First thing I notice in any player? The ‘touch’.
The way a player touches and moves the ball, the control, the absorption during the receiving and the ‘right’ tension in a passing or dribbling action.
Take a look at this clip:Besides being a fantastic goal from the German team, this clip has enough ‘rich’ content from a coaching perspective:
- An unconventional formation on the build-up phase that still leads to a dynamic and succesfull play (goal)
- Proactive receiving positions from players off-ball
- Importance of body on man and zone elimination skills
- Pre-scanning quality
- 1 touch brilliant assist is a clear example of the previous point – ultimate form of acceleration and in this case elimination
A lot to watch and learn but the focus on this article will be on something very noticeable on the clip upon: the entire play is based on the use of push technique.
Passing, receiving and shooting executing the push.
I will not discuss advantages and disadvantages of the push pass, don’t want to be so radical to say that other passing techniques aren’t equally important, once properly executed on the right time and space.
However, I do believe that the push it is the most fundamental passing technique on learning stages.
I suppose that all coaches recognise the importance of the push and it’s adequate execution but I wonder how many are capable to invest time and knowledge to improve this fundamental skill?
In conversation with other coaches, (from olympic gold medallists to local club coaches) we verified that the execution of the push pass is decreasing on usability and quality.
From grassroots to international level.
You don’t really need an expert hawk-eye to notice that, just attend to a match of any level and observe how many unnecessary bouncing or deficient passes are given (therefore harder and slower to receive) result from an inadequate technical execution.
On the other hand, (surprisingly or not) the execution of other skills, theoretically of higher difficulty such as backhand passes/shots, aerial dribbling and aerial receiving, notoriously improved on young players.
‘It’s just about the basics’ – Probably the most common comment around hockey fields worldwide.
This sentence is often used by coaches but also spectators/parents usually on an unsatisfied tone. I suppose this is a way to express that individual technical abilities are the qualitative differential between players (and ultimately teams).
Let’s assume that in current terminology the basics mentioned above correspond, to the following technical skills:
- Driving the ball (Dribbling)
- Passing the ball
- Receiving the ball
In the beginning you should learn how to hold the stick to carry the ball; than to pass it and in order to successfully repeat the process you need to adequately receive the ball.
Seems a very reasonable and logic methodology.
Unfortunately, I have noticed that particularly in early learning stages, trainings start too often with exercises of passing and receiving. I believe that from a skill acquisition but also from a conceptual perspective we should first teach how to ‘carry & care’ the ball and only afterwards to ‘get rid’ of it.
Push it. Better.
Let’s get back to the push and to some of my assumptions on why it’s quality is decreasing:
- Lack of coaching expertise able to understand the appropriate technical biomechanics
- Predominantly static passing and receiving drills
- Less developed motor skills on children that spend less time outdoors
- Less ball tension (feeling) on children/teenagers with lesser physical and playing activity
- The logical tendency from young and weaker bodies on using the slap as allows more power on the ball
- Modern sticks with accented (often exaggerated) curved shapes
- An imposed coaching/parenting influence for verticality and attacking game. On other words: adult pressure to win and to play according to grown-up standards…
How to improve it?
A few elements are relevant on the quality of push passing and receiving. (The elements below are not the only way to execute push passing, these are just some important details when considering the best way to train and develop passing and receiving dynamic situations).
- First and primordial: more passing and receiving with body and ball movement
- Incentive children to self-pass prior to do a pass – the walking/running mechanics will provide more balance and power to the passing
- While in motion stimulate some drag during the pass – Follow-up movement of the stick during swing should be onwards and not upwards (Check photo above)
- Bouncing / aerial balls should be a secondary resource. Focus is on ‘clean’ flat passing
- Wrist flexibility
- Upper body rotations / arms and stick drag should be following with torso swing
- Closed stick angle so the ball doesn’t lift during swing rotation
Footage from Dutch midfielder Seve van Ass having a progressive receiving during last year EHL edition while playing with his former club Rotterdam HC.
- Do not stop (block) the ball! – Stimulate the players to have ball movement during the receiving contact. The mindset should be to absorve, control and re-direct the ball according to the following intend action
- Create a margin (also skill area) by controlling the ball in front of your feet/body
- Upgrade to receive in movement
- Look for progressive and attacking receiving possibilities
2 simple clips that show different types of basic receivings with the main focus on ball and body motion.
Other training tips to improve passing and receiving progressive skills could be:
- Small sided games only using push passing
- Focus on avoiding bouncing balls during warm-up and training exercises
- Stimulate motion during passing situations
- Practice scenarios where players can only use 1 touch passing to re-direct the ball