If you do watch high level domestic (like the Hoofdklasse, Bundesliga, England Hockey League National Premier league games etc.) or international hockey, or happen to be able to, then something you will often notice the goalkeeper stepping into their own goal, as defenders stay deep, passing it amongst themselves, as they like for space in the midfield. At first this seems a little odd; why would the goalkeeper be intentionally stepping into his own goal during open play when their team has possession? Often, with a high press at work limiting the chance of moving the ball forward, or wanting to move the ball around at the back to the sides and start a play, your full backs will look to slap the ball between each other across the back of the pitch, in the attempt to entice the opposition forwards to come forward on attack and therefore open up space.
Although it sounds insignificant, it’s a very simple and effective tool that you can add to your game, to help your team; allowing your defenders more room to play the ball around, using the time and space available by staying deep to play the ball hard and fast across the field to test the centre, or begin an attack.
The ‘back-line’ pass
The back-line pass is essentially a pass made near the back line, with two defenders far apart, in each corner, knocking the ball back and forth amongst themselves (England’s international Richard Mantell, who plays his club hockey for Reading, is a great example of this, and was influential with it in the recent EuroHockey matches). A good slap hit allows the defender to move the ball with speed, power and accuracy a great distance; maintaining the team’s possession of the ball by playing it back and forth around the back of the pitch. Looking for a gap to open up in midfield, two defenders will often hang back and play consecutive long passes between themselves to take their time over opening up space for an attack, before releasing the ball to allow the moving forwards to penetrate the D.
However, for such an option to be available and successful, the goalkeeper needs to work with the team; if they are standing on their line in between the defenders, the option is not available! If you are standing on your line, you will end up being in the way! For the defenders to be able to maximise the space available to spread out a pass and open up playing space, they need to be given the room to do so. By stepping out of their way, you can give them the option to make pass across the back-line.
Moving out the way
To get out of your defender’s way, you can step backwards past the goal line and into the goal. Standing inside your goal will give your defenders more room to manoeuvre, playing the pass as near enough to the goal line as possible, to keep it deep. If they like to play it further away from the line, then you can just stand on the line if you wanted, out of their way. Once the pass has been made, you can obviously step back out of the goal and out to your normal standing position within the D. If your defenders want to pass the ball to each other again in this way, then all you have to do is repeat the process!