A hockey training program must meet the demands of a very physically challenging, multi-sprint sport.
Played on a similar sized pitch with the same number of players and for a similar duration, physiologically field hockey is a close match in many ways to soccer. While intermittent in nature, players must perform continuously for 70 minutes with just one 5-10 minute interval. This places a high demand on the aerobic system and good aerobic endurance is required to support repetitive bouts of high intensity exercise (1).
Anaerobic power and anaerobic endurance is high in elite hockey players (2). Although the majority of the game is spent in low-level activity such as walking and light jogging, repeated back-to-back sprints make speed and tolerance to lactic acid an important characteristic in players (3).
Strength is also central to a hockey training program. Although players aren’t required to hold off physical challenges (when compared to other multi-sprint sports), power is required for acceleration, speed and quick changes in direction. Upper body strength allows players to shoot more powerfully and pass over a greater range of distances.
The unique demands of the sport mean that strength endurance is just as crucial as explosive power. Careful planning is required to ensure that both muscular power and muscular endurance can be effectively developed alongside each other without leading to over-training and fatigue. Hockey conditioning also plays a crucial role in injury prevention…
As the sport is played on a synthetic surface, this places different strains on the body compared to grass. While the principle of specificity would dictate that a hockey training program should mirror the game as closely as possible, in this case there may be good cause to argue against training exclusively on artificial turf. There is a greater injury risk inherent in playing on synthetic surfaces, in particular with respect to spinal shrinkage (3). Again, correct training can help to minimize any risk.
Field Hockey Rules
Much like football, hockey is an 11 a-side team invasion sport with the primary objective of scoring more goals than the opposition. The team which forces the ball across the opposing team’s goal line the most will be declared the winner.
In the event of both sides scoring the same number of goals, a draw will be declared; unless the game is during the knockout phase of competition where a penalty shootout will decide the result.
The Field Of Play
The game takes place on an synthetic astroturf surface, rectangular in shape, and measuring 100 yards by 60 yards. This area is separated into 4 equal quarters of 25 yards in length, with 2 semi circles, 16 yards in radius, at either end of the field.
Each team will have a squad of between 16 and 18 players who will all play thanks to rolling substitutions (as many as 40-60 per match).
This continuous change of playing personnel makes for a much faster and more intense game. Players at the top level will not only cover more metres per playing minute than their footballing counterparts, but they will also do so at a far greater average speed, with many more high intensity efforts.
Unlike football the playing ball is maneuvered using a field hockey stick as opposed to your feet (in fact the use of feet is forbidden). Goals can only be scored from within the shooting circle (also known as the D) and the ball must touch an attacking players stick within this scoring area before the ball crosses the goal line in order for the goal to stand.
Infractions during the game, such as the use of feet; over physicality or obstruction will lead to a free hit (like a free kick). Thanks to the ‘self pass’ rule, these free hits can be taken quickly, without the need to pass to a teammate, further increasing the speed at which the game is played.
If any of these fouls are committed by the defending team within their own defensive shooting circle then a penalty corner will be awarded. This gives the offensive team a set-piece opportunity to score with the help of a numerical advantage.
In order to deter players from repeat offences, there is a card system in place. Unlike football, you can be temporarily, as well as permanently, suspended from the game. There are 3 colours of card: green, yellow and red.
A green card will be issued for minor fouls and leads to a 2 minute suspension. A yellow card for more serious offences, including professional fouls and the illegal denial of a goal scoring opportunity. These can result in a 5 or 10 minute suspension depending on the severity of the offence. And red cards for dangerous play, acts of malice and repeat yellow card offences, which result in permanent expulsion from the game (but they are rarely dished out).
At elite, international level, the game is now played in 4 periods of 15 minutes with the match clock paused for any significant stoppage like penalty corners or injuries.
There are short 2 minute breaks between the 1st and 2nd quarters and the third and 4th quarters with a longer 10 minute break at the halfway stage. At lower levels, hockey has maintained it’s more traditional 2 halves of 35 minutes.
