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During the early 1990s, the No Obstruction rule came in to play. This had a huge impact on the way the game was played, especially the way forwards/midfielders received the ball, compared to the era before this rule was introduced..
First let's look at the positive changes that the No Obstruction rule has enabled:
Now let's look at the negative, though unintentional, changes enabled by the No Obstruction rule. The following technical and tactical skills have diminished to a large extent:
CAUSE AND EFFECT
The main reason for the gradual decline of the above mentioned skills is that the passer/distributor/midfielder/playmaker often times does not receive the ball with an open body, in an attacking position. As a result, 'open offensive game situations' are not available to be exploited.
In other words, when midfielders/playmakers receive the ball with their backs towards the attacking goal and spin in a circle, they lose the instant offensive view in front of them, and this also gives enough time for the defending players to recover and regroup.
Please note that the moment one receives the ball with a open body and eliminates one's immediate marker, the opponent's defence is vulnerable for a few split seconds, and which can be exploited with a deft pass or two. The very top players of the world, like Jamie Dwyer and Teun de Nooijer, burn their markers most of the time, as did the former greats Manzoor Jr. and Shahbaz Ahmed of Pakistan.
Over time, the play making skills of the midfielders have become rusty, as most of the time they receive the ball with their back towards the attacking goal. Thanks to the No Obstruction rule! As the saying goes, use it or lose it.
Disorienting a defender, on the run, to make a defence splitting through pass is becoming a lost art. And we need to bring it back and employ it more often. This is what fans on the ground would like to see, and what viewers on television would like to see.
Incidentally, the women's game features more play making passes than the men's game, making their game exciting to watch.
Our hockey students don't do what you say as much as do what they see. Here are some examples for budding hockey players:
|2011 EuroHockey Nations Championship
2011 EuroHockey final between Germany and Netherlands, 16:09 of the first half
Teun de Nooijer of Netherlands received the ball, which he tipped softly to completely eliminate his marker, leaving him crawling. This gave him a free way to the baseline and make a negative pass to his teammate to score the equaliser.
When I look back to the ball receiving techniques of Teun de Nooijer playing in the 2003 Champions Trophy and in the 2011 EuroHockey Championship, my observation is that Teun de Nooijer has greatly reduced receiving the ball with his back towards the attacking goal, or with his face facing the sideline. This is good for the player and good for the game.
|2011 EuroHockey Nations Championship
2011 EuroHockey final between Germany and Netherlands, 33:09 of the first half
The German left-in/midfielder received a block pass from his left-out, while being marked tightly by the opponent. He first curls clockwise and then anti-clockwise to outsmart his opponent, and ends up making a blind through pass to his teammate near the opponent's circle. This naturally results in a turnover, and a counter attack by Teun de Nooijer. This was an example on how not to receive the ball.
|FC Barcelona midfielder Xavi Hernández
Some comparative analysis from another sport. When I observe the current Barcelona football team midfielder Xavi Hernandez distributing the ball, it reminds of the pinpoint accurate passes of Akhtar Rasool (Pakistan), Trevor Smith (Australia) and Richard Dodds (Britain) - all centre-halves of the 1980s.
Their passes had a ripple effect. The receipient of their passwere were their inners - Manzoor Jr. (Pakistan), Ric Charlesworth (Australia) and Norman Hughes (Britain), who in turn passed the ball to their dashing centre-forwards on the run to score breathtaking field goals. No wonder, Hassan Sardar (Pakistan), Terry Walsh (Australia) and Sean Kerly (Britain) were high field goal scorers.
Sadly, we don't see this type of play making passes and goals, as much as we should, partly due to the introduction of the No Obstruction rule. In my opinion we - coaches and athletes - have gone full circle the other way around, literally spinning in circles.
Here is a quote from Cesar Luis Menotti back in 1977, when he was coach of the Argentinean football team.
"During practice, when I see my forward receiving the ball with his back towards the goal he is attacking, I immediately stop the practice and tell the player - You are wasting your time and that of your fellow teammates. Receive the ball forward facing, with a tilted body, preferably on the run."
Doesn't this make sense? The higher the risks, the higher the rewards. Menotti went on to coach Argentina to the 1978 World Cup Football title.
Here are some coaching tips on proper receiving of the ball, in order to enable offensive plays and goals.
|Split Step Footwork with the Ball
Teams and players spend so much time on this during physical training and warm up - hopping through step ladders and loops. However, they do not employ it where it is needed the most - on the field - to escape the net of the tight game situations. Strangely, this has slowly gone out of fashion.
|Strike an Optimal Balance
A majority of the players and even respected coaches are not aware of what they have discarded - receiving the ball on the run, while facing the opponent's goal - and are missing an opportunity to make their game more effective.
The message being conveyed here is to avoid receiving the ball with one's back towards the attacking goal, especially when there is no need of it. Yes, we are slaves of our habits, which may sometimes pull us back. Our hockey community as a whole needs to realize this and strike an optimal balance.
|Teach our Juniors the Right Skills
Here is a suggestion. During our practice sessions, especially for the junior players, we should make a rule that forwards and midfield players cannot receive the ball with their back towards the opponent's goal, and cannot spin in a circle.
Prima facie you may not agree with me, but think about this suggestion and the positive habits this will inculcate in our juniors.
To change, and to change for the better, are two different things
- Old German proverb
There is nothing wrong in receiving the ball with one's back towards the opponent's attacking goal, especially when the primary objective is to maintain ball possession, individually and as a team. While receiving the ball, optimal balance is the key. Of late, the shift has been towards the negative type of receiving the ball, with one's back towards the opponent's goal. Make it a positive one, taking calculated risks along the way, similar to how the Australian and Dutch hockey teams play.
Yes, possession is nine-tenths of the law. As a team, one has to maintain the possession, but in a positive way, and keeping an offensive frame of mind. The way the football teams of Brazil, Spain and Germany played during the 2010 World Cup Football. Of these three teams, Brazil reached the quarter-finals, Germany reached the semi-finals, and Spain reached, and won, the World Cup Football final. Remember, the higher the risks, the higher the rewards.