Penalty corners and penalty strokes are the sure methods of goal scoring in modern hockey. The teams which fail to master them have little chances to win.
Penalty stroke is a relatively closed skill because no external variable can interrupt your skill execution. The only variable affecting your ability to execute the skill is your attitude to the task. Thus believe in your ability, and in the match situation, do what you have done in the practice a thousand times. Doing anything fancy at the eleventh hour while executing the stroke will be disastrous.
The technique of penalty stroke is much the same as for a push pass, except that you may like to elevate the ball more than in general play by angling your stick so that the top edge is behind the bottom edge. Keep your knees bent, eyes over the ball and transfer your weight and the face of the stick towards the target in the follow-through.
Before beginning the penalty stroke, you must be behind and within playing distance of the ball and you cannot use a dragging action like you would for a drag flick on a penalty corner. Whatever your technique within the rules, develop a consistent routine when you practice. Remember that, as in case when shooting for goal in live play, placement of the ball can be more important than the generation of power.
Try to read the balance of the goalkeeper. His statistics on saves, if worked out well by the coaching staff, could be of great value for you in deciding the placement of hits. Practice well and commit your stroke with a clear mind. At the very least, force the goalkeeper to make an outstanding save.
Penalty corners and your team’s execution of them in attack and defence can make all the difference for your team on the scoreboard. In the attack, use the traditional plays as well as some imagination for rebounds, passes, deflections and signals to create scoring opportunities and practise them thoroughly.
Your team might develop as many as 50 different attacking penalty corner variations with the ball pushed into the field from left or the right of the circle as you look at it from the circle top, but it is likely that you will only use a handful on a regular basis. You will increase your repertoire as you attempt to outsmart specific opponents by taking into consideration their various defensive strengths and weaknesses in combination with your attacking strengths.
The premise is to keep your variations as simple as possible. The fewer moves involved in your variations, the simpler the execution and the lower the likelihood of error and wasted scoring opportunity. The basic components of all attacking penalty corners are very similar in nature, so focus and work hard to develop the basic skills like injecting or pushing the ball into play, trapping and hitting or pushing the ball at goal.
The injection and the trap components provide the foundation of almost every penalty corner variation. Get these components right, and you will give your team the best possible chance to convert the opportunities.
Kate Starre, two time women hockey Olympic medalist and coach of the USA women hockey team, was excellent at the push outs. She, instead of keeping it a secret like Indo-Pak hockey players, outlines the following tips for making a successful injection from the left side of the goal.
Kate states that you should ensure that your right foot is behind the line. Line up your feet so that if you have to draw a line from one foot to the other, it will point in the direction of the trapper. Position your feet more than your shoulder width apart and get into a squat position. Get low and make sure that your body weight is on the back foot. Both arms should be straight, with the ball in the crook of the stick and the ball should be a foot in front of your body. The stick should be parallel with your feet and fairly low on the ground.
From the starting position, slowly move the ball forward in the crook of the stick.
The initial movement doesn’t have to be quick. Keep the ball in the crook of the stick and pull the stick through in a straight line towards your target. Increase the stick speed as you get the ball moving. Transfer your weight from your back foot to your front foot to maximise the power you can generate. Use a little rotation through the hip at the end of the pull for extra power and keep your head down throughout the action.
Now a few words about the penalty corner trap which is a relatively difficult skill to learn and there are no particular rules for its execution. Sometimes, the push will be off line, so you need to be mobile and ready to move to the left or the right according to the push and trajectory of the ball.
Being a trapper you need to develop skills other than the basic trap. You need to learn to bunt the ball to another player, dummy as though to bunt and be ready to pick up the crumbs (all discussed in previous article) if the penalty corner breaks down. And also be ready to pounce on rebounds that come to the top of the circle without getting absorbed into the action of the game.
In order to have correct body position, line up on the circle so that you trap the ball in a central position that suits the player executing the next skill, such as a hit at the goal. This will give the player taking the shot from the top of the circle the best angle from which to shoot. If you are central, your penalty corner variations can go to either side of the circle without compromising the eventual shooting angle. You may need to trap the ball slightly on one side to that central position according to the penalty corner variation that you execute, but be careful not to move too much from the norms, as this will give clues to your opponents regarding your play intentions.
Trapping is just one of the roles of designated trapper and the subsequent
bunting skills are some of the most difficult to get right. The player who traps the ball for penalty corners is usually also the player who bunts or rolls the ball for next action. Try to meet the ball with your stick before it reaches the top of the circle.
This means you may need to step inside the circle for better balance. Later on try to learn the left bunt, the right bunt and long forward bunt for better dummies and direct hit towards the target.
Along with the push, hitting off the trap is the skill that provides one of the foundations of the penalty corner. One of the most important things to get right is the timing of the hit with the bunt, so you need to rehearse it with each of the
trappers you are likely to play with. Matthew Wells, an Australian penalty corner specialist, has given the following tips to improve this skill.
Stay relaxed. If you tense up, you are likely to miss-hit the ball. Be clear in your mind where you want to hit the ball before you commit and don’t change your decision in a split second. Don’t try to smash the ball too hard. It’s all about timing and rhythm.
One of the hardest skills to develop is the ability to hit the ball over the goalkeeper’s stick while at the same time keeping the ball under the 18-inch backboard limit. This requires much practice and repetitive hitting into the corners. Once you build up the rhythm and develop accuracy, you can gradually incorporate more power into the shot and refine the skill.
To develop a routine and consistency, place a tyre or a cone in each corner of the goal and have a player roll balls into play as the trapper will in a game situation.
Before you begin, decide how many balls you will hit into each corner, and aim to do so. Keep a record and if you have a speed gun, which I am sure you don’t have in Pakistan hockey grounds, measure the speed of your hits. Only repetitions and objectivity will bring consistency and success.
Last but not the least is the dangerous drag flick. What made Sohail Abbas, Chris Cirello, Rupinder Pal Singh or Harmanpreet such successful and lethal drag flickers is no more a secret. Their training videos are now viral, and those who are serious about improving their drags must watch these videos closely.
However, instead of waiting for some great flicker to reveals his secrets for your benefit, I will take you through the tips given by Stuart Morgan, a sports scientist at the Victorian Institute of Sports who works with elite hockey players to develop this difficult technique.
Morgan based on his research recommends that you grip the stick as though to push the ball. Have your left foot approximately level with the ball and your right foot behind the ball. Make sure that you are low to the ground and your stick almost parallel with the ground. Place your stick behind the ball and lock your left hand into your right forearm so that your knuckles are touching your forearm and the handle of the stick is pointing behind you.
Now without moving the ball, cross your right leg behind your left leg, then plant your left foot forward of the ball. Only then should you begin to move the ball towards the target using a flick action. Keep your stick on the ball for as long as you can as the ball moves towards the target. This way you are almost throwing the ball from your stick. Follow through towards the target. You will generate power for this technique through the momentum of the stepping action in combination with the rotation of the hip and body towards the target. Also be ready to take rebounds and improve your deflections to get into good positions in the circle. You can only do this if you are mentally alert and have the habit of outsmarting the defenders by infiltrating into the gaps as your second nature.
Use cones and tires in the corners of the goalpost to master the accuracy of drag push. Keep a record of your attempts made and make sure that your assistant coach and support staff instead of sitting idle and hurling hollow slogans get fully involved in your objective practice. I sincerely hope that these points will help you develop into a better penalty corner specialist who can serve his or her team better in future.