Archive for September 13th, 2018

September 13, 2018

Moving with the ball


Before moving the ball with the stick it is necessary to learn how to hold a hockey stick correctly See above link for separate article.

A learner driver backing a car out of a garage for the first time is probably unnerved by the starting of the engine when turning the key, and in a car with a gear-stick has to look through or under the steering wheel to locate the clutch pedal, puts the car in reverse gear using both hands, and then struggles to coordinate engaging the gear, steering and looking where he is going. A year later he is doing these things easily without a though about how he is doing them. How? Long practice develops muscle memory and confidence – and he is also very motivated to learn.

The motor tasks a novice hockey player has to learn to usefully be able to take part in a match are no less daunting than those a learner driver in a car has to master and bad habits can be learned in the early stages of developing muscle memories which are later difficult to correct – so it is best to avoid learning and repeating poor technique.

Moving with the ball in close control is fundamental to the playing of hockey but by itself is near useless, the player also has to have reason for moving in a particular direction and be able to see where he is going and what needs to be avoided if he is to make progress with the ball to a passing or shooting position, and then be able to pass or shoot – evading a tackling opponent is akin to driving in fast heavy traffic on narrow roads – not for the complete novice.

Before or during the process of learning how to hold a hockey stick and move a ball in control with it, it is necessary to learn how to look and how to move the feet to maintain a balanced position. I’ll start with looking. This can be done before introducing a walkabout session in which players simply try to avoid colliding with each other in a confined area or after the difficulties have been discovered by the players taking part in a walkabout.

Peripheral vision.
It is not strictly necessary to look at the ball at all while dribbling with it because it is possible to feel the ball in contact with the stick and well practiced players can move the ball about using just feel, but even skillful players will take an occasional glace at the ball while at that time keeping their surroundings in peripheral vision and will usually employ peripheral vision to keep track of the ball rather than looking directly at it or at the other extreme,  using just feel. Players who look directly at the ball the whole time (which novices may do to the exclusion of all other available vision) can’t direct their moving with the ball because they cannot see where they are going or plan to go anywhere in response to any stimuli – they are reversing a car while looking at what they are doing with their hands and the steering wheel.

To demonstrate peripheral vision, ask the players to spread out along a 23m line and the look at the cross-bar of the goal at the further end of the pitch. Now get them to put both arms straight up in the air above their heads and bend their hands forward 90º at the wrist so that they are pointing towards the goal. Then while wiggling the fingers and keeping the crossbar in focus slowly lower the arms forward until the fingers come just into the edge of vision – they can be seen moving. Now, keeping the cross-bar firmly in sight move the arms further and further apart until the moving fingers disappear from view on both sides at the same time. Move the arms the other way until the fingers come back into the edge of vision.

Second phase.
With the arms down by the sides palms facing front and again while looking at the cross-bar bend the arm at the elbow while wiggling the fingers, until the fingers rise into view. Again from here move the arms far apart until the fingers disappear from view and then move them back into the edge of vision. The periphery of peripheral vision has now been explored. It should be discovered that because of binocular vision (two eyes side by side) it is in the shape of an oval which is wider side to side than it is top to bottom. The range of peripheral vision can be increased by doing this sort of exercise and others that can be discovered on the Internet – and it is very useful to increase it as much as possible, it should be a regular practice.

Now with stick and ball.
Stand upright with a ball positioned in front of the feet and touching them. Obviously no forward movement is possible without hitting the ball with a foot which is not good. Move the ball away about the length of a shoe and it is now possible to move the feet without hitting the ball. But, with the ball in this position it is not possible to see very far beyond the ball with peripheral vision, perhaps 3m-4m, perhaps enough to see people in time not to bump into them when there might otherwise be a collision and loss of control of the ball, but nothing more than that. Unfortunately, many players while moving with the ball don’t move it any further away from their feet than this (about 20cms maximum) and therefore not only restrict their forward vision but also therefore the speed at which they can safely (without collision) move with the ball.

