How to be a better field hockey player

Although I am someone who has played in hundreds of field hockey practices and games over the last 10 years, I’m constantly looking for ways to improve how I play. The last decade has taught me that you can master any move on the field, whether it be nailing your reverse sweep or perfecting your lift into goal. You can even get these three dodges down pat, making you nearly unstoppable. However, there are 5 skills—specifically, personal ones—which you can develop off the field that will improve your performance on the field even further.

#1 Confidence

They say confidence is key—and when it comes to field hockey, whoever ‘they’ are is right. Confidence stems from a belief in your own abilities, skills and experience. In part, it is also a reflection of how we were taught and brought up. Throughout high school, my coach rarely praised us when we successfully performed a new move or tried something new. As a result, I was terrified to try new things; this, of course, prevented me from ever stepping out of my comfort zone and attempting a new move, which meant I could never get better.

Once I moved on to play in college, I decided I would trust in the skills and abilities I had acquired over the years and not let the fear of messing up hold me back. And let me tell you, I got a whole lot better real fast! Confidence can help you improve how you play field hockey tremendously, so don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone!

#2 Communication

If confidence is the first key, consider communication the second one. Whether you’re at work, with friends or playing a sport, strong communication skills are essential. This type of skill reflects the abilities you employ when giving and receiving different kinds of information. It involves active listening, which focuses on paying close attention to the person speaking to you, as well as the ability to adapt your communication style to a certain audience which, in terms of field hockey, would be your teammates.

In a sport as fast-paced and technical as field hockey, being a good communicator allows you to convey a number of messages, including when and where you’re open, who you are passing to and when you are replacing a teammate if they step up to the ball. In my experience, the quieter the team, the less movement they are able to make down the field. So, refining your communication skills can translate to more forward movement and ultimately more goals.

#3 Problem-Solving

Because every move must be calculated but also decided on the fly, problem-solving is a critical skill for any field hockey player to master. And although it sounds daunting (problem solving in the middle of the field, really?!), it really is one of the simpler skills to master. In my first few years playing field hockey, I would panic anytime I got the ball and look for the fir st opportunity to pass it off. As anyone who plays knows, this is one of the worst habits to have as it typically leads to a turnover.

As I improved my ability to solve problems, my game improved overall. Since problem-solving helps us understand what is happening in a situation, what needs to be changed and how to change it, it is especially helpful on the field. It means the ability to take an extra second, look up and decide the best outlet to which you should pass or shoot. It will also likely make the difference between a turnover and a successful pass or a goal.

#4 Leadership

Whether you hold a captain position or not, developing leadership skills is critical for players on all levels. Good leaders are able to communicate goals, motivate those on their team and delegate tasks. On the field, this translates to a player who is passionate about the sport and hungry for a win, and who transfers that energy to others on their team.

Although I have never held the title of captain in the years I played, I have found that using my communication skills to get my team fired up has always worked to improve our chemistry with one another and our determination on the field. I’ve also found that it’s a great way to take initiative and point my teammates to where I need them to be to move the ball forward.

#5 Dedication

For whatever you decide to take on in life, it’s important to have heart and commit 100%. In an office setting, that may mean staying an extra hour to meet a deadline or always putting your best work forward, despite the size or importance of a project. In field hockey, it may mean putting in a couple extra hours of practice, running your hardest to each and every ball and always bringing your A-game, whether it’s a normal league game or a championship. Dedication is all about caring about something to the fullest extent, and also to becoming the best version of yourself in relation to that thing.

I have never been the star player of my team, but dedication is something I can confidently say that I carry with me no matter where I go. As a result, I finish each and every game soaked in sweat and completely worn out, and playing this hard has only ever helped me improve as a player. I can’t stress enough the importance of having heart and hustle, in field hockey and in life.

Share Your Skills!

These are just a few of the soft skills that I have found help to improve my field hockey game. Do you have any others? Let me know in the comments!

