Running lines, I get fairly tired of listening to coaches’ talk about the importance of running lines without really understanding what they are talking about or indeed what they are observing.
Rehearsing running lines either with or without the ball is in my opinion a complete waste of time. What is important to practice, and to understand is recognition and reaction. For it is in understanding these two components that running lines become easier to execute.
Let’s look first at the ball carrier. What do you want him to do? Execute some fancy move? Well that might well be the call or plan, but more important is to recognise what is in front of him.
The ball carriers job is first and foremost to move the defence around and create space. It really is as simple as that. It is then up to the support runners to recognise the space that has been created and run a line into that space.
The biggest mistake I see when I observe coaches running sessions on running lines is they tend to simply coach running at or away from an inside or outside shoulder in a drill. This in itself does not engage the defender; in fact most defence coaches would find this easy to defend especially at the highest level. Neither does it really engage the ball carrier in a decision making process that he will face in the chaos of a game.
What is more difficult to defend is when the ball carrier moves directly at the defender to engage. Once engaged movement away from either shoulder especially if done at a differing tempo will move the defender and create space.
For the support runner it’s a similar story. Look to engage a defender, recognise the ball carriers movement and then cut either an inside or outside line as late as possible into the space created.
I know that traditionally in coach education we have tended to coach this as 2 v 1 or 3 v 2. These days I know many coaches who introduce this as 1 v 1 (moving a defender), before moving on to the more realistic 2 v 2 and 3 v 3. Even better introduce the skill in a TGFU formatted game which mimics the conditions of the real game. This allows the players the opportunity to explore and problem solve in a non-prescriptive environment.