Defenders are often overlooked when it comes to field hockey. Everyone wants to score and have all the fame, yet defenders can become the decisive factors in a game. From many points of view, everything is in the defense. If your defense is not penetrable, you will get at least a draw – possibly a victory too.
There are lots of field hockey defensive drills to try out. The more experience a team has, the more sophisticated their drills will be. But at the same time, these drills will actually represent some upgraded and more difficult versions of basic drills.
This is where everything starts.
Whether your team is quite new or you simply want to improve, basic defensive drills will always make a good option in training.
Fortunately, there are quite a few things to try on – some of them ask for a couple of players, while others require an entire team. So, how can you train for a better defense?
Flat stick tackle
Every player on the field should be able to make a proper flat stick tackle. Sure, defenders must do it with their eyes closed, but even attackers and goalkeepers require a bit of defensive experience.
Now, what does a bad tackle mean? Simply put, being in the wrong place at the wrong time can lead to a bad tackle.
Knowing what a bad tackle is can lead to making good tackles because you know what to avoid. From this point of view, you must keep the right body position at all times. Getting caught flat footed may also lead to a bad tackle, not to mention the wrong timing – too early or too late.
When training the flat stick tackle in field hockey defensive drills, it might be a good idea to train channeling opponent players too. For example, you do not want to perform a bad tackle inside the circle. Instead, push the player into a less dangerous zone. To do this, the stick should always stay down.
You have to position yourself between the player and the goal in order to push them out wide. You can train this by using another player as an attacker. It is simply a repetitive drill that puts two players face to face in different parts of the field.
The same drill will add to learning how to perform a flat stick tackle. If you have more players to train, you can get them in pairs. If you only train yourself, focus on the ball. Patience is one of the main requirements in defense. Wait for the right time and try to anticipate at least one second ahead.
Just like the flat stick tackle, the jab tackle – also known as the poke tackle – can be performed in any position. Attackers and defenders require a bit of experience too, yet it is more common in defenders and midfielders. With all these, such a tackle is often underused – hard to tell why, as it can be quite efficient when done right.
The overall goal of a jab tackle is to cause difficulties to the opponent. It will not always get the ball, but it will put the opponent in an uncomfortable situation. You can put pressure on them, force them to change the direction or close their space – the ideal environment for a classic flat stick tackle.
There are not too many drills for this type of tackling. You can train quite easily though. Start with two players – an attacker and a defender. Have the defender jab towards the ball to force the attacker to go one way or another. If they manage to grab the ball – whether through a jab or a classic front stick tackle, roles change.
The drill is repetitive and involves restarting over and over again. On a similar note, it will help you learn how to assess the defensive position in a more efficient manner. You will be able to close an angle without even looking at your goal.
Defending the circle
This defensive drill to defend the circle is a classic defense-attack game. You need at least as many attackers as defenders. In other words, to train yourself, you need one more player. It is better done with six players though – three on each side – because there are more options in terms of marking, passing and shooting.
The defender’s role is to engage and push the opponent out of the circle as far away from the goal as possible. Positions must be changed every few training sessions for everyone to develop their own defending mechanism on each side.
If the defense seems to master this skill, it might be a wise idea to add more attackers. This way, there will always be at least one unmarked attacker.
Other than that, defenders must focus on sprinting as soon as the ball is passed and slowing down as soon as the attacker gets it.
One on one channeling
One on one channeling involves splitting the team in two groups. You should perform this drill with at least four players – two attackers and two defenders. Place two cones on each side of the field at a decent distance from the goal.
All players start close to the goal. Attackers with the ball will have to run towards the cone, go around it and come back trying to score. Defenders must do the exact same thing, only they will be on the other side of the field, running around the cone on their side of the pitch.
Basically, all players run back, then forward. At this point, defenders must avoid running faster than attackers. Simply put, channeling is achieved with excellent footwork. This drill will work on the body position too, as this is what prevents the attacker from heading directly towards the goal.
As defenders get used to this training style, you can place their cone a bit further up, so they have a longer distance to run.
Basic channeling is similar to one on one channeling. They can be interchanged for diversity and entertainment in case players get bored. Both exercises are made to help defenders force attackers to move onto their forehand. The setup is similar. In other words, the attacker will run towards the cone, run around it and move towards the ball. The defender will push the player onto the open stick side to prevent the possibility of a direct hit.
The drill can be performed with more players. Set them in pairs and have them rotate for every exercise.
Shadowing is somehow related to marking. It is one of the most useful field hockey defensive drills because it boosts defenders’ marking capabilities. The name is self explanatory – shadow a player on the field and they will barely be able to do anything at all. You need at least two players for this drill or at least an even number of players – attackers and markers.
Have players on each side of a straight line – attackers on one side and markers on another side. Have the attackers run from one end of the line to another, but make sure they stop and start randomly. They should also change their pace while running. The role? Getting rid of the market.
Defenders will have to keep an eye on them and do exactly what they do – stop, run or change the pace. You can have people in pairs, but give them 10 or 20 feet between one and another to ensure they do not get mixed up.
Shadowing with a ball
When using a ball, you only need two players – or at least allow a decent distance between each pair. The role of this drill is similar to classic shadowing. One player should have the ball, but they should also try to cross the line. They cannot dribble. Instead, they have to do it by stopping and accelerating.
The drill is helpful for both defenders and attackers. For maximum efficiency, the defender should be a bit behind the attacker with the stick close to the ball whenever the attacker stops. Having this drill for a few hours will make a good cardio exercise too. Some players use it to warm up before important games.
As a short final conclusion, there are plenty of field hockey defensive drills out there. However, none of them would be possible without going through the basics first. In fact, more sophisticated drills are purely invented by good players in the attempt to challenge themselves. They represent some upgraded versions of these basics, so like it or not, everyone will have to start at this level.
Drills can be performed anytime, anywhere. You need at least two people for most of them. Some of them would be better with four or more people. As for training by yourself, it is almost impossible.
You cannot tackle a dummy or some obstacle that does not move, so you will need to do it with a friend or a teammate.