I’m still pumped up from USA’s win over Canada yesterday. When Ryan Kesler dove to score that empty net goal, I dove across the couch onto my girlfriend Emily in celebration (Amazingly, no Emilys were harmed in the making of that celebration). What a game.

The good news for Canada fans: I think the US just woke up a sleeping beast. I’d be surprised if Canada didn’t rebound with an incredible performance in their next game.

Even if they don’t, YOU can still win. Watching good hockey puts me in a good mood. I’ve decided to extend my 3 free bonuses giveaway for new Hockey Training Expert members. Sign up for a membership and you can instantly download a copy of Breakaway Hockey Speed, Hockey Nutrition 101, and Hockey Training Expert’s Mental Performance Package.

I’m in, sign me up!

I’m obviously a huge proponent of off-ice training to improve a hockey player’s performance. Having said that, it would be irresponsible and…well…stupid of me to say that a good training program is ALL you need.

Dominant hockey players aren’t just fast, or strong, or well-conditioned. They see the ice well. They read the play. They create time and space for themselves.

See the Ice Better
One of the single most effective habits a hockey player can have is to take a quick scan of the ice BEFORE they get the puck. As a pass is on its way, pick your head up and get an idea of your surroundings. Is someone from the other team bearing down on you? Do you have time to collect the pass and make a play or do you need to just tip the puck to a safe area? Has one of your teammates slipped behind the other team, looking for a quick pass from you?

Scanning the ice before you get the puck will help you make smarter, quicker decisions.

Read the Play Better
Reading the play comes down to knowing the game of hockey. You need to be able to anticipate the developing play so you can make the smartest decision, with or without the puck. As I mentioned in a previous post, one of the best ways to become better at reading the play is to WATCH a lot of hockey. Pick a team around your age but at a higher level, and an older team at an elite level and follow a single player around that plays your position. Watch how he/she responds to certain plays and anticipates others.

Learning from players at higher levels will allow you to become more familiar/comfortable with a variety of game situations and respond faster on the ice.

Create More Time and Space
Creating time and space gives you the freedom to make better passes and take better shots. It decreases the pressure on you. Knowing your surroundings and reading the play are paramount to creating time and space for yourself (that’s why this is the last of the three). One easy way to create time and space for yourself WITH the puck is to take 2-3 quick strides immediately after receiving a pass. Naturally this will somewhat depend on your positioning on the ice and your surroundings, but in general this is an effective habit to develop.

Taking 2-3 quick strides after receiving a pass will help create separation between you and your opponent, allowing you the time and space to make a better play.

Train Hard. Play Smart.

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How to be a better field hockey player

Kevin Neeld Knows Hockey

Kevin has rapidly established himself as a leader in the field of physical preparation and sports science for ice hockey. He is currently the Head Performance Coach for the Boston Bruins, where he oversees all aspects of designing and implementing the team’s performance training program, as well as monitoring the players’ performance, workload and recovery. Prior to Boston, Kevin spent 2 years as an Assistant Strength and Conditioning Coach for the San Jose Sharks after serving as the Director of Performance at Endeavor Sports Performance in Pitman, NJ. He also spent 5 years as a Strength and Conditioning Coach with USA Hockey’s Women’s Olympic Hockey Team, and has been an invited speaker at conferences hosted by the NHL, NSCA, and USA Hockey.

How to be a better field hockey player

“Kevin’s book has been a great resource in helping me write programs for my athletes while keeping them healthy and I will certainly continue to seek Kevin’s advice regarding strength and conditioning.”

Matt Murray, Head Strength and Conditioning Coach, University of Maine Ice Hockey

Set your hockey goals in advance. Choose several new skills you’d like to master and find time to practice.