Now let’s see how far away from the feet the ball could reasonably be moved. With stick and ball look at the further goal cross bar from a 23m line and with the stick move the ball out from the feet until it can be seen at the edge of vision. It will probably be found that this distance is 60cms -70cms from the feet (depending on player height) and that to keep the stick in contact with the ball it is necessary to bend the knees (something not done at all or not done deeply enough when the ball is close to the feet). It should also be found that to remain comfortable in this position it will be necessary to move one foot in advance of the other. The position can be modified slightly by, bringing the ball back, perhaps 10cms. because it is not likely that a player will often be looking up at a cross-bar seven feet off the ground and almost 70m away. The ideal distance of the ball from the feet can be fine-tuned by looking at players (or other objects such as flag posts) positioned at various distances and finding the best distance to place the ball so that it can be seen in peripheral vision (or the player or object 15m – 20m away can be seen in peripheral vision while looking at the ball). This should rarely be less than 50cms and more usually about 60cms. Then start to practice moving with the ball at the established distance from the feet.

If the player is used to an almost upright position with the ball held close to the feet, the new position will seem odd and maybe even uncomfortable at first, but it is worth persevering with it until the new practice overrides the previously learned habit. The coaches can empty their water pistols at players who allow the ball to drift back closer than 45cms from their feet (I wrote this article in response to a coaching video in which the coaches were ‘disciplining’ children in a fun way, with water pistols, when they did not comply with instruction).

The method described is of course for use in what is termed the Indian style of dribbling. The former English style involved overtaking the ball from the left when moving it to the right and also a more upright stance when doing so. Moving between these styles (which are modified as a result) is an essential skill as both styles are necessarily incorporated into one style called stick-work – but that development can wait for the moment.

The eyes move and the head moves on the neck, which makes looking to other objects and the ball much easier but may also cause the player to carry the ball too close to the feet. The habit of keeping the head up as much as possible when in possession of the ball needs to be developed. It could help to think of breathing out through the nostrils towards the ground, rather than towards the chest or keeping the base of the nose parallel to the ground. After a while it is no longer necessary to do this sort of thing consciously, it becomes part of the muscle memory of the neck when a player is in possession of the ball.

Consciously thinking about what a particular part of the body should be doing – what position it should be in to carry out a particular task – is a fairly standard way of developing desired habits. Focusing on the use of the little finger of the left hand, followed by the positioning of the left elbow, when capturing the ball to the left prior to moving it to the right, is but one of many such combinations. Each part is developed separately and they are then strung together, in the same way that changing gear in a car is learned so that this is thought of as one action rather than a combination of several different actions.

It is probably a good idea to get players familiar with moving the ball from side to side across the feet, so that they know about reversing the stick-head to play the ball, before having them try walking about with stick and ball in a small area avoiding bumping into each other. This is because it is quite difficult to move to the right unless the reverse stick is used, which can, without use of the reverse stick, result in the whole group moving anti-clockwise and always avoiding collisions or changing course by moving to their left (repeating triangular paths) with the ball on the forehand face. Being able to sidestep in either direction with the ball in control is a desirable skill when avoiding collision (or a tackle) and the next step after being able to walk forward with the ball in control.

Moving with the ball.

The typical foot-step when in possession of the ball might reasonably be called a kind of shuffle. It is certainly not similar to a typical long walking stride where the usual mode is to plant the heel with the foot pointing up at somewhere between 35º – 45º and then rock or power forward onto the ball of the foot.

The step might be explained to the novice as follows. Stand upright feet together and then take a side-step, keeping the foot pointing forward, to just outside shoulder width, to the right. Note how the foot is used, which part touches the ground first and how the foot is inclined to the ground. It will probably be outside ball of foot to ground first with the foot held almost parallel to the ground but with the toe end inclined slightly downwards. That is the sort of step that needs to be made, but forwards when dribbling forward. It is, incidentally, quite difficult to make a heel first stride when the knees are bent, so if there is a heel strike (which is caused by a leg movement made from the hip with the knee almost locked) it is more than probable that the player will not have his knees properly bent.

Stride speed increases dramatically as the player increases running speed but, stride length remains relatively short. A longer stride length and a heel high style of running (on the balls of the feet) with a high knee lift, does not generally appear until the player is sprinting free and has simply pushed the ball ahead and is chasing it, rather than trying to maneuver around opponents with it in close control.

So use the water pistols when players place a heel on the ground and have the foot pointing sharply upwards.