There isn’t any. Simple as that. Done away with in the mid 90’s, the removal of the offside rule from hockey has revolutionised the game. More goals, less stoppages and so much quicker, present day hockey is a far more entertaining spectacle. Good news all round then!
In knockout stages of competition, when a match ends in a draw, the result will be decided immediately with a penalty shootout, without any periods of extra time. Both teams will nominate 5 players, who each take it in turn to complete a 1v1 with the opposing goalkeeper. Players are given 8 seconds in which to dribble the ball from the 23 metre line before attempting to score passed the goalkeeper when they enter the shooting circle.
If the goalkeeper commits a foul which is deemed the equivalent of a penalty corner during normal game play then the shootout attempt may be retaken. If they commit a more serious offence, then a penalty stroke may be awarded. In this case, the attacking player undertaking the initial shootout, or any of the other 4 players within his teams shootout group may take the penalty. This takes the more traditional form of a push or flick from the penalty spot which is approximately 7 yards from goal.
Field Hockey Positions
The positions in Field Hockey are very similar to those within football, with each player on the pitch offering a varying skill set and assigned different jobs. Players are divided into 4 general categories: goalkeeper, defender, midfielder and forward.
This player’s sole responsibility is to deny the opposition team from scoring goals. The goalkeeper is dressed in far more protective gear than his outfield compatriots, with balls often travelling towards them at speeds in excess of 100 kph.
These players are responsible for helping their goalkeepers to prevent the opposition team from scoring. They must possess excellent 1v1 defending skills as well as a good deal of bravery to put their bodies on the line to block shots and make last ditch tackles.
They are also responsible for their teams’ platform of offensive possession. This means they must have a wide range of distribution skills including pushing, slapping, hitting and aerial play within their repertoire.
Defenders can be subdivided further, into Full Backs (who play in the middle of the field) and Half Backs (who play on either side of the field). These players will normally have slightly different skill sets to optimise their position on the pitch. For instance, Full Backs, generally speaking, are often static distributors, whilst Half Backs are commonly more mobile.
Responsible for both preventing the opposition from scoring and creating chances for their own side to score, midfielders are often the most complete players on the field.
They must be incredibly fit in order to cover a significant amount of ground throughout the game, but must also possess the necessary skill to maintain control of the ball and search for attacking opportunities whenever possible.
Midfielders can also be categorised more specifically, with some players specialising more in the defensive side of the game and others in the attacking areas of the pitch where they can create goal scoring opportunities for their team.
Often the most individually skillful players on the field, forwards primary role is to create and score goals for their team. They must be fast, agile and be able to shoot at goal using a variety of different techniques. Improvisation goes a long way in the oppositions scoring circle.
Much like in football, teams may choose from a variety of different formations and will often make changes to their shape between and even during matches.
By far the most common setup these days is the 4-3-3. That’s 4 defenders, 3 midfielders and 3 forwards. Formations may shift and alter slightly throughout a match, as players rotate frequently, but will normally be a variation on this theme.
The most common variation may be to push a Half Back or Full Back into the midfield area to create a 3-4-3 shape, or alternatively to drop a forward into a deeper position to create a 4-4-2, often with a midfield diamond shape.
Within the different shapes a side may adopt, there are 2 principle styles of team defence for them to choose from: man to man or zonal
Man to Man Defence
The simplest of the defensive systems is undoubtedly man to man. Each player on the field is responsible for an opponent with the emphasis on winning 1v1 battles all over the field.
Easier to organise and perhaps requiring less communication than the zonal style of defending, man to man can only be successful if you and your teammates are capable of winning their individual contests more often than not.
Most teams will accept a minus one situation in their front line of defence with 3 forwards applying pressure to 4 opposition defenders in order to generate a plus 1 situation in their back division. As a result, one of the defenders (normally a Full Back) will not be responsible for marking an opposition player directly, but will instead seek to provide extra security for his side, marshalling those teammates around him.