To persevere is to continuously try to attain your goal. Goals are certainly something players should strive towards at one point or another to become better. The fact remains that during the course of our shortish playing careers, we often face large and small challenges. Perhaps we are not progressing as fast as we’d like or perhaps we’ve dropped down the pecking order and have lost our usual position to another player. The best way that we can overcome challenges is with perseverance. Remember, Rome was not built in a day. It is only by persevering that we are in any position to attain our goals. Moreover, setting a goal can help motivate you to try even harder and can act as an impetus, driving you onward each day.

Billionaire and space entrepreneur, Elon Musk offers a word of advice about perseverance: He says work doubly hard as your competitor to succeed and adds,

Persistence is very important. You should not give up unless you are forced to give up.”

How to be a better field hockey playerBecome a Better Field Hockey Player

Get out of your comfort zone:

Micro management of micro moments is a key factor of becoming a better hockey player. It’s all too easy to lay on the sofa after work, click on the remote and wallow in the goings on of other people’s lives in some soap opera or another. I suggest opening a You tube video on 3 D skills and taking the decision to change your micro-moment. Pull on your gear and practice a skill. Choose 4 skills to master this season. Practice, practice and practice again and then employ them one by one in game time.

Examples of great 3D skill to learn

When you’re attacking the best players can pluck the ball off the deck and control it in the, ‘third dimension.’ The knack is to get the ball off the ground and control it in the air thus stealing a march over your marker. The old advice of using the pace of the ball and letting it roll up the stick is key with this 3d skill. You can generate enough speed by simply knocking the ball from side to side, generating enough speed and scooping the ball upward. As you become more experience you can flip the ball up and bounce it onto the reverse edge. Try not to snatch and shovel the ball and stay low for best positioning.

When you feel you have become proficient in the 3D ‘jinking’ technique be sure to set a goal of employing your new skill in a match. Plan to use each skill several times each half of the game. Coaches will be looking at your armory of skills.

The Tomahawk is a great example of another 3 D skill to master. Coaches will be looking for your deployment of this sweep move. Defenders, especially playing on the left use it to clear the ball while midfielders use it for cross field passing. Forwards can hone the skill for shooting at different angles.

Fitness levels:

Managing your micro moments again is key with fitness. Instead of watching TV for the evening, a forty minutes jog would keep you in good stead for the weekend’s game. Lower and increase your speed and persevere for the full forty minutes and you will notice the benefits come match day. There is nothing worse than being out of puff and the legs feeling like lead twenty minutes into an important match. If you believe in yourself, in your skills then you owe it to yourself by pushing on ahead.

To finish this article on perseverance, the following quote hits a perfect note…

“Work like hell. I mean you just have to put in 80 to 100 hour weeks every week. [This] improves the odds of success. If other people are putting in 40 hour workweeks and you’re putting in 100 hour workweeks, then even if you’re doing the same thing, you know that you will achieve in four months what it takes them a year to achieve.” Elon Musk speaking on perseverance.

Although I am someone who has played in hundreds of field hockey practices and games over the last 10 years, I’m constantly looking for ways to improve how I play. The last decade has taught me that you can master any move on the field, whether it be nailing your reverse sweep or perfecting your lift into goal. You can even get these three dodges down pat, making you nearly unstoppable. However, there are 5 skills—specifically, personal ones—which you can develop off the field that will improve your performance on the field even further.

#1 Confidence

They say confidence is key—and when it comes to field hockey, whoever ‘they’ are is right. Confidence stems from a belief in your own abilities, skills and experience. In part, it is also a reflection of how we were taught and brought up. Throughout high school, my coach rarely praised us when we successfully performed a new move or tried something new. As a result, I was terrified to try new things; this, of course, prevented me from ever stepping out of my comfort zone and attempting a new move, which meant I could never get better.

Once I moved on to play in college, I decided I would trust in the skills and abilities I had acquired over the years and not let the fear of messing up hold me back. And let me tell you, I got a whole lot better real fast! Confidence can help you improve how you play field hockey tremendously, so don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone!

