Posts tagged ‘Stickwork’

June 10, 2018

Hockey skills

Shorter version.

It is possibly reasonable to consider that any use of the stick and ball together will lead to the development of ‘touch’, the control of the ball with the stick, and any ball control, no matter how developed, will be of use to a player in a hockey match. But it is for the purposes of controlling a ball in various ways during a hockey match that ‘stick-work’ or ball skills are developed. Aside from entertainment and whatever self satisfaction may be gained there is no use or need during a hockey match for someone who can in practice juggle a hockey ball in the air with the rounded side of a hockey stick. It therefore seems right to assume that coaches should ask their charges to following training routines that will develop relevant, i.e. useful skills and persuade them not to waste time (that could be better spent) doing exercises that have no relevance to the game or are contrary to the Rules of Hockey (for example, from the longer video, dribbling a ball in a pond of water, irrelevant or kicking the ball up onto the stick with a foot, illegal).

It gives me a wrench to see the joy with which small children in the above videos (especially the longer one) are carrying out utterly useless activities while under the impression they are training to play hockey.

I feel the same sorrow for those who spend countless hours honing stick-work (and become excellent in these skills) but completely neglect, the more difficult to master, group spatial and running skills that make up the team-support tasks of the players not in possession of the ball at any given moment in a hockey match – these players despite or even because of their stick skills, will not reach the highest levels of the game. Hockey is a team game, based first and foremost on running and passing skills – the first component for a pass is an available receiver, the second a player in possession of the ball who knows how and when to pass it to a receiver.

The requirement for playing attributes at the higher levels (in no particular order) are:-

Game intelligence. Knowing where to be and when to be there and then what to do next when things go as expected – as rehearsed in training -(which isn’t usually very often because opponents upset plans). It is astonishing how little time some teams spend working on this aspect of play, a laissez-faire attitude is not at all unusual. Such teams will occasionally, fortuitously, put together a four-player move that results in an easy scoring chance and a goal, but they will then be unable to even try to repeat the move (or impossibly a mirror image of it) because they don’t know how they did it (who moved where, when and why).

Passing skills. Delivering the ball at the appropriate time at the correct pace and to the right place, that is in a way that enables a receiver to collect it as he wishes to and when and where he wishes to do so.

Receiving skills. Lead runs, support runs. The ability to receive the ball and continue play without pause.

Stick-work. A hockey player must be able to play by stick-ball touch and peripheral vision. It should be no more necessary for a skillful player to look directly at the ball when in possession of it than it is for a rugby player or an American footballer to do so when they are carrying the ball in the hands. The purpose of stick-work is to be able to take opportunities to pass the ball to a better positioned team-mate. A secondary purpose is to have the ability to hold the ball and elude opponents when there are no useful passing channels immediately available (which should not be often). To put the stick-work of an individual player ahead of team-work and passing and to try to win matches by this means alone is dangerous, in different ways, to both the team and to that player.

Know the Rules of the game – really know them: buy or download a current rule-book and learn what is written in it. Get into it, take up umpiring.

Physical Fitness. Speed, quickness, agility, flexibility, strength, stamina, are requirements, they are not optional.

Mental fitness. Good anticipation (game reading), determination, enjoyment.

Defending – probably the most difficult skill of all, is a combination of the other skills, but the passing skills have different aims (but like passing defending is generally carried out by coordinated player movement). Defending requires that opposition passes are anticipated (or even provoked) so that interceptions can occur. Tackling requires exceptional timing to avoid fouling the player tackled and to also avoid injury.

Training Cones.

I was fortunate with training cones, they had not been invented when I started playing hockey and my initial stick-ball training consisted mainly of running as fast as I could between (what are now the 23m lines) and the half-way line with the ball in contact with the stick, and with minimal rotation of the stick head, which was a bit tricky on a grass pitch cut for soccer. My teacher at school, whom I never saw with a hockey stick in his hand, had us look to where we were heading and not directly at the ball and initially that was good enough to allow me to play in the school team – I could avoid running into opponents by going wide of them and I was fast enough to run away from them if they let me get wide of them. I had only one dodge, a sharp sidestep to my right and reverse drag, but it worked tolerably well.

In my final year at school I joined Blackheath HC and it quickly became apparent that if I was to progress to the higher X1’s I would need more than just one dodge and good running speed. Fortunately there was a large back-garden at my home and as long as I cut the grass and rolled the lawn my father was happy for me to use it for dribbling practice. I started with a dozen house bricks spaced the length of my foot apart (about 10″) and began to walk the ball between them. I quickly realized that the rather haphazard grip I used on the stick was not precise enough and that I was no longer looking up as I moved with the the ball, so I devised the method of ascertaining correct grip and ball position that I have described in the article linked to below the video.

