Here’s what a top hockey coach observed at the 2014 world cup…

Tasmanian Institute of Sport Hockey Coach Andrew McDonald (pictured below) attended the World Cup for a HA Coach education study tour.Here are some of his fascinating observations about what he saw there. His notes identify trends in play – and training implications for this. For example, the increasing use of shave tackles and what this means for where and how the ball is now protected.

I’d welcome your comments on his observations – especially with regards to coaching implications.


Tasmanian Institute of Sport hockey

  • Shave tackling – getting down low with the left hand and at other times right hand, coming from behind to steal the ball. Ball carriers are increasingly being required to now protect the ball from the shave tackle, which has implications on where and how the ball is protected.
  • Use of the Overhead – By far one of the most evident progressions by key players – e.g., Knowles (Aust), England, Netherlands, Argentina and Germany. Players are throwing a greater variety of overheads over short to medium distances and with greater accuracy. Accuracy is essential to ensure no umpire engagement as a result of a defender coming with-in 5 metres, e.g., thrown with enough skill and accuracy and speed that the receiver is not effected by the encroaching defender, in fact works against the defender, as they must stay five.
  • 3D / Aerial skills near the attacking the circle – increasingly attackers are being rewarded / allowed to carry the ball on their stick into the circle. This is different to jinking but related. Ghodes, Argentina, Dutch e.g., Van Ass (M) as an example.
  • Eliminating at speed – 1 v 1 – The best forwards are capable of eliminating opponents with speed and skill in these 1 v 1 situations. The best strikers are confident and desire to attack.
  • Being able to carry the ball at speed is critical. Thus this is a skill that needs to be practised in training.
  • Receiving overheads and getting it to ground quickly – e.g., Knowles, Cirrel etc. This is now very much an essential skill.
  • Reverse (Tomma) hitting into the circle – FLAT. Ever increasing is the ability to crack the ball into the attacking circle from the reverse. That combined with far post deflections continues to score goals. Again a skill that needs time in the training program.
  • Penalty Corner Attack vs Penalty Corner Defence Strategy – each need to be given adequate time to be best prepared – e.g., PCD running a close trail to a proficient PCA is necessary. Having capable PCA individuals is critical.
  • T-SPOT (where the baseline and circle edge collide)– Forwards are aiming to capitalise on the distance defenders allow them when “backing off” to protect their feet and prevent a PCA. The left to right drag in these areas by attackers followed by some air, speed and full use of available space is now testing defenders.
  • Making the park look big! (e.g., utilising space over the full field, not just  orridor). In essence making sure there is width, depth and movement off the ball. The Dutch women were very good at this.
  • Flexibility in positioning! (Flexibility and quick understanding of positional requirements). Australia (Men) by far the best. The regular interchanging of roles and positioning as required by opportunities and general field play was hard to track. Hence becomes extremely difficult to play against, e.g., continuing hand-overs, which creates uncertainty. If teams man to man mark then they are manipulated. In essence this for the Australia men has become an essential selection capacity.
  • Long aerials 60 yards+ = 1v1 against opposition defenders and goal-scoring opportunities. Defenders increasingly need the capacity to send an overhead of 60 yards+. This was used regularly as an aggressive method to expose opposition defenders to a 1 v 1 with space. The “linking” and recognition of the opportunity is critical as is the capacity.
  • 1-touch deflections into the attacking circle – general field play and set play free hits. Given that many teams gang tackle near the circle edge, a common way of entry was the 1-touch deflection. The Australians (Ockenden, Dwyer) and the England team also utilised this.
  • Two benefits – 1. necessary to have a receiver in front ready and expecting it.
  • sometimes the ball found the foot of an ill prepared defender. This is a set play that needs time in training program.
  • Tackling around the circle edge. (W) – It was evident that the Hockeyroos need more polish in this area. The best opposition forwards were too often eliminating the first defender to present.
  • Free hits near the 25, (just outside) are now becoming a set play – e.g., Cirello – who drags the ball at speed into the attacking circle. This is often deliberately given some air to put pressure on defenders and provide uncertainty.
  • Strength on the ball in the corridor – (It seems obvious) but the better players (in the middle) are the players that possessed and protected the ball well when under threats from different angles. Rarely did they lose possession and importantly these players showed good awareness of their next release / passing option. (e.g., Zalewski, Hammond, Middleton)
  • Pass forward then follow up – a number of the better players work hard to follow up their pass and create the overload – e.g., (Middleton, Jackson – England / Hammond, Ockenden, Zalewski – Aust)
  • The “V” drag done at speed – e.g., Jackson / Middleton –England – Often done when running at speed with an opponent at the side, the V drag is used and this enables “flow” to continue.
  • Dumping then 1-touch pass forward – Attackers when tracking on angles are dumping the ball to the player behind, in the best examples, these are then 1-time passed to a higher option. Thus quick ball movement occurs and get s at the opposition defence.
  • Gang Tackling – The best defensive team (Aust men), work in “gangs” to deny opposition access to their attacking circle. Much of this requires, communication, urgency, understanding and a solid work ethic!
  • Tackling against the reverse Tomma Goal-shot – Clearly it is important defenders work on their understanding, technique and positioning to close down the opposition “tomma” goal-shots. This continues to make up a high and increasing percentage of goals scored. Some countries were poorer than others at preventing a tomma – e.g., South Africa.
  • Goals scored positional plotting within the circle – Mathew Wells is collating an overall percentage / Tally of where goals are scored from, his initial findings, he indicates a higher percentage of goals are scored in the 7 metre area near the goal-face. This would suggest deflections, e.g., far post / rebounds off pads etc.