#2 Communication

If confidence is the first key, consider communication the second one. Whether you’re at work, with friends or playing a sport, strong communication skills are essential. This type of skill reflects the abilities you employ when giving and receiving different kinds of information. It involves active listening, which focuses on paying close attention to the person speaking to you, as well as the ability to adapt your communication style to a certain audience which, in terms of field hockey, would be your teammates.

In a sport as fast-paced and technical as field hockey, being a good communicator allows you to convey a number of messages, including when and where you’re open, who you are passing to and when you are replacing a teammate if they step up to the ball. In my experience, the quieter the team, the less movement they are able to make down the field. So, refining your communication skills can translate to more forward movement and ultimately more goals.

#3 Problem-Solving

Because every move must be calculated but also decided on the fly, problem-solving is a critical skill for any field hockey player to master. And although it sounds daunting (problem solving in the middle of the field, really?!), it really is one of the simpler skills to master. In my first few years playing field hockey, I would panic anytime I got the ball and look for the fir st opportunity to pass it off. As anyone who plays knows, this is one of the worst habits to have as it typically leads to a turnover.

As I improved my ability to solve problems, my game improved overall. Since problem-solving helps us understand what is happening in a situation, what needs to be changed and how to change it, it is especially helpful on the field. It means the ability to take an extra second, look up and decide the best outlet to which you should pass or shoot. It will also likely make the difference between a turnover and a successful pass or a goal.

#4 Leadership

Whether you hold a captain position or not, developing leadership skills is critical for players on all levels. Good leaders are able to communicate goals, motivate those on their team and delegate tasks. On the field, this translates to a player who is passionate about the sport and hungry for a win, and who transfers that energy to others on their team.

Although I have never held the title of captain in the years I played, I have found that using my communication skills to get my team fired up has always worked to improve our chemistry with one another and our determination on the field. I’ve also found that it’s a great way to take initiative and point my teammates to where I need them to be to move the ball forward.

#5 Dedication

For whatever you decide to take on in life, it’s important to have heart and commit 100%. In an office setting, that may mean staying an extra hour to meet a deadline or always putting your best work forward, despite the size or importance of a project. In field hockey, it may mean putting in a couple extra hours of practice, running your hardest to each and every ball and always bringing your A-game, whether it’s a normal league game or a championship. Dedication is all about caring about something to the fullest extent, and also to becoming the best version of yourself in relation to that thing.

I have never been the star player of my team, but dedication is something I can confidently say that I carry with me no matter where I go. As a result, I finish each and every game soaked in sweat and completely worn out, and playing this hard has only ever helped me improve as a player. I can’t stress enough the importance of having heart and hustle, in field hockey and in life.

Share Your Skills!

These are just a few of the soft skills that I have found help to improve my field hockey game. Do you have any others? Let me know in the comments!

Set your hockey goals in advance. Choose several new skills you’d like to master and find time to practice.

To persevere is to continuously try to attain your goal. Goals are certainly something players should strive towards at one point or another to become better. The fact remains that during the course of our shortish playing careers, we often face large and small challenges. Perhaps we are not progressing as fast as we’d like or perhaps we’ve dropped down the pecking order and have lost our usual position to another player. The best way that we can overcome challenges is with perseverance. Remember, Rome was not built in a day. It is only by persevering that we are in any position to attain our goals. Moreover, setting a goal can help motivate you to try even harder and can act as an impetus, driving you onward each day.

Billionaire and space entrepreneur, Elon Musk offers a word of advice about perseverance: He says work doubly hard as your competitor to succeed and adds,

Persistence is very important. You should not give up unless you are forced to give up.”

How to be a better field hockey playerBecome a Better Field Hockey Player

Get out of your comfort zone:

Micro management of micro moments is a key factor of becoming a better hockey player. It’s all too easy to lay on the sofa after work, click on the remote and wallow in the goings on of other people’s lives in some soap opera or another. I suggest opening a You tube video on 3 D skills and taking the decision to change your micro-moment. Pull on your gear and practice a skill. Choose 4 skills to master this season. Practice, practice and practice again and then employ them one by one in game time.

