“It never gets easier, you just get better.” – Anonymous
As with any sport, the only way to improve is to practice, practice, practice, and field hockey is no different. Basic field hockey skills never change, and they are practiced by both beginner and experienced field hockey players alike who want to improve their skills.
From the first few swipes at the small white ball with the hope of connecting to the first goal scored after months of practice, hockey players around the world practice the same field hockey drills to get better at the game.
Ball Control Drills
Ball control in field hockey is one of the most important skills to have. Field hockey is a fast, running game and a field hockey player needs to be able to keep the ball on their stick when running with it, as well as play well-controlled and accurate passes that can be well received. They need to learn how to perform a good first touch or “trap” so that the ball doesn’t just bounce off of their stick on a pass.
Here are some ball control drills for beginner, intermediate and advanced field hockey players to master these skills:
Beginner: The Control Zone Drill
Best for: To learn and understand their control area.
Each player drops a ball from their hands to learn the proper distance that the ball should be away from the player for optimum control. Players stand in a regular stance with their feet just over shoulder-width apart and hold out their left hand directly in front of them. They then drop the ball in front of them, correctly grab their stick, and pass the ball forward.
Beginner: Dodge Drill Dodges
Best for: Matching ball control with the ability to dodge. Makes players more effective on the offense. Gives defenders the chance to dodge defense.
Dodge Drill Dodges, also known as quick fakes, is a great way for a player with the ball to elude the defense. Players of similar skill pair up with a ball between them. The first player starts dribbling with the ball under control and will use dodges to avoid defenders. The player must try and draw the defender in the direction of the fake or the dodge.
Beginner: Stealing the Bacon Drill
Best for Control and position when handling the ball.
Divide six players into two teams of three. One team lines up on the 25-yard line, and the other team on the 50-yard line, facing each other. Two cones or pylons are placed about 10 yards apart on both the 25 and 50-yard lines. The ball is placed in the middle of the field between the two teams and the coach blows the whistle.
Players on the two teams must sprint towards the ball and the first team to get to the ball becomes the attacking team and the other team becomes the offensive team. The attacking team must try to control the ball long enough to dribble it between the opposing team’s cones or pylons.
Beginner: Controlled, Loose, and Indian Dribbling Drill
Best for: Control when dribbling the ball at all speeds.
Set up three different stations with cones or pylons where players can learn and practice each of the different dribbling styles. Each station will require the players to practice a different dribble including a controlled dribble, a loose (speed dribble), and an Indian dribble (right-left).
Example: Station 1: Controlled dribble / Station 2: Loose dribble / Station 3: Indian dribble.
At each station, players move towards the cones or pylons, around them, and back again to the line using different dribbles. They then move onto the next station and the next dribble. The controlled dribble is used to keep the ball close and tight to the body, allowing the player to move and maneuver in tight spaces.
The loose, or speed dribble, is used when a player needs to breakout quickly into space – this dribble is usually used with one hand on the stick and the other arm pumping for speed. The Indian dribble is a diagonal dribble in which the player pushes and pulls from the front right to close left or the other way around.
Intermediate: Shifting Gears Drill
Best for: Changing speeds while controlling the ball.
Players line up along the 25-yard line and the coach stands on the centerline. On command – a whistle blow – players loosely dribble the ball while sprinting. When the coach blows the whistle again, players must pull the ball back, gain control and then speed dribble again with the ball under control. The coach continues to blow the whistle every time they want the players to change speed. If any of the players lose control of the ball, they are eliminated from the drill.
Intermediate: Cone Weave Drill
Best for: Increased ball control skills in pressured situations.
This is a fairly simple and straightforward drill. Set up two or more stations each with five cones or pylons in a line. Players must move the ball in a controlled dribble through the course, alternating the sides on the way up. When players turn at the end, the ball must be moved around the end cone with control and then the drill repeated on the way back to the first cone. This drill can be run as a relay with four or five players in a team at each station and racing each other to finish first.
Intermediate: King (or Queen) of the Circle Drill
Best for: Great offensive and defensive ball control drill.
Create a circle with cones or pylons about 15 yards across. All players must be in the circle, each with a ball. The players have two challenges during this drill – they must protect their ball while at the same time trying to put the ball of other players out of play.
On a whistle blow from the coach, all the players must dribble their balls around the circle, moving at pace. They must maintain good control of their ball while trying to knock other player’s balls out of the circle. Once a player’s ball is knocked out of the circle, that player is eliminated. The last player standing in the circle with their ball is the king or queen of the circle.
