, and consistently drawn free kicks doing so.
Yes, drawing the free with nicely time dive has been in the game since anyone can remember.
Players have always thrown their head back in anguish after being brushed with an errant finger, or fallen forward after feeling a slight nudge in the back.
But now, players are deliberately looking for free kicks via ducking into tackles, both as opportunistic individuals and – dare we say it – under team orders.
Players with low centres of gravity are bending slightly more at the knees and gathering stray arms whenever they contest the footy in tight situations, and are more often than not rewarded with free kicks.
Another new tactic is sliding feet first to gather a loose football, which doesn’t rely on a free kick from an umpire, but rather puts the feet and body between the ball and an oncoming opposition player.
These tactics have caused serious injuries this season in particular, and the injuries will continue to mount.
Commentators and fans alike seem puzzled as to how to stamp out these tactics, or whether they should even be taken out at all – are they illegal? Are they bad for the game? Is the game just evolving?
If the AFL is serious about getting rid of these new approaches by players, it does not need to introduce new rules and regulations. In fact, it shouldn’t do anything at all.
It needs to be the responsibility of the high-end coaches in the AFL, junior state competitions and draft camps to get players out of these mind sets.
Tackle around the waist and keep your feet – two of the first and most simple rules kids are taught as five-year-olds.
Rules that until recently have applied at the highest level for over 150 years.
It’s simple; if someone is trying to exploit the high tackle rule the onus is on the tackler to get it right – watch and aim for the hips.
The sliding pick up is an ugly part of the game but if coaches still obeyed one of the oldest and most simple rules in football there would be no mention of the matter – If someone deliberately loses their feet when pursuing the ball, drag them.
That’s how kids learn and get it out of their system over time and AFL players should react in a similar manner.
We don’t want the game to get to the point where the days of getting your head over the ball and being brave will no longer be rewarded at AFL level.