Mastering the hockey basics

August 27, 2023

All top players have excellent basic skills and they continually refine them, that’s why they are at the top of their game

Mastering the hockey basics

Field hockey has transformed over the years in its style, approach, training methodology and even terminology. The popular terminology representing players position like center half, left half, right half, left and right in and center forward and left and right out are now called as attacking midfielder, attacking sweeper, deep defender, defending midfielder, defender, flicker, hitter, midfielder, striker and sweeper. As we move along in our article the readers will become more accustomed to these terminologies, especially while discussing the positional play in the game.

All sports are based on basic skills that athletes need in order to play the game with competence. Although they are called basic skills, it doesn’t mean they are easy to master. All top players have excellent basic skills and they continually refine them, that’s why they are at the top of their game.

The most important thing to remember is that if you lack sound, consistent basic skills, the other skills will not often be available to you and your game will suffer as a result. The most striking example of such a skill is the basic trap, or stop and the fault lines in this basic skill can be observed among the top players representing Pakistan.

The skill of tapping the ball is necessary all over the field in attack, defense and goal shooting situations, and clean execution of this skill certainly makes the subsequent move easier and available to you more quickly. A common error that players make at all levels is to think about the next action before receiving the ball, so their attention is divided and their execution suffers as a result.

You can tap the ball on your fore stick or the point stick which is reverse of fore stick. To reduce the monotony of repetitive practice, focus on this skill when you are doing other drills and never take this aspect for granted. Begin your preparation to tap the ball as early as you can. Watch the ball closely as it moves onto your stick and don’t get distracted by other elements of the game. Have a balanced body position while receiving the ball. This requires you to move your feet to get behind the ball and have your body weight move forward. Just stay on your toes and avoid being flat footed. Develop an aggressive and positive mind set.

Always make the big move early, then fine tune the position of your stick. Anticipate where the ball will arrive, and put your stick and your body as early as possible in the position of greatest strength. This will be the position in which you are balanced to make your next move.

I have noticed that while stopping the ball our players give sufficient rebound that gives good defenders an easy opportunity to snatch it. In order to drop the ball in front of you without rebounding, adjust your stick so that it is square with the line of the ball. Try to keep the surface of your stick as close as 90 degrees with the line of the ball if you want the ball to drop directly in front of you. If your stick is on an angle to the right or the left, the ball will take a deflection.

This all doesn’t come naturally. In modern hockey every step needs to be drilled into players by the coaches. Yelling and sledging by conventional subcontinental coaches will not serve the purpose any more.

The same goes for catching or receiving the ball. When you catch a tennis ball with your hands, you move your hands with the motion of the ball until it is controlled. With the hockey stick your right hand plays more of a guide role, which means it needs to be softer than your left hand. Move your stick to meet the ball a little earlier or further in front of your body than you would if you were just blocking the ball, and move with the momentum of the ball until it is controlled.

In order to improve your catching technique, tap the ball on the toe of the stick, and then try to catch it rather than tap into the air again. When you can do this, try tossing it back into the air and catching it again. See how many throws and catches to yourself you can do without dropping the ball to the ground. As a player, I know that drills are boring, but drills are the key to success and you can’t master the finer aspects and tactics of the game without improving the basics of modern hockey.

Once you have mastered the basics of receiving you should learn slip trap that is receiving the ball from behind as you move forward and reverse trap and then move on to the learning of dummies or fakes.

Most of the game experts consider the trap the most important skill because without this ability, you limit your opportunities to make an impact in a game situation.

Now we will touch upon the second most important aspect of hockey basics and that is passing. No matter what your position is on the field, you need reliable and flexible passing skills. To be an effective passer means that you will become a better team player in attack, in the mid field and in defence.

We will now discuss in brief about push pass, the hit, upright slap and flat slap, reverse stick pass, bunt & deflection and overhead pass and how to improve them.

Push pass is a passing technique that players can develop into a well disguised and accurate option for moving the ball over short distances and push is particularly an accurate passing option. The push is a good choice in tight defensive situations because your stick doesn’t need to leave the ball.

The strongest passing position is “off” your left foot, which means that with your feet lined up to point in the direction of the target, your weight is transferred from your right leg to the left leg, so you are pushing off your left leg. This will give you maximum weight transfer and strength.

To make a good push pass, keep your right hand low on the stick in a comfortable dribbling position, your knees bent and your stick on the ground. With the ball between your feet, follow through so as to transfer your weight from your back leg to your front leg. For maximum strength and accuracy, try to get your stick and body weight to follow through in the direction of your target.

Hit is another common way to transfer or communicate the ball towards a fellow player or target. Hitting provides you extra power to pass the ball over a long distance. Here are some simple points to remember. Point your shoulder and your feet towards your target. Bend your knees slightly so that you achieve a low center of gravity. Line the ball up so that it is level with your left foot. Keep your hands together for optimal power. Focus your attention on the back of the ball and follow through towards your target to transfer your weight in the direction you want the ball to travel.

Another common technique used in passing the hockey ball is upright slap and fast slap. The slap shot is a faster shot to execute than the hit because it requires a shorter backswing. Once considered a foul in hockey it is now a useful shot in attacking and defensive circles.

For upright slap your hands are apart just like in dribbling position, your stick is close to upright and the ball is fairly close to your body. However, the backswing is shorter and your hands are apart. You will not generate the same power you can with a hit, but it is a quicker shot to execute.

For flat slap, the ball is further away from your body. Bend your knees and slide your stick horizontally, along the ground during the backswing. When you follow-through, keep the stick moving along the ground and make contact with the ball just below the head of the stick. Keep your hands together. In the attacking circle, which our legends still remember as Dee, you can angle your stick backwards to raise the ball at goal.

Similarly, you can practice the reverse stick pass from left attacking corners when you have little time to get your feet around. In doing so, try to get your head over the ball, and hit off your right foot with a compact backswing.

Before discussing the very important and weak area of overhead pass in hockey we shall briefly touch upon bunt and deflection in passing. Mostly the Asian style players don’t think bunt as a passing option, but it’s a useful passing technique over a short distance, especially when you are tightly marked and have little time or space to gain control.

A bunt is a one-touch technique in which you knock the ball, without tapping it, to a teammate who is close by or running past you. You can angle your stick according to where you want the ball to travel. This technique is very useful for the midfielder or the old time center half who is unable to safely receive the ball in a tightly marked contest. You can then bunt the ball to either side of the body according to the position of the available team mate.

Overhead pass mostly recognised as scoop and very less used effectively by our players during game situations like counter attacks or switching of flanks to rotate the defensive postures was best mastered by Australian Matthew Wells.

To develop this pass, remember and practice following tips.

Get lower to the ground by bending your knees. Place the ball in front of your body, neither too close nor too far and rotate through hips. The ball position is of extreme importance so that you can get the required lift. Remember that the distance covered by the ball in the air will largely come from power generated by the rotation of your hips and not so much from the arms.

This ability will make you a valuable team player in modern hockey because you will be able to generate fast breaks through flanks in the depth of your opposition and switch flanks effectively to bring surprise attacks. However, it is equally important to learn correct catching by the team mate to finish the desired move in an effective result.

In my next article I would purposely omit dribbling and its different styles because the Asian players are already quite good at it, but if needed we may discuss it later. So keep your fingers crossed for some exciting tips to improve your tackling and interception in the next article. And do send your feedback on this humble effort to improve hockey at its basic level on the given e-mail.

Mastering the hockey basics