• “Five skills for the modern hockey player” - Austin Smith

    "This article first appeared on Austin Smiths website - http://www.austinsmith.co.za/blog/5-skills-for-the-modern.html

    Five skills for the modern hockey player:

    The modern day version of hockey is far different to sort I played on grass in high school. The introduction of a number of new rules has also made a big impact on how the game is played. One clear example of this is with the self-pass rule, which has affected the way in which we tackle. Clumsy breakdowns of play are no longer useful if the ball doesn’t roll far enough away from the tackle site. Skills, which were once deemed fancy, are now becoming the standard in any top class international players repertoire. Here’s what I consider to be the skills every modern hockey player should possess:

    1 Playing the ball above your head

    For the first time in my hockey-playing life, I am actually training to control and play the ball above my shoulder. I can remember being warned at junior hockey level for swinging my stick above shoulder height after hitting the ball so this feels pretty odd. One of the latest rule changes from the FIH allows you play the ball above your shoulder. It’s changed the way teams use the aerial ball because you no longer have the advantage of eliminating a player with a hard flat high ball over his head. We are beginning to master controlling the ball as well as scoring with our sticks above our heads.

    2 Passing from any position

    Passing is a fundamental hockey skill but in recent years we’ve seen players take this skill to a new level. Players are now able to pass just as effectively on the front stick as they can on the reverse on any distance. The reverse stick slide pass over a short distance, reverse stick hit over a greater distance as well as the upright reverse are now passing techniques which all top players can execute. The best players can achieve all of these passing techniques while moving at full speed!

    3 Receiving

    Another big change we’ve seen with the introduction of astroturf is the way in which we receive the ball. I remember it being nearly impossible to receive the ball on the move on grass and now I’m expected to be able to stop the ball flawlessly on the front and back stick. Being able to receive the ball with the upright reverse is one of the newest receiving techniques. It allows the player to continue flowing forward as opposed to the old, low, back-hand receive which slowed everything down.

    4 3D skills

    Don’t worry this has nothing to do with 3D movie glasses. I’m talking about lifting, bouncing or chopping the ball as a method for eliminating a player. Top players can perform these sorts of skills in the air just as well as they can on the ground. There are a variety of methods to achieve this but ultimately it results in getting the ball to air and often changing the direction of the ball mid-flight.

    5 Movement

    Hockey seems to be moving faster and faster. Aided by the self-pass rule, and with the FIH searching for ways to reduce the amount of stoppages, I can only see it becoming even faster. Agility, speed and endurance are important for players to master because without that, achieving any of the above-mentioned skills or any others for a 70-minute game just won’t be possible.

    The good news for players out there is that all these skills are trainable and attainable. Technique is important but most often you can teach yourself by putting in the hours on the turf. I leave you with my favourite quote: “The only place where success comes before work is in the dictionary.”

    Austin Smith is the best SA men’s hockey player over the last decade winning 3 x SA hockey players of the year and currently Africa’s best hockey player! The only SA men’s hockey player to be included in the FIH World All Star team in the last 10 years!

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