Intermediate: Heads Up Dribble Drill
Best for: Teaching players to control the ball, while keeping their head up.
Form five lines of players all starting on the 25-yard line while the coach stands in the middle of the centerline. On command (whistle blow from the coach), the first line of players dribbles to the centerline towards the coach with their heads up, watching to see which way the coach points his/her arm. When the coach points left or right, the players must change their direction at a 45-degree angle without losing speed. For an extra challenge, players must perform a dodge or a fake before changing direction.
Changing speeds while controlling the ball.
Advanced: Spin Around the Cones Drill
Best for: Develops the spin move – an advanced ball control skill for players to elude defenders.
Place three cones or pylons in a line about 10 feet apart. A player dribbles the ball at speed towards the first cone. They make a quick jab step, and, while maintaining control of the ball, spin around and move to the other side of the pylon. At the next cone, the players alternate the side of the spin. Several stations can be run simultaneously.
Advanced: Scoop Drill
Best for Developing and perfecting the scoop, and ball control.
Players team up with one ball between them. The offensive player will dribble with the ball towards the defensive player. When they are close to the defender, the player with the ball will slow down, drop their right shoulder, lower the left hand so the stick is angled back with the face of this stick toward the sky. They will then “scoop” the ball over the defender’s stick – just high enough to avoid the pressure, but not so high as to lose control. Players then swop and play the opposite position.
Advanced: One-on-Five Drill
Best for: Helps players build their offensive versus defensive skills.
Create a square with cones or pylons each of which must be about 10 yards apart. Five defenders stand in the square and one player on offense. The defenders must be prepared for the offensive player to come into the square and use a range of defensive maneuvers and evading tackles to try and get past the defenders, one at a time.
The offensive player will only meet one defender at a time and the defenders must offer little resistance. Once the attacking player has beaten one defender, the next defender will go after the attacking player. If one of the defenders wins the ball off the attacker, he or she will then get to be the offensive player.
Advanced: Four Corner Drill
Best for: Works on ball control going in four directions.
Set up a square with cones or pylons and players begin at one cone or pylon. Players must follow this sequence for the drill:
– speed dribble to the first cone
– breakdown and gain control of the ball again
– backpedal to the next cone
– breakdown and gain control of the ball again
– shuffle to the next cone
– breakdown and gain control of the ball again
– Indian dribble to the fourth cone
This drill combines several dribbling skills and a variety of ball control skills.
Basic field hockey skills never change.
Passing, Receiving and Shooting Drills
Passing and receiving are fundamental skills in field hockey and not only control the pace of the game but can be used in tactical ways to tire out the opposition and lead to the success of your team.
Passing and receiving drills help players to build the skills they need to confidently and accurately pass the ball to each other and improve their receiving technique, whether from an aerial pass upfield to a powerful slap pass onto their reverse stick.
Here are some passing and receiving drills that aim at developing basic passing and receiving skills, including receiving the ball on the reverse stick, and passing by bunting, chipping, pushing, slapping, hitting, and throwing aerial overheads.
Beginner: Passing Distance Drill
Best for: Fundamental drill for learning how much strength to put on a pass based on the distance a person is away from the passer.
Players stand five yards apart when they first pass. Players must adopt the correct passing technique. Once each player has passed once from the five-yard distance, they each take one giant step backward and pass again. They continue this passing and stepping back until they are 25 yards apart.
Beginner: Inside the Circle Drill
Best for: Developing the shooting technique from all angles for players, and goalie work.
Players line up around the circle with a ball and take shots at goal. Players can practice a variety of shots from pushes, bunts, hits, slaps, and flicks into the goal. This is a great drill for all levels of players to practice their shooting technique and gives goalies a great workout too.
Beginner: Dribble, Dodge, and Shoot Drill
Best for: Stringing together dribbling, dodging, and shooting skills for a game.
Line players up outside the striking circle each with a ball. Place a cone on the edge of the circle. One at a time, players move with the ball towards the circle with a controlled dribble. When they reach the cone, the player must execute a dodge around the cone and take a shot at the goal. Players can try different types of dodges to get around their “defensive opponent.”
Beginner: Push, Reverse, and Hit
Best for: The “how”, “when”, and “where” of passing in field hockey.
Players can pair up to work on the three different passes – the push pass, the reverse push, and the hit. Players simply pass to each other in this fundamental hockey drill and the coach watches for proper technique and body position. The distance can be increased along the way by players taking one large step backward when they have mastered all three types of passes at a certain distance apart.
