What comes first: The technique or the tactics? The overall objectives or the short term ones? The general plan or the singularities of each group?
These are ‘tricky’ questions and ones very difficult to give the ‘right’ answer.
In such a complex sport like hockey, from a practical execution point of view, it is primordial to master the technics. To pass and receive it is necessary a good stick and movement coordination. Nevertheless if we dont have ‘tactical answers’ to simple problematics during the game, the technics are worthless…
When watching trainings from lower divisions I realize (with some few exceptions) that since a very early stage the main focus of the trainers is the individual technique. The majority of the children can execute a proper push to pass the ball, yet few know when and where to pass the ball, barely are able to solve the game problematics with correct decisions. To this part of the game I will call it ‘strategical intellegence’ – quoting the Argentinian Football coach Cesar Menotti: ‘to understand the game’.
How can I check if the children understand the game? How can you measure their level of ‘strategical intellegence’?
Seems a very basic, trivial aspect but it isn’t. Watching a match and the player behaviour during a training practice, if he is successful on his decisions indicates us if the player ‘understands the game’.
Another way is to ask them simple questions to verify their level of comprehension of the game. I usually like to ask why they did a certain action and very often I get very surprised by their answers – some can perfectly verbalize all the aspects that were taken in consideration before they took a certain decisión. This is a obviously a sign that distinguish players with different levels of strategical intellegence.
Traininig without logic, just running without knowing why and for what is not the way to progress in our sport.
Use tactical patterns, a simple example to understand what I mean; playing a 3 v 3 we define some agreements about how to recover the ball at the collective level, and that pattern can be for instance to try channeling the opponent team to play into the one sideline and closed in that specific area.
From an early age we can start to develop strategic intelligence. Tactical maturity is not exclusively related with age as I believe that is also very much related with certain motoric and sportief experiences. You can certainly see the difference between a children that has an ‘outside’ and energetic lifestyle with a sedentary one and only has contact with sport at the weekly hockey trainings.
I am since long ago against standard ‘copy-paste’ programmes. The strategic growth of each group must have some general guidelines but must be shaped according to natural dynamic and feedback received from the players performances during the season.
A good coach is one able to plan what his team needs, should watch behaviours and performance patterns during matches or training sessions and provide the corrections or feedback necessary to the players. Firstly ensure if the tactical intellegence is appropriate according level/age and previously if in determined situation the players are able to execute the best technical movements.
When you create a basic 2 v 1 situation the players create their own ‘answers’ to the drill. Those ‘answers’ must be guidelines for real match situations. The more complex and more elements we can add to those drills as space, time, rules, different techniques the more prepared the players will be to respond accordingly in the future facing real match unpredictable situations.
A coach should be also a ‘designer’, an ‘architect’ of situations that reproduce real life matches, competition environments allowing the players to repeat, to rehearse, to fail and to repeat again.
Returning to youth trainings. How many time you see big queues in front of the goal with children running and hitting on goal without any opposition? I ask myself how many times during a match or during a competition season that occurs? The answer is easy, barely never. Why are we practicing that?
The first thing we should do is to watch the real life competition, what happens during competition, isolate situations and prioritize them. Some are urgent, others important, starting with basics and upgrade with elements and in difficulty until you reach realistic match situation. As ‘urgent’ I would describe elements that make the difference between losing or winning during competition and ‘important’ aspects that must be improved but are in a secondary level and are not so crutial.
With this text hopefully I can trigger the attention of some trainers. Question and doubt yourself, don’t ‘buy’ any standard successful recipes. Understand that every group of players is different and try to grow with our own experiences also by sharing opinions in order to improve your hockey knowledge and your training skills.
Let’s Celebrate Hockey!
Coach Junior FC (Barcelona, Spain)
Former coach of HGC (Netherlands), RAHC Antwerp (Belgium), Taburiente, Tennis Santander and Polo Barcelona (Spain)