Examples of great 3D skill to learn

When you’re attacking the best players can pluck the ball off the deck and control it in the, ‘third dimension.’ The knack is to get the ball off the ground and control it in the air thus stealing a march over your marker. The old advice of using the pace of the ball and letting it roll up the stick is key with this 3d skill. You can generate enough speed by simply knocking the ball from side to side, generating enough speed and scooping the ball upward. As you become more experience you can flip the ball up and bounce it onto the reverse edge. Try not to snatch and shovel the ball and stay low for best positioning.

When you feel you have become proficient in the 3D ‘jinking’ technique be sure to set a goal of employing your new skill in a match. Plan to use each skill several times each half of the game. Coaches will be looking at your armory of skills.

The Tomahawk is a great example of another 3 D skill to master. Coaches will be looking for your deployment of this sweep move. Defenders, especially playing on the left use it to clear the ball while midfielders use it for cross field passing. Forwards can hone the skill for shooting at different angles.

Fitness levels:

Managing your micro moments again is key with fitness. Instead of watching TV for the evening, a forty minutes jog would keep you in good stead for the weekend’s game. Lower and increase your speed and persevere for the full forty minutes and you will notice the benefits come match day. There is nothing worse than being out of puff and the legs feeling like lead twenty minutes into an important match. If you believe in yourself, in your skills then you owe it to yourself by pushing on ahead.

To finish this article on perseverance, the following quote hits a perfect note…

“Work like hell. I mean you just have to put in 80 to 100 hour weeks every week. [This] improves the odds of success. If other people are putting in 40 hour workweeks and you’re putting in 100 hour workweeks, then even if you’re doing the same thing, you know that you will achieve in four months what it takes them a year to achieve.” Elon Musk speaking on perseverance.

(The Role of the Coach in Player Development: Part 2 of a series of discussions on factors influencing player development)

Coaches also have the ability to significantly impact the development of their players in their chosen sport(s). As with parents, the role of the coach should be one of support and encouragement with the goal of creating a progressive (and enjoyable) learning environment that fosters continued growth and helps their athletes become better hockey players.

Connect with thousands of college coaches across the U.S. and get evaluated for collegiate athletics!

7 Habits of Highly Effective Hockey Coaches:

1. Be respectful: As a coach, you should lead by example. Respect your players, parents, other teams (coaches and players), officials, and most importantly, respect the game. The coach must treat everyone with respect – and they will respect him in return. The game is much bigger than you, and its your honesty and integrity that will get you much farther in life than sacrificing them in order to win games.

2. Be fair and compassionate: Remember that the game is about the players, not about you. As a coach, it is your duty to coach every player on team, not just the better players. Follow this simple rule and your players (and subsequently your team) will benefit greater in the long run. Every player on the team is important to success of the team and they will contribute at some point, if given the opportunity. Similarly, rules are rules and they should apply to everyone on the team.

3. Be patient and encouraging: Effective coaches learn to continually project a positive and upbeat attitude. If not, your players will eventually catch on and begin to losing their joy for the game. Part of becoming patient involves your ability to show tolerance, understanding, perseverance and consistence. Good coaches truly care for their players and enjoy seeing their progress.

4. Be a student of the game: As a coach, you are an educator. To become an effective educator, you should be passionate about the game and strive to immerse yourself in the game. Coaches should be willing to learn, to experiment and to make mistakes (and learn from them). Every time you step on the ice, you should be willing and able to learn something new from your players.

5. Be flexible: Great coaches demonstrate flexibility and an openness to change. Flexibility can be regarded as the ability to remain strong in your convictions while yielding to some lesser issues or points.

6. Be a positive role model: Coaches should model the behavior they expect out of their athletes — “walk your talk”. Show your players how to be humble, respectful, honest, secure, passionate and confident. You will be surprised at how well they will develop, not only as players, but as people if you create the appropriate environment for them to learn in.

