For me, the interchange rule was the greatest change in football for coaches of young teams. It meant that the coach could give every player in every position maximum ‘on-ground’ experience. This helped to develop all players more quickly and lessened the dropout rate of the initially less able boys. (Before the introduction of this rule, each team had two reserves who were used to replace injured players or a player who was not playing well. These players could not return to the game, once replaced).
Much of what I say below depends on how many interchange players you may have as well as the level of football your team plays. (It will vary from nine a side football to 14 or 18 a side football).
The coach is able to offer advice/encouragement/a ‘well-done’ immediately once the boy interchanges and close to the time his last involvement in play has occurred. This meant the player was more aware of the reason for the advice.
I liked to work a three buddy interchange system with mid-field players. One player is “on the ball”; second player on the field usually as a forward. That player replaces the player on the ball as he goes to the interchange bench while the player on the bench goes to the forward line to get involved and warm again. For the three on ball positions, I like to have, if possible, three interchangeable players. This is not always possible with your tap ruckman.
In school football, where we had up to 25 interchangeable players in an 18 a side competition, any other interchange players had a single buddy to change with. (In this situation, I allowed the players to decide if they would change during each quarter or play a quarter at a time. Be careful here in windy conditions that a player doesn’t miss out on much of the game because he is playing in a position where a strong wind prevents him from seeing any action).
With school and junior teams you must be strict about short periods on the ground between interchanges. Young players can be greedy about getting as much time on the field as they can, refusing to change at the appropriate time. This lets the team down because they get tired and make mistakes and his mate gets frustrated waiting to get on the field. This affected his concentration on the game while on the field.
The other important use of interchange in junior football, in particular, is it allows the coach, using his runner, to have a player return to the bench to allow the coach to give advice on the spot and then send the player back on the field to try to put the coach’s advice into practice immediately. In other words, the interchange rule allows on the sport education of your players.
The third positive with the interchange rule, particularly as the players get older and the game gets faster and more physical; is that it allows players with possible injuries to be assessed quickly. It also allows the coach the chance to rest a player he sees tiring from working hard for the team.
A final option, in junior football, in a game that you are expected to win easily is to keep your better players on the bench initially to allow your lesser able players to take on more important roles at the beginning of each quarter before bringing on your more able player later each quarter. (You will need to explain the reasons for doing this to your better players who might feel slighted by your decision). This will help develop all your players and, in particular, increase the confidence of the less able players.
This is important for a number of reasons. The first, obviously, is you increase the experience and confidence of each player. Secondly, you are developing players who will be able to fill in for other injured players. Thirdly, often the apparently less able players are, in fact, just slow developers who love the game. They may, in fact, become your best players in the years to come or they may become those people who become stalwarts of the club who take on the onerous job of running the club in the future.
So, the reader can now see why I and many other junior coaches of our national game see the interchange rule as the best rule change in the history of Australian Football.