Understanding & Using Space/Time

The elements of Space and Time are two very connected elements in sport. How well  an athlete and team understands and uses these elements can have a significant

impact on the outcome of specific situations and the game. The game of field hockey is governed by Space (the field lines) and Time (usually 2x 35 minute halves). Within these constraints, there are many “smaller” situational actions and movements, that players are required to understand. These two elements are relevant to every game situation, drill and practice in varying degrees. A coach who understands their relevance will likely design practices and teach more intelligently.


As a general principle, the attacking team (and player) looks to give themselves as large a space to attack as possible. A finite number of defenders will find it more difficult to defend a wider space than a narrower one.

Creating Space/Time - On the Ball

As an attacking player in possession, the more space you have, the more time you have to look up, and make your decision of what you are going to do with the ball. The less space (and time) the player has, the more pressure he is under (vision is reduced), and it will be more difficult to make a good decision and execute a skill well. Players should be encouraged to move the ball to space, so there is time to make good decisions and perform skills.


This is an important concept to teach young players as they learn possession skills. When under pressure from a defender who is within engaging distance, there is often open space behind the ball carrier. Recognizing this space can allow the ball carrier to pull the ball back and give himself enough time to look up and find the best passing option.

Receiving on the move

Space/Time considerations are reasons why players are encouraged to receive on the move, instead of in static position. A static player in possession will be closed down by defenders, whereas if a player receives the ball moving to space, defenders must adjust position and will likely take longer to close down the ball carrier.


Creating Space/Time - Off the Ball

Attacking players OFF the ball (or AWAY from the ball) should also consider Space and Time in their movements. If a player is close enough to be in a potential receiving position, he must create at least a small amount of space and time to receive the pass. But the receiver is marked, or his line is covered, he must move to create space for himself to get open. This is where “Leading” for the ball becomes important, as well as signaling to the ball carrier. Teams may have set patterns of movement to create and fill space, but individual players will use numerous methods to create space to receive:

  • change of direction
  • change of speed
  • signaling for a pass and using body to protect space
  • double-leads


Space and Time - Individual Defending

Space and Time are at the center of 1-on-1 defending. The individual defender, in a 1-on-1 situation, should try to close down the space that the ball carrier has to work within, and also reduce the time the ball carrier has to decide what to do with the ball. The angle of closing the space will vary based on field position, but this must be done while protecting the line to the defensive goal. Again, the less space the ball carrier has to work with, the less time he has to make a good decision. High defensive pressure in a close space will also affect other influencers such as Vision (ball carrier will have to keep eyes down to protect/possess the ball), and Risk (effective defensive pressure should increase the risk level for the ball carrierʼs attacking opportunities).


Space and Time - Team Defending

Opposite to the attacking approach, the defending team will try to keep the play in a smaller, narrower area of the field to make it easier to defend.

Pressing Strategies

At the elite level, teams will create defensive structures and strategies to attempt to direct the attacking team into a certain area of the field. This is done by leaving a space open initially, and then closing that space at a determined time/situation. For example, in Diagram 1 (pressinsidetrapspace1.png), the defending team (O) has identified the highlighted area as the “Trap Space”. In free play or an outlet from team X, Oʼs will position themselves to allow a pass into this area, and then close down space and time for the X in this space when he receives the ball, creating a Trap. The aim is to create a turnover, dispossess team X and win the ball.

This is just one specific example that can exist within a press - many teams will use the sidelines to help them press, but it is important to identify where (space) a defending team wants to force the ball, and when (time) to pressure. The concept of controlling and choosing when to pressure (limit opponentʼs space and time on the ball), is core to Pressing effectively.


Although advanced pressing strategies cannot be taught in the early stages, coaches can help young athletes become familiar with these concepts in simple team

discussions: “Where do we want the other team to go with the ball?”



Space and Timing on set plays - Attention to Detail!

The effectiveness of set plays critically depends on players executing the movements with precision (as long as the plan is good!). For example, in attacking penalty corner execution, the timing of a mis-direction movement can determine success or failure. If a lead striker/flicker fakes over the ball too early (defending first runner is too far away), the fake becomes obvious and the defending team can adjust. The fake must happen at just the right time so that the defending first runner commits to blocking the shot, leaving a small window of space and time for a layoff pass and alternate shot.

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