Dirty little secrets of support play

Some coaches think there is a formula to support play, where the ball carrier can turn any which way and still be able to pass to a teammate or take contact with confidence. Forget that and get real support.

We all think of a lovely diamond shape of support. A ball carrier at the front, two supporters on either side to take a short pass and a player behind to support in contact. That is the ideal shape for support but the reality is different because unless you are running a set piece move very close to the tackle line, that diamond shape will quickly disappear.

First and foremost, the ball carrier does not follow a path. It is a dynamic run (or should be!) based on what defenders throw up. Second, the ball carrier might pass before contact, perhaps to a player in a stronger position. Now the diamond has to be reformed, and that is unlikely even with the sophisticated pod systems run by pro teams.

If there is no formula for support play, how can you coach it? This is where you earn your stripes as a coach because it gives players simple cues to react to.

Here are three simple ideas that players should consider.

1. If you pass the ball, you must consider getting it back. This makes you run after the ball. 

2. If you are close to the ball carrier but cannot take a lateral pass, get behind him (“pocket support”). See Gavin Blackburn’s activity on players getting into the pocket.

3. Look at the defence – where is the next tackle likely to be?

All this takes the emphasis away from the shape of the support and makes players more match aware. The positive secret of a good support player is that as a non-ball carrier, he will constantly be thinking where they can make a difference. This can be developed through good questioning at training.

Challenge support players to be in place by getting the ball carrier to pass without looking. Use Eamonn Hogan’s activity to work on this skill.

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