Dribble, dodge and shoot drill.
Intermediate: Basket Flicks Drill
Best for: Work on the flick pass for both accuracy and power.
Pair up two players of similar skill with a five-gallon bucket. Place the bucket five yards away from the players. Each player has 10 chances to ‘flick’ the ball into the bucket, getting one point for “goal” into the bucket. Increase the challenge of the drill by increasing the distance of the bucket from the players.
Intermediate: Shoot-on-the-Run Drill
Best for: Improving the ability to shoot off a speed dribble.
Set up two stations at each end of the field. Players line up along the 25-yard line and sprint in with a speed dribble. When they reach the striking circle, the player must gain control of the ball and take a shot at the goal. Players are not allowed more than three seconds from the time the ball passes over the striking circle line to the execution of a shot. Players should practice a variety of shots at goal from bunts, flicks, slaps, and hits.
Intermediate: Shoot-and Follow-Drill
Best for: Improving the ability to shoot off a speed dribble and follow through.
Set up a goalie in the box and a line of strikers along the edge of a circle at each end of the field. Players must take a quick shot at the goalie, and then immediately follow the ball in case there is a rebound. The initial shot at goal must be hard and followed by a quick sprint towards the goalie in case of a rebound. When the goalie clears the rebound, the player will pounce on it to try and attempt to get a second shot at the goal.
Intermediate: Rapid Fire Push Passing Drill
Best for: Working on pushing speed and power.
Place two cones or pylons on each side of a 12-yard-wide space on the field. The cones or pylons must be two feet apart and two players stand two yards behind the cones on either side of the field.
On command (whistle blow from the coach), the players must forehand push-pass the ball through both sets of cones to gain one point. The drill is timed at 30 seconds so the players must try and get as many push-passes through both sets of cones in that time. The player with the most points for accuracy and speed wins.
Rapid Fire Push Passing Drill.
Advanced: Pressure Reception Drill
Best for: Receiving a pass under pressure, working on accuracy and timing.
This drill requires three players. Set up four cones or pylons as a passing zone. A player (the receiver) runs into the passing zone with a defender on them. Another player (a passer) accurately times a pass into the receiving area. The aim of the drill is for the receiver to pick up the pass without the defender breaking it up.
Advanced: Aerial Partner Passing Drill
Best for: Accuracy and control of aerial passes.
Pair up players with a ball. Each player must try to lift the ball to their partner’s chest level. The partner must then knock the ball down and control it with his or her stick. Increase the distance between the two players to make this drill more difficult.
Advanced: Distance Shooting Drill
Best for: Build accuracy and strength for shooting at goal from a distance.
Set up five cones or pylons at various distances and various angles. Attacking strikers will take shots at goals, changing between short shots and long shots until they finish all five shots. Players must use a variety of shots for this drill from bunts, pushes, hits, and slaps to flicks and defenders can be added to the circle to add pressure on the striker as in a game situation.
Advanced: Quick, Flick, Hit, Reverse, and Dive Drill
Best for: Continuing development of shooting skills, and goalie work.
Line up four balls five yards apart across the striking circle approximately 10 yards away from the goal. Players start at the first station and take a quick shot at the goal. That player then sprints to the next ball and takes a flick shot at the goal. They then sprint to the next ball and take a reverse shot at the goal. They then spring to the next ball and take a hit at the goal. And finally, sprint to the last ball and take a dive shot at goal.
This drill must be done as fast as possible, and coaches must watch for technique, accuracy, and speed. A goalie can be placed in the box for an extra fast and challenging workout.
Offensive and Defensive Drills
Beginner: Jab Tackle Drill
Best for: Basic defensive play and tackling.
Two players of similar skill can pair up. The first player executes a controlled dribble in a set space. The second player must try to knock away the ball from the dribbler using a jab tackle. Coaches must look out for the correct form on the jab tackle and focus on the timing of the tackle, which is key to a good tackle.
Beginner: Horizontal Vertical Blocking Drill
Best for: Learning the correct technique for various types of blocks.
Place three defenders at three cones or pylons in a line. The attacking player must dribble the ball to the first defender at the cone. The defender must use a jab tackle to try and get the ball away from the attacking player. The attacking player must then move onto the next cone and execute a horizontal tackle and beat the defender.
Beginner: Triangle Passing Drill
Best for: To learn more about different passing options.
Set up three cones or pylons as three different passing options for the offensive player. The player with the ball should always try to have three options for passing. If defenders are covering the flat and through passes, then the attacking player may need to send the pass backward and attempt to set the play up again.
