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TRAINING FOR SIX. Chapter 2: Training for Two

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By Matt Zurbo this originally appeared on The Footy Almanac website here.
Two players, now we’re cooking! Especially in summer time, when most of your mates can’t be stuffed. But, also, after training, when your mates can’t be stuffed. Or on nights you want to do extra.
All it takes is one good friend.
Actually, that’s a fib. All it takes is someone who wants to get or stay as football fit as you. You don’t have to be friends at all, really.
In a bad year for our club, determined to do extra, I found a young bloke having a kick and asked if I could join in. Simple. We’ve been kicking for two years now. He calls me “Old Man” as a 19-year-old punk will do. Thinks he knows everything. He’s a pisser. I really like him! We have nothing in common, or would never meet outside the oval we kick on. But that’s what’s so good about it. We have football and work in common. The same language.
Again, keep in mind Training For Six is football training, not running. Any coaching manual, athletics club (which I HIGHLY recommend), or watching of AFL pre-season training, will teach you about running.
Warm-up I.
Do the slowly up and down the middle of the ground, rolling the ball at your feet, bouncing it, picking it up, chipping it forward, between each other. Just rolling the legs over. Get every muscle from back to hammies working. Get your touches in. Pick up the pace each length of the ground until you are warm enough to stretch.
The next few involve no mucking around. Each one is short and sharp.
Warm-up II.
Get your eye-hand working. Start 30 meters apart with simple straight kicking. A few each foot, move to 25 metres. To 15 metres. Then go to handball, to ten metres, to five, to two. Them right in close, just throw the ball as quick as you can between each other. Catch-throw, catch-throw, get your reflexes up.
Warm Up III.
Take turns. Player 1 stays still for a minute while handballing down low to the left and up high to the right and straight at the eyes and then at the chest of Player 2. Nothing too hard, just get them in the rhythm of moving and gathering, watching the ball. Player 2 handballs straight back to Player 1. Then, after said minute, swap roles.
Warm-up IV. To Hand.
Modern football is so much faster, better in close than in days gone. Handball is expected to be an art. Again, take turns. Player 1 is stationary, Player 2, every time Player 1 goes to handball it, quickly puts a hand low or high or left or right, or puts hands straight out. The hand-baller aims for the hand, as if it is someone calling for the ball in a crowded arms and legs pack. Great for reflexes, spotting targets in traffic, and spotting exactly where you have to handball to while the ball is already in motion in your hand. Again, the receiver handballs straight back, then, after a minute swaps.
Warm-up V.
Now get your legs working. One of you simply stays still while the other works left and right for ten handballs, returning the ones on their right with their right, and the ones on the left with their left. Then swap.
In all of these try and get your handballs spinning right.
Warm-up VI. Fetch.
Stand side by side. Stationary, Player 1 handballs out in front, sometimes along the ground, sometimes in air. Not a lot, just enough for Player 2 to get in a handful of good ¾-pace strides, turn, and handball back to you, then, in following through, be back to go again. Player 1 rolls ball out five-ten times, then roles swap.
The idea of all these warm up is you only do a few of each, warm up every muscle, and will have touched the ball over 100 times before you even start. In the time it takes boring people to run five laps. They say footballers are creatures of habit. And all the greats practiced that bit more than the rest. You don’t have to. Just be smarter.
Last Warm-up. Yo-Yo. (I swear by this.)
Stand 20-30 metres apart, no more, facing each other. One of you with the ball.
On “Go” each of you run backwards for about ten metres, exactly as if pushing back off your mark.
As THE BALL CARRIER, stops going backwards and starts going forward, the other player does the same, leading at them.
Three hard steps, kick.
The hardest kick there is: 25 metres to someone leading straight at you.
By the time you have followed through on your kick, and the other person had pulled up form their short lead/mark, you will both be where you started, 20-30 metres away from each other.
Repeat. Both players run backwards, but this time, obviously, the other player has the ball/will dictate when to lead forward/kick.
Do this for ten kicks each without stopping. You will really feel it in your quads, calves, shins. Have a break, then do it on your opposite foot for ten each.
Not only will you be well-stretched, you will have practiced football’s best kick, and marking running straight at the ball.
Notice all these drills have a flow/rhythm to them if done right. They are continuous.
The Drills.
No.1. Pendulum, Five to One.