Teams who deploy this tactic successfully must also be incredibly fit as they will normally be forced to run in equal measures whilst defending and attacking.
Whilst infinitely harder to organise, a zonal defensive system undoubtedly requires less physical exertion. Rather than being directly responsible for an opponent, players will instead occupy spaces on the field in order to make it as hard as possible for the other team to create goal scoring opportunities.
Get the organisation wrong, however, and the consequences can be severe, with opposition players afforded far too much time and space in key areas of the field.
Field Hockey Skills
There are a number of core skills within the game of hockey, which you need to master if you’re going to improve as a player.
This next section will give you the lowdown on the key principles and techniques behind basic passing skills like pushing, slapping and hitting; as well as tips on how to control and manipulate the ball effectively.
Now this may sound like I’m teaching you to suck eggs, but you’d be surprised at how many people new to hockey get the foundations so very very wrong. Let’s start then with how you hold the stick.
There are no left or right handed sticks in hockey, just one standard setup. Consequently, whichever is your dominant hand, the following explanation is going to be absolutely relevant to you.
Place your left hand at the top of the stick with your right hand about halfway down (the bottom of the grip should act as a good guide). The V created by the thumb and index finger on your left hand should line up somewhere between the spine and rounded face of the stick.
The right hand should only be placed lightly on the stick with the left hand the more dominant and controlling of the two.
Because you can only use the flat face of the stick, players must rotate the stick in order to move the ball quickly and effectively. This movement is achieved predominantly with the left hand, whilst the loose grip with the right hand allows the stick to move freely whilst offering a degree of control.
This basic principle allows players to move the ball from side to side and forwards and backwards in order to eliminate opponents in 1v1 actions.
There are a number of different ways in which players can make the ball travel from A to B in the form of a pass. The 3 most widely used are the push, the slap and the hit.
- Push pass
This technique is generally used for short passing, anywhere between 5m and 20m in distance. It can be achieved whilst stationary and in motion and is probably the most common method of moving the ball from player to player.
The idea is to transfer the ball from your back foot to your front foot whilst maintaining contact between the stick head and the ball at all times. This should be achieved with your hands in the split grip position discussed above.
Once the ball is in line with your front foot it can be released towards its intended target. Be sure to make use of a transfer in body weight from right foot to left foot rather than just relying on your arms to do the work. This is where the real power comes from and will allow you to make fast and accurate push passes.
This is probably the method of passing I use most during training and games because it is most reliable when travelling at fast speeds. It also takes a short amount of time to execute and can be easily disguised, which is great when time and space are at a premium.
- Slap pass
Generally used to move the ball over longer distances, the slap pass is an effective way of generating more pace. This technique is most commonly used from a stationary position and is particularly prevalent among those players operating in defensive positions.
With your hands together at the top of the stick (left above right), the idea is to make contact with the ball in line with your front foot. Make an exaggerated sweeping motion with the stick from right to left whilst in contact with the turf, in order to generate the force required to move the ball.
You will be required to adopt a very low forward lunge position whilst rotating your upper body in oder to execute this skill properly. Try to make sure your stick is as close to parallel with the pitch as you can on impact. This will require your hands to be as low to the ground as possible (your knuckles should just scrape the turf).
- Hit pass
This is probably the least used passing method in today’s game as a result of the transition to synthetic playing surfaces, which allows the ball to move faster and more consistently without as much force.
The hit is nonetheless a useful skill to have within your repertoire. Particularly good for clearing danger from defensive areas of the pitch or applying pressure in and around the offensive circle.
With both hands together at the top of the stick, the grip is much the same as for the slap pass. With the ball in line with your front foot (there’s a common theme here), pull the stick back away from the ball to beyond shoulder height and swing down and through the ball. Be sure to keep your head as still as possible during this process (just like golf), whilst maintaining a strong and balanced body position.
