Understanding and Taking Risk


Risk is a significant factor in most decisions on the field. Usually the higher the risk involved in a movement or action, the higher the reward for success, and vice versa. This applies both to individual skill choices, and also to team movements.

Considerations that affect risk:

  • Position on the field
  • Numbers (up/down/even)
  • Team structure and positioning
  • Individual skill/speed
A simple way of looking at risk is by field position. Players should look to take more risks in their attacking end than the defensive end. If the ball is lost in a teamʼs attacking end, there is plenty of space on the field to adjust defensively to prevent a counter-attack. Play should be safe in a teamʼs defensive end, because a mistake can lead directly to a goal scoring opportunity. The following graphic demonstrates the low-risk to high-risk areas.

White dotted area: Elimination Zone

Low-risk area - be aggressive, take on the defender 1-on-1 frequently, make penetrating, high risk passes.

Yellow dotted area: Possession Zone

Medium-risk area - keep possession and look to eliminate 1-on-1 occasionally if the situation is right. Maintain possession and be aggressive with elimination passes when available.

Red dotted area: Protection Zone

Low/No-risk area - keep ball protected in a strong position. Little/no 1-on-1 elimination. Look for high percentage passes to build possession into the midfield.



A numerical advantage or disadvantage has a significant impact on the risk of a play.

In “numbers-up” situations, the team with the advantage can be more aggressive, because the risk is lower. In attack, the team can attempt to eliminate by finding a 2-on-1 advantage, without taking on the risk of a 1-on-1. If the defending team has more players, this team can be more aggressive pressuring the ball carrier - even if one player gets beaten, there is still a controlled “even-numbers” situation behind.

In “numbers-down” situations, the team with the numerical disadvantage will probably be more conservative, both in possession of the ball (avoid turnovers, make high-percentage plays), and also when defending (avoid getting eliminated, protect dangerous space/defensive lines).

Pressing Risk

Related to the numerical calculations, defensive Pressing choices are also influenced by risk. An aggressive full press in the opponentʼs end commits players up into the attacking zone. The aim is obviously to create a turnover in the opponentʼs defensive end (high reward), but the risk is high, because this will typically leave fewer players in the defensive end for the Pressing team. So if the opponent is able to outlet successfully, there is the opportunity for a dangerous attack. A half-court/half-field press is more conservative, lower-risk because it keeps more players in defensive position, but this approach also gives up territory easily to the opponentʼs backs.


Team Structure and Positioning

Despite numerical advantages and disadvantages, consideration of risk must also include the teamʼs defensive and attacking structure. For example, if a team already has 3 forwards and 3 midfielders committed into the attacking 23m area and 4 backs are spread wide across the field, a center back will probably avoid trying to eliminate the opposing forward, even going into the attacking end. The risk is too high, because the consequence of losing the ball is a dangerous counter-attack, based on positioning of the supporting attacking players.

Set Plays

Set plays are specific situations where Risk can be controlled and managed by a team. This can apply to free hits (especially inside the 23m), but Attacking Penalty Corners are

a clear example. A team can choose how many players to position on the attacking circle for the penalty corner. A common approach is to have 7 players involved, including the player taking

the push-out . This leaves 3 players back in the defensive end for a potential counter- attack. A higher risk approach positions 8 players on the attacking circle for the set play, leaving only 2 players back defending. Although this is higher-risk, the extra player in the attacking circle could prove important in scoring on the corner.


Individual Speed and Skill

Exceptional individual ability in certain areas is another factor that can influence risk-taking. If a player/players has outstanding speed, she may take more 1-on-1 risks in the midfield, knowing that she can recover defensively in case of a turnover. Or if a back is an excellent passer, she may make a pass through a narrow passing space between two opponents, confident in her ability to reach the target. These are examples among numerous skill/speed factors that can affect decision-making and risk - it is important for players to be aware of these considerations, and to think ahead in the game. If players run through “what-if” scenarios as they are playing, (what if we eliminate?, what if we turn the ball over?), then it is likely that good decisions will be made.

Supported by

Sport Canada

Home | Français | Site Map | Terms of use | Privacy policy Copyright © 2024