Stationary Player 1 has the ball. Stays stationary for the entire drill. Player 2 starts 30 metres away. Leads hard to left. Player I puts it out front of lead. Player 2 runs onto mark, delivers on left to stationary Player 1, then sprints hard across to right. When good distance is reached, stationary Player 1 then puts ball out to right. Running Player 2 marks on the run, then straightens and kicks on the right.
Very important. Do not stop on marking and swivel back onto your preferred foot. Mark and run through the ball. Take those three ripping steps when you get it and you are straightening towards the stationary player.
It works like a weave, almost – left, right, left right, for five kicks, by which time you will be buggered. While the leader is sucking in air, the ball is delivered to them. They become the stationary player. And have five kicks to recover while the other player has a go. Left, right, without a break for five kicks.
Then back again to original set up for four each.
Three each.
Really lengthen your leads for the two and the one. You should be well warm enough now to do longer kicks.
Between each drill just kick the footy to each other until your breath is back. It is like shuffling two laps between drills, but you will have touched the ball an extra 60-100 times each between drills.
Until now we have been fairly down the line sort of stuff. Time to acknowledge that it is an oval ball, and that the game is often chaos. And to kick goals.
No.2. Figure Eight.
This is a play on drill.
Find an oval with no fence hugging the boundary. If that can’t be done, use jumpers or whatever to make some goals on the fifty meter line, to imitate the boundary angle. Each played stands ten metres back from either point post. One from left point post, one from right. Player on left just in front of the boundary, the right just behind the boundary.
Player on left, just inside, kicks for goal from near boundary on the run. Player on right, just behind opposite boundary marks shot at goal, jogging over his boundary, while other played jogs behind it on their own side, and repeat. Player on right kicks for goal. Every shot is play on. You should get a good weave of continuous shots at goal. After ten shots each, swap ends. This way you will both practice your left and right.
Dribble goals are fine, too. It just means the receiver has to jog back for their shot on their side.
This drill is also a great warm-down. Not all of these drills have to be done in this order. Or at all. They are just ideas. You can always innovate.
No.3. Lucky Dip.
Player 1 behind goals. Player 2 is 25 metres out. Player 1 nods left or right or back, inducing lead. Or drops bouncing ball short, or kicks it a mile straight up. The trick is the player out front must mark or gather for five shots at goal. No snaps. Must gather, run hard, with those three ripping steps, through the ball, straighten and kick.
Some shots will end up being from only fifteen metres out, others from distance. Always run to make your distance. Always kick confident goals. By this I mean, do not worry about the player on the goal line having to run for it. You do not practice kicking to the fullback on a Saturday, you practice kicking well over their reach. They are very different types of kick. Hone the right one. Know your range.
If you are the defender, and they kick it in high and you can mark it within play, do so. Even if it would have gone through, yell, “No goal”
Again, this exercise should have a rhythm to it. You are getting fit while practising your goal kicking, and, at the same time, doing football running, with changes of pace as opposed to athletics.
This drill is also important because it teaches you to kick for goal when you are tired. So often the kicker gets the first two or three goals, then sprays the last couple.
After you have had your five continuous goes swap. Have a break kicking from the goal square while the other player has a go.
No.4. Dummy.
Put a wheelie bin on the oval. One player guards it from about two metres out, while the other tries to get around them with the handball, hitting the top of the bin (about a player’s hand height). Whether it hits the bin, is slapped down or misses, keep getting it and going again for a minute, then swap. Keep count. See who hits it the most.
No.5. Follow Up Fetch.
We’ve all done the one where the coach stays still and keeps belting the ball away, making you bring it back to him again and again. Only this time, they kick or throw or slap it away, you mark or run onto it, handball or kick it back, then run hard to get the handball back off them, pushing through for ten. The you stop and you become the coach. Get rid of the ball however you want, then they become the fetcher, gathering, delivering to you, then pushing hard to get the handball back. Repeat for as long as you like.
Teaches you to follow-up on your possessions, not just hand the back. Also, different types of running. Gathering the ball and sprinting for a receive and steadying to deliver as all different paces, different motions.
No.6. Two-Way Slingshot.
This takes some running. Each of you start on a point post either side of the goals. You are going to run down the ground on one side, while they run on the other, kicking it to each other. BUT! There is to be NO kicking around corners.