Lifting your head before impact to see where the ball has gone, much like golf, will lead to a poor connection. Keep your eyes on the prize people!
- Reverse stick bunt
The reverse stick alternative to a push pass, the reverse stick bunt is a great way of making short passes when the ball is on the left hand side of your body. It can again be used in a stationary position and whilst in motion.
With your hands in a split grip position, rotate the stick so that the flat side is facing up. Sweep your stick from left to right keeping it in contact with the turf at all times. Aim to make contact with the ball with the inside edge of the stick in line with your right foot.
- Reverse stick hit
This is a reverse stick equivalent of the hit pass. With your hands together at the top of the grip, rotate the stick again so that the flat side is facing up. Pull the stick back away from the ball to beyond shoulder height and swing down through the ball making sure to adopt a low, lunge type body position. Try to make contact with the ball in line with your right foot with the inside edge of the stick.
It is important to get your hands as low to the turf as possible in order to increase the area of the stick available to make a clean connection.
The key to receiving a pass in hockey is ‘soft hands’. This means you must cushion the ball with your stick rather than simply putting it in the line of the ball. Imagine you are trying to stop an egg. If you’re stick doesn’t give a little as the egg makes contact then it will crack.
The best way of achieving this is to allow the ball across your body on reception.
The articles in this section focus on conditioning for the physical demands of field hockey. Use the sample training plans, drills and sessions to improve your fitness, skill and all-round performance.
The Various Types of Endurance Hockey Training
Interval training, fartlek training, tempo runs… all these different types of endurance training are relevant to hockey players. Here’s a bit more about each type along with some sample sessions…
Interval Training for Sport-Specific Endurance
Hockey is places intermittent demands on the body. This makes steady-state running a poor choice for improving endurance. Interval training is much more specific to the sport…
Training to Increase Lactate Tolerance
The multi-sprint nature of hockey, often with minimal rest periods, means that blood lactate can soon accumulate in players. Nothing is more debilitating than lactate accumulation so this form of tolerance training can have a dramatic effect on a player’s performance…
Strength Training The Sport-Specific Way
Strength training has now become an essential component in most athletes training program. And it is no less essential for hockey training. However, you can spend a lot of time in the gym lifting weights and not make the improvements you could, simply because strength training for sport is quite unique…
How To Design Resistance Training Programs For Athletes
Here is the step-by-step process of developing a sport-specific strength training plan – one that meets the demanding nature of the sport…
Power Training for Athletes
Strength and power are not the same. Do hockey players need to be powerful? Absolutely. Learn how you can convert a solid strength base into explosive power on the field…
Plyometric Training for Developing Explosie Power
Plyometrics is used in many sports as an effective way to increase speed and power. Hockey players can benefit from both upper and lower body plyometric exercises…
Muscular Endurance Training
Hockey players, a bit like soccer players, requires a blend of strength, power and muscular endurance. Strength endurance allows you to repeat a high rate of work right throughout the game…
The Speed Training Program
Speed, agility and quickness plays a major role in the success of every hockey player. Here’s how to design a speed training program and how to use and combine various types of drills…
Speed Drills for Maximum Velocity
These speed drills are used to develop basic, all-out speed and acceleration off the mark…
Speed & Agility Drills
These agility exercises are easy to set up and require little or no equipment. They are ideal for teams and individual training…
Ladder Agility Drills for Quick Feet & Coordination
Speed ladders form an intergral part of many speed training programs. These five drills will improve your foot speed and coordination…
Flexibility Exercises for Hockey
Increased flexibility may reduce the risk of certain injuries. It may also allow a hockey player to move with greater dexterity, agility and finesse…
Dynamic Stretches & Stretching Routine
Dynamic stretching is now recommended over static stretching before a game or hockey training session…
A Sample Off Season Strength Training Program
The off or closed season is typically about rest and regeneration. But that doesn’t mean doing nothing at all…