7. Be a good communicator: In order to impart your knowledge and love for the game, you must be able to communicate effectively with your team. For this to happen, you need to understand that not all players will respond to criticism and praise in the same way, nor do all players learn in the same way. The development of an effective communication strategy begins with getting to know your players, understanding how each player learns, and then adapting your style/method of delivery to suit each player’s individual needs.

When you agree to become a hockey coach, you accept a responsibility to be true to the game and be true to the players you coach. It is your duty to create an environment that pushes every one of your players to strive to become the best that they can be. Think back to your childhood and remember all of the coaches and teachers who had, both positive and negative, influences on your growth and development (as a hockey player and as an individual), and utilize those experiences to help you become a better person, a better educator and a better coach.

Stay tuned for the next post looking at the Players Role in His/Her Own Development.

Hockey Canada has a carefully designed player development program that gets younger players developing, in a fun and supportive environment, the skills they need to play the game.

Hockey players need to be agile and coordinated. They need to have balance. They need to be fast off the start, which comes from having quick, explosive muscles.

Learning to skate is the first step

Unless your child wants to play field hockey, Canada’s game starts with skating. So before you worry about games and pucks and equipment and early-morning practices, start by getting to your community ice rink.

Many facilities will rent skates – and helmets, which are mandatory in many jurisdictions – that you can all wear to get a start. When your kids start bugging you to go to the rink every day, you can always find good skates at your local sports swap. It’s a benefit to living in a country where so many kids play hockey.

The skills they’ll need

After you’ve got a start on skating, the basic movement skills that kids can work on to become hockey players include:

  • catching: especially for goalies who need to catch pucks in a glove, but all players benefit from the hand-eye coordination that comes from catching
  • gliding: good for balance as well as locomotion on an icy surface
  • jumping: great for building lower-body strength and explosiveness
  • kicking: this can help with coordination in targeting as well as striking an object, not to mention lower body development
  • running: good for the development of lower body strength and speed, as well as balance and lateral movement
  • striking: this refers to hitting an object with either the body or an object, in this case, hitting a ball or puck with a stick
  • throwing: this develops targeting accuracy as well as helps to develop upper body strength

Activities your child can do now

Here are some activities your child can practice to help develop movement skills that will make them better hockey players:

If you’ve got older children who are already playing hockey, make sure you check out Hockey Canada’s suggestions for activities that can help goalies and skaters get better:

A slap pass, also referred to as a slap shot, is great for passing over a middle distance to a teammate or for shooting on goal. A slap shot is stronger and faster for hitting the ball than a push pass.

Technique –

  1. Let your body be perpendicular to your target while your two hands tightly grip the stick. Your hands should be apart as if you were dribbling with your lower hand holding the lower half of the grip and your upper hand near the top.
  2. Position your hands closer together for more power as you get used to the slap pass.
  3. Your feet should be shoulder-width apart. Allow the ball to sit a few feet ahead of you. If you hit the ball from too far back you’ll power and if you charge too far forward you’ll probably miss it.
  4. Your front foot should be level with the ball as you take your shot. Your back knee should be almost touching the ground.
  5. Bring the stick back so the hook is level with the ground.
  6. When you hit the ball keep low and follow through pointing the toe of the stick toward the target.

Remember you are not trying to hit the ball with the end of the hook, more the base of the shaft. Your knee of your leading leg should be completely bent. Your toe should be pointing at about 90 degrees from where you want to hit the ball. Pros excel at keeping low with their sticks almost parallel to the ground. Always follow through, while looking at your target.

I genuinely had to work on my technique to be able to hit the ball accurately, and with power. Eventually, you work out the kinks in your style. I realized I was too upright when slapping and not getting enough power.

Watch how international players make the slapping pass. They position their bodies very low with their sticks almost parallel to the ground and always follow through.