Player 1 leads out from their point post towards other end of ground. Player 2 has the ball and picks where Player 1 is running to, not where Player 1 is, simply runs in a straight line at that spot, and puts a kick up for Player 1 to run onto. Player 1 now has the ball, and is 30 metres further down the oval than the kicker,
Player 2. So while the kicker sprints down the ground on their side, leading, Player 1 now turns, sees where Player 2 is running to, runs towards that, and simply puts the ball up for Player 2 to run onto. Repeat down the ground. Kick goal. Suck in air and go back. If you do the drill right it shouldn’t matter if you are on your left or right, all you are doing is practicing kicking in straight lines… to players on the move.
Perfect for practicing kicking to wingers, or the switch.
And gets you bloody fit!
Several more drills. There are dozens, but two will do.
All of these drills will be too much for many. Just mix and match. Don’t do the same ones each night. Keep it fresh/fun.
No.7. Cant-have-its.
Simple, tough. Learn bodywork. Player 1 places ball in front of themselves. Player 2 is behind them. On “Go” player two has to see how long until they can get around Player 1 to get the ball. Repeat for three goes, then swap.
No.8. Ouches.
Player 1 stands five metres in front of wheelie bin. Player 2 has ball. Player 2 must get around Player 1 tackle and hit bin with handball. Only do off three steps.
Do not want to kill each other. Hit in three times them swap.
The reason the bin is only five metres away is so Player 2 has the chance to lift their hands up if tackled and still hit the bin.
Practice; tackling, handballing in tackles, getting around players, handball.
No.9. Two-On.
Not everybody wants to do competitive work. Injuries and all. Cool. But if you do, here’s a beauty.
Wheelie Bin in goal square, or on softest part of ground. Again, this is not AFL, there will always be a part of the oval softer than others. Two-On is like one-on-one basketball. Player 1 starts with back to bin, twenty metres from it. Player 2 starts with back to bin, 25 metres from bin (five further metres away). Player one throws ball up, over Player 2’s head, or along the ground past them, and it’s on! There is holding the ball. Be honest about it. Try and handball out if tackled. If you miss the bin with your shot, reload. This time Player 2 starts 20 metres from bin, back turned to it, throwing all just past Player 1, 25 metres from bin, back to it. Hit bin with handball = one goal. First to three goals wins.
The reason both players start with their backs to the bin, is they will not get a good run-up on each other, so impact will be minimal. It is about wrapping up, or evading, not collision.
No.10 Sausages.
We all love a goal.
One defender, one forward. Defender takes off from goal line with the ball, while forward leads hard from wherever they want to. Defender runs out to about 15-20 from goal and drills a short or medium pass for long shot. While forward lines up set shot on goal, defender runs back to defend line. Sucks in air while forward lines up and shoots. When defender marks or gathers ball, forward then takes off again, hard, on long lead, (like from a kick-out) Defender, at the same time, is running, the second they have got the ball, taking off with those three ripping steps, towards where forward is leading to, puts ball out in front, with small/medium kick, etc… repeat for ten shots, then swap.
Again. Rhythm. Lots of football running. Goal practice. Putting it out in front of someone at genuine match day leading pace. Set shots. Marking long bombs at goal. Has the lot.
Defender’s note. If they are kicking good, deep goals, just run ball back at half place until you are over the goal line again, then explode for those first three ripping steps.
If you want to up the ante, forward is not to break stride. Must run past bad/hanging defender’s kick rather than wait for it.
The reason of this is simple. At one of my old clubs, everything we did was cone-to-cone. It drove me mad. But even then, you would lead out, bloke would kick, you’d hover under the ball, then mark and go. In a game you would be squashed. It is not a good kick just because it spins right. Practice having standards with your kicking. And not accepting ‘good enough’.
Another team in the same comp did a “break from the centre and look to the leading forward” drill. We all did drills like that. But their coach instructed their forwards to run past a bad kick rather than wait for it. Highlight it was not a good kick. Raise the standard of expectation on delivery. They had to hit the forward leading flat out for the kick to count, and could not go in until they had done so, as a group, 25 times. At the start of the season it took them 130 tries. By the end, it took them about 30-35. We did not do this. They won the flag. We did not make finals. Their coach was the duck’s guts.
Once you have the hang of this basic drill, each time the forward feels he has lead and marked and is now too far out, or simply one in about five kicks, if they do the head flick for the defender to lead out from goals, the defender goes hard for the short kick becoming the leading full forward. Another great kick to practice. Then defender pushes back to goal line with ball, touching goal line with their foot, and is off, kicking to forward again.
Again. Goals must go OVER the reach of the full back, or they are not a goal.
No.11. Ten Crunch.
