A good athlete in any team sport makes good decisions in the context of game situations. Good decision-making is based on information that the player takes in as a situation develops. And the most important source of this information is visual: the player needs to look around to see what is going on to be effective. This is why Vision is one of the Influencers that affects all areas of the game so significantly.
There are many moving parts to focus on in a field hockey game:
And to complicate things further, the players and the ball are in near-constant motion. So not only does an athlete need to know where the moving parts are in this moment, but she needs to anticipate where they are all likely to go! Fortunately, our brains are excellent computers and can calculate much of this on their own (with practice and training). So the key thing is that a player has good vision of the field - as much of the field as possible. It doesnʼt matter whether the player is on the ball, or away from the ball, whether she is on the attacking or defending team. Good vision is critical.
On the Ball
Ball position and body position! The player with possession of the ball will be in a strong position if she can see all of her options: passing options, space to carry the ball to, whether just to protect the ball and win the foul. If there is no defender close, the player can just look up. But under pressure from a defender, ball position and body position are important. If possible, the ball should be out in front of the player, in Option Position for passes, and preferably in position towards the attacking goal (see vision1.jpg). Knees should be bent, center of gravity low and arms/hands and stick out in front ready to make a pass.
Defensive lanes and players can shift quickly. So even when a player has Pre-Scanned (see below) and sees an opening, it is important to keep her eyes up if possible when releasing the pass, in case the passing lane has closed (see vision5passing.jpg). This will allow the player to stop her action and choose a different option if necessary.
Off the BallOne of the biggest mistakes that young athletes make in team sports is “watching the ball”. If a player is only watching the ball, she only sees part of the picture. While following the movement of the ball and the action around the ball, off-ball players should be continuously looking away from the ball, to see what her options are if a pass comes to her. The scan of the field should be very quick, just a glance before returning vision to the ball area. Seeing the “Shape” of her team and the opposition, and what position players are in, will allow the off-ball player to make good decisions with continued off-ball movement and passing.
Pre-Scanning before Receiving
As a player is about to receive a pass, she should look away from the ball to see what her next step will be once she receives. This is commonly called “Pre-Scanning”. This is a valuable skill, and it is easy and effective to coach: during flow drills as players are developing, create a requirement that before each reception, the player must look up and make eye contact with the player at the next station. This will train her to look (and think) ahead.
Goal scoring effect: Inside the attacking circle, forwards have very little time to control the ball before they are under pressure from defenders. Often goals are scored on one-touch or two-touch plays. A great goal scorer always knows where the goal is, and doesn’t have to look up once they receive. This is because she has glanced up before the ball is passed to her, and knows exactly where the goal is, and where the goalkeeper/defenders are positioned. Once she has this information, the “receive and Shoot” action becomes instinctive and quick.
Midfield Intelligence: Playing in the midfield, especially central midfield, requires a 360 degree awareness, as there are players and space in all directions. This is probably the position that requires the most concerted effort at scanning the field. Receiving the ball in the “pocket” or “hole” in the center of the field, the midfielder must know where pressure is coming from as she receives. Pre-Scanning will help with this, and allow the midfielder to maintain possession by carrying the ball to space or passing to an open teammate.
Decisions in the Backfield: Passing the ball in the backfield, backs usually work against a shifting press from the defending team. As the opponents shift, holes and passing lanes open up for short periods of time. If a defender is Pre-Scanning effectively, she will see the passing lane open and then be able to execute the pass more quickly, even possibly as a first-time pass forward.DEFENDING:
On the Ball
The “on-ball” defender (the player who is applying direct pressure to the opposing ball carrier) relies partially on communication from her teammates to know which way to channel/direct the play. The defenderʼs vision should be mainly focused on the ball, and ball carrier, but glancing away frequently to see supporting teammates (potential double team situations) and also off-ball opponents (ball carrierʼs passing options).
Off the Ball
Similar to the attacking concepts, the defenders who are further from the ball (not engaged with immediate defensive pressure), should be scanning the field on a continuous basis. With attackers interchanging and moving to create space and receive the ball, defensive awareness away from the ball is very important. In a zone defense, it is important to be aware of the spacing between defenders, and also to make sure dangerous passing lanes are covered. In a man-to-man defense, the defender must know where the ball is, and where her player is. This means, she must position herself on an angle so she can see both the ball, and the player.