In announcing the Kookaburras team for the Tokyo Olympics, Australia head coach Colin Batch had this to say on the selection of ‘bolter’ Dylan Martin, “He’s calm under pressure, makes good decisions with and without the ball and is a really good defender, so we think he can perform well in our way of play and on the big stage.”
In a 2020 article on the FIH website, FIH Educator James Culnane, from England, is quoted, “…if you want players to think for themselves and make good decisions, they have to be given the skills to do this.”
When should players learn the skills to make good decisions particularly team possession skills?
The correct skills when controlling the ball must be learned in every player’s first ever session and then in every session and in every game going forward.
It is commonplace for new players to start dribbling a ball without attention paid to how fundamental this first skill exercise is to good decision making when controlling the ball in the game.
One sees both new and mature players even at the highest levels dribbling the ball INCORRECTLY with the head down and the ball close to their feet where they cannot see beyond 3m to 5m in front of them.
This incorrect technique was established in their first ever session and ingrained ever since.
To make good decisions when controlling the ball, the player must have vision of the whole field in front of them.
We CORRECTLY develop our control skills focusing at the outset on the player’s stance, head and upper body position and the location of the ball that will allow them to have full field vision whenever they are controlling the ball even when under pressure in a game.
The head must always be up (we do not see the top of the player’s head as shown in the INCORRECT example), and the player looks down with their eyes to see the ball. The ball must be one big step out in front otherwise when the ball gets close to the feet, the head will tilt down, the back will become rounded, and the INCORRECT skill will be developed and ingrained.
When a player’s habit is to look down at the ball when in possession and especially when under pressure from an opponent, it limits what they can do, and the good decisions coaches and their teammates want them to make will not happen often or even seldom.
Coaches should ensure the correct skill is developed from the outset and players can reinforce the head up/good vision skill with each other in every session to make it a team skill.
Watch the video lesson, Head Up While Doing Your Control Skills ; you need to register to watch the free preview lesson (Course: Level One Fundamentals, Chapter 1, Lesson 2).
Peter D’Cruz is the founder of the Hockey Curriculum for Players & Coaches