A huge flaw in teams that need Training For Six is these sorts of clubs usually simply ‘employ’ the best midfielder they can find as coach. It is almost someone who either knows nothing about marking, or does not even comprehend it is a skill that must be practiced. They rarely cater their training to specific types.
It sh**s me.
You and your training partner, Player 1 and 2, stand no more than three metres apart, and kick the ball straight in the air. First to ten marks wins.
So simple.
There is no run-up to kill each other with.
You are learning the vital tasks of using your body, while keeping your eyes on the ball. A ripper drill for backmen, and ruckmen. And a great chance to have one over your mate. To give them the razz when you win. If ten is too much at the end of the day, no worries, just nominate. 3 Crunch is a nice, quick, competitive way to end a night. Five Crunch, whatever.
A lot of ex-AFL players complain to me while I’m doing this footy book, that they don’t teach body on bodywork anymore to anyone bar the ruckmen. They say the defenders as so good at stepping back and getting a jump on, punching the ball without body contact. I dunno on two fronts. 1. Try telling that to Hawkins, or Cloke, or Lake, or Richards. 2. Training for Six is not for AFL. Aussie Rules is not AFL. AFL is a brand of a great game, not the game itself. Every other club besides the AFL has a need for bodywork.
I always finish with this, and have for 33 years of footy, because it’s FUN! And it has helped my footy HEAPS over the years. Both the distance in my kicking, and reading the ball off the boot, and attacking my marks. Footballers are competitive beasts by nature. Well, I am. Love a contest. And to give my mate a razzing if I win! That’s the best bit!
The crown of Training for Two…
No.12. Three-Drop.
Stand 35 metres apart. DROP PUNTS ONLY. Kick the ball to each other. First player to drop three marks loses.
The trick, obviously, is to bomb it a mile in the air, or just over their head, or just at their feet, like a drop volley.
Rules: 1. No chest marks! If the ball hits your chest, even bounces off it back into your hands, you get a point. Three points loses.
Rule 2. HONESTY! If the ball is in range, you HAVE TO GO FOR IT! If your mate is a cheat, and can’t beat you fair and square, don’t play. Seeing a kicking partner chase a ball as hard as they can, reach for it knowing they probably won’t mark it, getting a finger to it and being one mark closer to being beaten by you is cool. It means they are a mate. It means they have character, and understand football. And it feels that way when you do the same.
Sometimes you only get a finger to it. Especially if they have bombed it over your head and you are running back with the flight. If you get a finger to it put your hand up. “Yep. Dropped it” and call the score – say, “2:1”
Rule 3. If you do a kick so bad they cannot get to it, they do not get a point. You only get a point if you DROP a mark. They have wasted a kick.
Tip 1. At first you will think the game will go all night. Neither of you, if you are any good, will be dropping your marks. Run them around like a tennis rally from the back of the court. Aim to the left, to the right, if they drop one short, bomb one over their head, getting them running back for it. Once fatigue sets in, you will be amazed at how quickly one of you will drop three in quick time.
This game is a ripper for sh*tstir, fun, tense, but also gets you very fit.
Tip 2. Mix it up. Drill the odd one straight at them. Look for their weaknesses. The young punk I was telling you about at the start of Training For Two, even though I’ve never seen him play, gives the impression he ducks his head, so I aim a lot of kicks hard, a few feet past his head. On the other hand, so to speak, he knows that after three operations on my right wrist, and a missing finger tendon, I can no longer form a fist or bend my right wrist. So it is hard for me to mark on my left side, because I can’t get my right hand around the ball. It has to come into my palm. So I must overrun it and mark on my right side of the body. So he always kicks way to my left! Haha!
No mercy on an Old Dog!
If they’re unfit, back to the tennis rally.
There is often a wind advantage. As soon as you have a winner, swap ends. Go again. Mug’s away.
Three-Drop is a beaut!
Thanks for coming to Training For Two. From here it only gets easier. Remember, doubtful you would do all of these, but chose the ones that suit you.
Personally, tonight I’ll do, say most of the handball warm-ups. Definitely the Yo-yo. Five-to-one. Slingshot. Sausages or Follow-Up Figure Eight to get a breather,
finish with Three-Drop. Best of three games wins.
That is a solid training night for two in which you have both done all types of kicking, marking, running and handball, touching the pill about 200 times each.
All drills are good for the smallest kid, to be biggest hacks, to the pros from Dover. Just go as hard as suits your skill set.
Next in TRAINING FOR SIX: Training for Three. Where we prove three CAN be a crowd.