The ability to control the speed/tempo of the game in open play is a more advanced skill, and relies on strong possession skills across the team, as well as an
understanding of the flow of the game. But this element can have a significant influence on the game.
Terminology - Speed vs Tempo
For use in this context, Speed refers more specifically to the movement of the ball and players on the field. Tempo refers to the overall rhythm of the game, including
stoppages in play, sideline and free hits, etc.
Why control Speed and Tempo?
There are various reasons that a team would want to increase or decrease the tempo and speed of play in a game:
Conditioning advantage/disadvantage: A fitter team will perform better as the game went on if the game is high tempo and played at full speed, and the physically weaker
team gets fatigued. Conversely, a “less fit” team will prefer to slow down the tempo, which will create fewer plays in the game, and possibly more controlled situations.
Momentum shifts: In many games, there are stages of the game where one team controls the play, and then the momentum shifts to the other team, who has some
pressure. A team can try to create a change in momentum by affecting the pace of the play. For example, if a team has been pinned back in their defensive end for a period of time, it may be effective to slow down the play on a 15m outlet or free hit, and give the team an opportunity to set up in a prepared, deliberate way to move the ball forward.
Change of speed to eliminate opponent: Accelerating the play (slow-to-fast) can catch the defending team moving slowly or adjusting position, which can create openings to eliminate.
Cards: If one team is playing with 10 players because of a card, it affects the play of both teams. If it is a green or yellow card (temporary suspension), the team that is shorthanded must adjust structure/line-up, but will also look to delay, slow down the game to reduce the number of attacking opportunities for the opponent before the carded player returns to the field.
Conversely, the team who has the numerical advantage will attempt to increase the tempo of the game, taking free hits quickly and pressuring defensively to try to create goal -scoring chances. Tempo and speed of play become very important here for this suspension period of 2, 5 or 10+ minutes. If a player receives a red card, the numbers situation changes through the end of the game. Tactics may be the same in terms of increasing/decreasing tempo for the two teams, but other tactics may have to be employed as well to sustain this for a longer period of time.
Score: If a team is ahead by a number of goals (2 or 3+), the coach may want to slow down the tempo to maintain this advantage. There are differing approaches to this
situation, however. Another approach may be to continue to play at the same tempo, if this has been effective to create a lead. This will depend on the coachesʼ philosophy, or what he thinks is most appropriate for this team. On the opposite side, if a team is down by two or three goals, a coach may consider changing the tempo of the game to provide opportunities to recover the game. This could include accelerating or decelerating the game.
Controlling tempo, taking initiative: Although teams generally have a particular style of play that suits them best, elite teams are able to change the game tempo at different times in the game. This can keep the opponent unsettled, prevent them from getting comfortable. A coach and team should understand and recognize the tempo that suits them best, and try to control the game by playing accordingly.
How to control Speed/Tempo
Free hits are a simple way to change the pace of a game. Taking a quick free hit can maintain the speed of an attack, even accelerate an attack, and this is especially true with self-start opportunities. If the play is stopped and started quickly enough, it is as if the play and movement continues seamlessly. If a team/player wishes to continue attacking play in a more measured, controlled manner, he can slow down, scan the field, and move around the ball before putting it into play. Players can also purposefully win a foul in order to slow down the pace of the game.
Direct Play vs Lateral Play
When in possession, a team can choose when they wish to attack towards the opponentʼs goal. This will be in part determined by the opposition press, but some
teams will play more “direct” hockey, and look to play forward immediately, while other teams will pass the ball in the backfield first, switching the ball laterally before going forward. This has an effect on the tempo of the game, because the sooner a team goes forward, the ball is more quickly in a position where possession is contested. This means the chances increase for quick turnovers and counter-attack play.
In the final minutes of a game, the team that is winning will often “stall” or delay the play by carrying the ball into an attacking corner of the field (left or right side), and trying to maintain possession with one or two players in the corner, without trying to attack the goal. This can be effective if the ball carrier has excellent ball control skills, and is able to dribble and win a foul repeatedly, stalling or delaying the play even further. There is risk involved in this, however, because the defending team is able to close down the already confined space in an attempt to win the ball back and counter-attack.
Even when the opposing team has the ball, there are still ways to effect the tempo of the game. This basically depends on whether the defending players pressure
aggressively with the intent of winning the ball immediately, OR stay in a holding position, protecting defensive lanes and shifting as the ball moves. The clearest
opportunities to affect game tempo are on the opponentʼs outlets.
When a team drops off to a half-court or half-field press, this will affect the tempo of the game. It does not automatically mean the game is slower, but usually in this scenario the attacking team will pass the ball across the backfield and attempt to shift defensive lines before attacking. This will mean it takes time for the attack to develop. If a team is in a full-press, they are taking risks that will either result in a turnover, or elimination - in both cases the subsequent play will likely happen more quickly, accelerating tempo.