It's like not getting your hands on the ball. Sometimes you can wonder "why am I on the park?" Its not easy playing a supporting role. But, as I've reflected on the art of tactical support, I've discovered there are critical moments in sport and in life, when "running off the ball" is a crucial element to a passage of play, or a season of life.
To perform a truly supporting role, even though you might not get your hands on the ball, you still have to run as hard as the player with the ball. Keeping pace with play, backing up, even to the point of tracking a ball carrier all the way to the try line, can be the key to scoring match winning points. Why?
Well, running off the ball has a number of very important tactical functions:
- it provides a ball carrier with an opportunity to safely offload a ball if he runs into contact
- it creates an option for an alternative play to be introduced
- it can create an overlap situation, where you are in the majority and the opposition in the minority
- it creates a defensive barrier by blocking space for the opposition to move into
- it enables an attacking player to move forward with confidence knowing someone has his back
- it allows for an attacking move to continue if there is a breakdown in play by being first on the scene
- it enables a pass to be made moving the ball away from the opposition
- it provides an option to switch a running line and the angle of attack
- it ensures your team have a first defender if your ball carrier has lost the ball
- it has the potential to draw or stretch the opposition defence and allow more space for an attacker
- when the attacker scores, you can be the first person to congratulate him!! (why not?)
As I've thought about each of them, I turned my thoughts to my life, my family, my responsibilities. Why not re-read the list, but think about it as a father, a brother, a son or a friend or colleague - or even a team mate.
As a man of faith, I have discovered that there are times when simply being there, backing up is really important. The bible has a very laid bare insight into the relationship between the man's man Jesus Christ and the close group of followers he had around him. At what was perhaps the most agonizing point of his life, when he was facing a destiny changing decision, the small group of followers gave in to fatigue and couldn't watch with him for a few hours. A few hours later, despite their supportive comments, the majority of them simply couldn't "run off the ball" with him, to the finishing line - something they later regretted terribly and made amends for through their faith and actions. Knowing someone is there, even if they feel like they're not doing anything particularly exciting, can be a massive boost to confidence, courage and sometimes, continuing with something.
Its easy to talk a good game. Its not so easy to play a supporting role, especially if someone gets the glory for scoring a try or making a touchdown, or firing in a 20yd shot into the back of the net. Its often exactly the same standing and watching a child, or encouraging a teenager (often without saying a word), or releasing a young adult to marriage, or saying goodbye to a loved one at the ultimate call. All of those moments are not about us, and yet in a strange way they are - for how we support, how we "run off the ball", can prove to be a decisive factor. When the temptation is to simply give in to fatigue, or at the other extreme, to dive in and take over, through either frustration or impatience - perhaps we should consider the tactical benefits of running off the ball...