With a few weeks of daily practice I had increased the number of bricks in my ‘wall’ to fifty and I was able to sprint the length of them with the ball in close control. I varied it by ‘snaking’ the bricks and putting in some fencing slats at intervals (2m to both sides) and I would transverse these by either turning my hips to follow the ball or by taking shunt and hitch side-steps. The following season I was in the club 2nd X1 and (keeping up my practice) in the year following that in the First X1.

There was no team coach at the club and no mid-week practice. Hockey was played at the weekend – we played in a match (on a superb grass pitch) and that was it. I felt a lot of frustration at this because I knew that even just talking about what we were trying to do would be helpful, but that was the way things were and there was nothing to be done about it except to read any hockey coaching books I could get my hands on. I read The Theory and Practice of Hockey by the New Zealander Cyril Walters, cover to cover more than a dozen times. His passion for the game leapt from the pages. Soccer Coaching the modern way by Eric Batty was a gem of a discovery, which is still worth reading (soccer tactics in the 1960’s were ‘light years’ ahead of what could be seen on a hockey pitch). I found the later The Science of Hockey and The Advanced Science of Hockey by Horst Wein tougher (more technical) reads but well worth the effort.

I dislike cones because they are too forgiving (a house brick is only 4″ wide and of similar length to a foot – I never while I was playing ever intentionally played the ball into an opponents feet), but also because, for some reason which I cannot pretend to understand, players do a drill run around the cones with the feet as well as avoiding them with the ball.¬† Stride length and stride frequency then mimics the rapid short movements of the stick and ball when there is no reason at all why they should do so. Players must be able to stride long and freely even when moving the the ball from side to side with short rapid movements. From this point of view free running over 23m at top speed (especially on a bumpy surface) is far superior for skill development to ‘tip-toeing’ around cones – which also leads to posture and vision problems. These problems can be seen in the shorter initial videos above in the part showing youngsters pushing and pulling balls around cones on a very poor grass surface – this sort of practice drill, with poor posture and ball position, is not only a waste of time it is counterproductive, it is actually detrimental to the development of the necessary skills – as is spinning round and around with the eyes down.

The other problem with cones or any other type of small object, is that a mindless response, the same alternately each time, is trained into a player moving with the ball. This is good in one way, ball handling becomes automatic (and by touch rather than sight) and the mind is free to focus on other things, like the positions of team-mates. But it has its downside, it does not prepare a player for anything different. No cone ever retreats in front of the player in possession of the ball or makes a feint or a jab tackle. There has to come a time when the cone is replaced by a ‘tame’ opposing player and eventually by one who is trying very hard to win the ball. It is during such tough one-on-ones, in width limited lanes, (when the Obstruction Rule should be very strictly enforced by the trainer – no ball shielding permitted) that players learn the value of a passing opportunity – which they don’t have. There is in general too much cone training (an activity a player can do in isolation) and too little realistically contested ball-move training.

I owe the circumstances of my hockey playing education to an African dictator. The insane and brutal  Ide Amin caused Indian Africans to flee from Ugandan and some of the surrounding countries and many of them came to the UK. Some of them, who were international level hockey players, ended up at Blackheath HC and the late Albert DeSousa formed the Lusitanians HC with these and Goan players as a core.

The ‘Lusies’ played ‘at home’ on the Redgra pitch at the UK National Recreation Centre at Crystal Palace in South London and I immediately joined them to take part in hockey the standard of which I had not even seen before. Happy days (even if hockey was often played in a cloud of red dust and the pitch was cruel to anyone who fell on it)

The highlight for me was in 1972 when the ‘Lusies’ were due to play a training game against the Great Britain team three weeks prior the Olympic Games. For some reason (a car break-down I believe) the GB team were a player short and during the knock-up before the match the GB manager approached and asked me, as he put it “as the only non Asian” in the Lusitanian team, if I would like to fill in for the missing GB player. I doubt I would have played at all as the ‘Lusies’ had a large squad out and of course everybody wanted to play against the GB team. (This was in the days before rolling substitutions, substitution was done in the manner it now is in soccer, from just two reserves) so I was delighted to accept his (very temporary) offer of a GB team place. The GB team was drawn almost exclusively from the then recently formed (1969) London League, so I knew all the players via club hockey, but it was still a great and novel experience to put on a GB shirt and line up with them, even if it was only to play against my own club. One of the Lusitanians, Rui Saldana, was in the GB Squad but played for the ‘Lusies’ that day, so there was a balance in the numbers swapped between the teams, if not in the talent. Rui was at that time the most composed player on the ball that I had ever seen; I still had my ‘L’ plates on display.