Beginner: Speed Reverse Drill
Best for: Understanding offensive tactics.
A player rushes down the sideline to a cone or a pylon that has been placed there. When they reach the cone, they must make a reverse push pass to another player that is sprinting down the middle channel, parallel to them. The player on the sideline essentially “crosses” the ball to the middle player who can then take a shot at the goal.
Speed Reverse Drill.
Intermediate: One-Touch Passing Drill
Best for: Quicker passing to advance down the field.
Set up two drill areas for this exercise, depending on the number of players. Place the goal box or cones or pylons for goals on either sideline in between the center line and the 25-yard line. Choose two teams of five players. Players are not allowed to dribble the ball down the field – they have to move the ball down the field by passing and they are only allowed to touch the ball once.
Players need to keep their head up to see where they should pass next and they must not touch the ball until they are ready to pass. If they touch the ball, the other team gets possession of the ball from that point.
Intermediate: Three Goal Game Drill
Best for: Increasing teamwork, passing, ball control, and simulating game situations.
Set up three sets of two cones or pylons 25 yards apart spread equally across the 25-yard line and the centerline. Players are split into teams of four. The object for each team is to defend the three goals on their side. They must also try to score three goals against their opponents. The key elements that coaches should focus on in this drill are good passing to spread the offensive team out and strong defense.
Intermediate: Tic Tac Toe Drill
Best for: Learning to pass and react quickly.
This is a three-person, quick passing drill that teaches quick reactions on the field. The first player is positioned at the centerline; the second player on the 25-yard line to the left of the circle and the third player on the 25-yard line to the right of the circle.
The first player begins with the ball in the center and passes to the second player on the left and then sprints forward towards the goal. The second player passes to the third player, who then passes it to the first player in the circle who then takes a shot at the goal. The second player must take up a defensive position and the third player can follow up for a rebound. Repeat the drill until all three players have had a chance to play each position around the circle.
Intermediate: Continuous 3-on-2
Best for: Conditioning, ball control, and dribbling skills, working together.
This drill requires three attacking layers, two defenders, and a goalie. The drill begins outside the striking circle where the three attacking players will make a penetrating pass into the circle where the two defenders will try to stop them from scoring. If a goal is scored, the last two attacking players to touch the ball will move to defense, and so on.
Tic Tac Toe Drill.
Advanced: 4-on-3 Switch Drill
Best for: Transitioning from offense to defense, simulating game situations.
Use the field between the 25-yard line and the centerline from sideline to sideline and mark off a goal area with cones or pylons. Place seven players into each area and have four players starting on offense. These players will attack the three defending players. If one of the four attacking players scores, the scorer moves to the defending team and plays defense, switching it to 4-on-3 the other way.
If the defenders take the ball away before the attacking team scores, then the last three attacking players to touch the ball will go on defense. This drill can be made even more challenging by making it a 5-on-4 game or by adding a one-touch element so that the players are only allowed to touch the ball once before passing it.
Advanced: Three Zone Balance Game Drill
Best for: Transitioning through zones and teaching good discipline.
Divide the field into three zones with one offensive and one defensive player in each zone. One team begins with the ball and has to dribble through the three zones to try and score against the opposing team. One player is allowed to move through all three zones on the field and play for whichever team is attacking. The object of the game is for one side to try and score more goals than the other side.
Advanced: Protect the Circle Drill
Best for: Competitive Team Drill – promotes aggression and power play on the field.
Divide the team into sides with six players in each – one attacking team and one defending team. Only one-half of the field needs to be used for this drill and there can be a goalie in the net, but it is unlikely many shots at goal will be taken if the drill is conducted correctly.
The six defensive players must try to prevent the offensive players from getting into the striking circle by checking and tackling aggressively. The defending team must also be cognizant of passing lanes to spread them out. Points are awarded to the attacking team if they get into the striking circle and to the defending team if they prevent the offense from entering the circle. There is also a time limit – the offensive team has just 15 seconds to penetrate the striking circle, or a point is awarded to the defending team.
Advanced: Long Hit Break Drill
Best for: Making the mental transition from defense to offense.
An attacking player takes a shot at a goal and attempts to get the rebound. The defensive player takes the ball and makes a quick long hit pass to a sprinting attacking player. This is known as a breakout play. If the defender cannot make a good pass, they must use a short, flat pass to one of their defending teammates who then takes a quick long hit pass. The attacking players must try to intercept the long pass.
Basic defensive play and tackling drills.