Other general observations…

  • Team outletting structures – Argentina quite good at linking and working for each other to enable good lineout balls to a high striker, quite patient in how they set this up. It is worth viewing their patterns. Australia and Holland also very good.
  • PCA Double Battery’s – common – with some shifting laterally before the ball is released.
  • Team set rotations – used by all teams.
  • Strict 45 seconds to be ready on PCD from the time it is awarded – green cards were given should this not be done both for attack and defence.
  • Interchanges done mid pitch with no holding up of cards – seemed to work well throughout the tournament.
  • Goal down – 5mins to go – towards the end of the game most teams were taking the GK off to create a high forward.
  • PCD – most GK’s offset to the right
  • Mass interchanges – teams would hold the free hit at the back – this allowed teams to settle back into their structures.
  • PCD – Germany also wearing knee guards, e.g., like baseball.
  • PCD – Speed of the counter attack, the best at it were:

Men – AUS, ARG, BEL, NZ  / Women – USA, Netherlands

  • Courage – Strikers need time to rehearse deflections from reverse tommas, develop confidence and develop courage they won’t be hurt.

I would usually put a weblink to reference this, however, I am unable to link to the piece as it is a pdf download. So instead I’ve included a screen shot of how it appears in google so you can find it yourself if you want to check the source.

TIS link









Olympic hockey players reveal their secrets

Olympic hockey secrets
Alex Danson 

England Hockey’s magazine ‘The Clubhouse’ is a handy resource that’s designed to pass on useful tips, tactic and advice to players, coaches and club officials. For more info see England Hockey website

In the latest issue some of England’s biggest names have shared some handy skills tips. Here’s a few of the best…

Alex Danson: To get the ball in the air with more control, try bending your knees and lowering your knuckles towards the ground. This allows your stick to slip under the ball more easily and get it airborne. See the excellent Sportsister website for more about Alex Danson.

Henry Weir: For a more consistent ball-stopping technique, trap the ball inside your right foot while keeping it in line with your head. This makes co-ordinating your hands and eyes much easier.

Mark Gleghorne: When trapping a ball in the air, or bouncing ball, keep head as still as possible and cushion the ball with your stick. Don’t snatch at it because you won’t make as good contact.

Shona McCallin: When eliminating a player think about what you do with your body rather than just thinking about what you do with the ball. Use movement to fool your marker by shifting weight and faking to move the opposite way to where you want to go. It’s easier to control your body than the ball anyway.

Helen Richardson-Walsh: When making a dummy look in a different direction to where you want to go to convince a defender to sell themselves early.

Sally Walton: Work hard early it will pay dividends. Get yourself into position early to receive the ball so you can take it under less pressure and have a better idea of what’s around you.

Kate Richardson-Walsh: When making a one v one tackle on the run don’t get square on to the attacker. Instead, get your feet going in the direction you want the attacker to go as early as possible and shepherd them away from the danger area.

Simon Mantell: In deflection shots on goal, keep your feet facing towards the target to be able to extend and dive if the ball ends up being played in front of you. Also when shooting on reverse stick, make sure the face of the stick is facing directly up. This means you can get a clean connection with the leading edge and generate more power.



Backhand, backstick, tomahawk shot. Whatever you want to call it, here’s some tips on how to do it…

I’ve just been lucky enough to travel to The Hague to watch some of the Rabobank 2014 world cup matches.

The hockey was stunning – with the highlights for me being Jamie Dwyer and the men’s Australian team and the Dutch women’s team.

It was impossible not to notice how important the backstick shot – or the tomahawk or backhand, whatever you want to call it – has become in hockey. I watched Korean v New Zealand women. Korean won by one goal to nil and the goal was created by a phenomenal backstick ball from the very top left hand corner of the pitch into the D. This was then deflected into the goal.

Unfortunately, it’s not clear what an amazing backstick shot this was from the internet film coverage that exists of the match. But I was sitting right by the left hand corner and the shot from their amazing player No 10 Park took my breath away.

We all came home (I travelled with some team members from my club) wanting to master the backstick shot. It’s a challenge if you don’t know how, but I found this fantastic video really helpful. I could do them before but wasn’t making the C-shape he suggests in the clip. Doing this made a huge difference to the power of my shot. I was also lunging too deeply. Instead, he suggests the feet should be a bit closer together.

The grass in my garden has taken a hell of a pounding as I whack them one after another at a gym mat my hockey-mad 10-year–old daughter and myself upended as a target for hitting practice.

But so far I’m pretty pleased with how it’s going and can’t wait to see if I can actually do it in a match.

The player demonstrating so well is Roel van Reenen

This is also pretty good from Phil Burrows, the New Zealand player. He recommends hitting off your left foot if you can to block the defender a bit more. He also gives some tips on why the ball is rising in the air. Follow through – the stick should finish aiming exactly where you want the ball to go. When you get better put your whole body into it to get maximum power. It’s also worth watching this video through until about five minutes in when he hits some shots from the edge of the D with a tight angle on goal. You can see exactly how he moves the ball into the correct position before taking the shot – something I’ve been struggling with because I’m having to practise on grass at the moment as it’s off season and we’re not on the astro every Saturday.

Here’s a link to a previous post I’ve written on this too…

Happy practising!