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hit me with your best shot!

the hit used to be the bread-andbutter of hockey but it is a skill that has declined in recent years. Derek Pappas explains that the hit is still an important part of the game, but it needs to be coached well

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part 1: hitting makes a difference


WHY HIT? Hitting is the only skill in hockey that can transfer the ball at a high speed on the ground while the passer is running. In the Astroturf era, hitting skills have declined as the slap hit (or sweep hit) developed to move the ball at a higher pace than the traditional push. But the hit, when used correctly and with good technique, remains vital in areas of the game such as shooting, rapid clearances from defence, running crosses and long cross-field and diagonal transfers. However, unless a player has the correct fundamentals and a coach who understands and can coach them the resulting hit may be off target, bouncing, or
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not hit at the correct speed. The hit involves footwork, timing, rhythm, and biomechanics. What needs to be communicated by coaches to players is a set of fundamentals. Every other sport involving a stick/bat/ racquet and ball does this well through books, videos, and even magazine articles. Hitting remains a differentiator in international hockey. In the authors opinion the Dutch women lost the 2012 Champions Trophy semi final to Argentina because the Dutch sweeper tried to sweep hit by pushing the ball in front of her (which took time), instead of ripping the ball up field with a quick upright hit. Her pass was intercepted which resulted in a counter attack/goal. This is not intended as a personal attack on this player. Rather this is a comment on the current state in the art of coaching hitting. A sweeper in the 1980s or 90s would have used a conventional hit in that situation. Perhaps the safe skills that coaches are teaching are not that safe after all? FUNDAMENTALS MATTER Learning how to hit a hockey ball is like learning how to hit a tennis or golf ball. There are different spins, footwork patterns, hitting off the right/left foot, hitting running in different directions, lifting the ball, chopping the ball but no matter which hit is being executed there are certain fundamentals that need to be used in order to hit the ball cleanly and correctly. Most of these fundamentals like the grip, elbow in the right side or close to it, stick pointing at the target are explained briefly in this article. But there are no quick tips to be applied to a hockey hit, golf swing, or tennis stroke. Quick tips lead to bad fundamentals. Hitting faults due to bad fundamentals can be difficult to correct once they become ingrained in a players movements. OBJECTIVES OF A HIT Good hitting skills mean being able to: * Hit a pass that teammates can receive, >>

Australias Renee Trost

Article and illustrations 2012 Derek Pappas except where stated

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Hockey Australia

making the receivers job easier Hit the ball at a target, goal, teammate, or gap between defenders Hit the ball so that it arrives at a point on the field at the right time.

EVALUATING A HIT Coaches need to look at the path of the ball from behind the player to the target to assess the results of the players hit (Note: specialised hits like a slightly lifted hit or a shot on goal will have different results). The following is a list of characteristics of a conventional hit: Good results * The ball is rolling on the ground * The ball rolling with over spin * The ball is travelling on target * The ball is not bouncing * The ball is travelling at the intended speed Bad results * The ball is bouncing Australias Kobe McGurk * The ball has side spin * The ball is not on target correctly in all countries. * The ball is travelling at a low/wrong Even then, many skills, such as hitting on speed. the run, cannot be performed correctly at the highest level. Just watch the teams OUTCOMES UNDER PRESSURE warm up before an international just There are a set of principles that govern how many are hit at the side boards/ outcomes in games: corners of the goal? * Good fundamentals hold up under pressure * Bad fundamentals cause bad hits under pressure * If you have good fundamentals then under pressure, when the adrenalin is flowing, you will hit the ball better COACHING OBJECTIVE * Under pressure, bad fundamentals Coaches needs to work one-on-one result in hits which are bouncing, miss with the players guiding them through the target, have side spin, are the simple movements designed to eliminate incorrect speed. the excessive movements that lead to compensations during the downswing COMPENSATIONS CAUSE ERRORS and result in inconsistent hits. A player with bad fundamentals cannot hit the back of the ball without going OVER-COACHING through contortions on the downswing. Coaches should keep in mind that players Compensations due to a bad grip, bad can only manage one thought during ball position and bad pickup all result in a the swing. Do not ask the players to think hit that has a higher probability of failure about more than one correction. Remind under pressure and when the player is the players to clear their mind of all other fatigued. Watch the best players in the thoughts other than the one swing world in the last ten minutes of a game correction. that is how to tell who has a good hit. Players with good fundamentals can VARIATIONS IN PLAYERS SWINGS deliver a proper hit under extreme The following fundamentals must take pressure in match situations that means into account the age, height and build on the ground, at the target, with no top of the player. Players will have different spin, and at the correct speed. Gluing angles to the ball and distances to the ball the ball to the turf when hitting under depending on their height. pressure requires good fundamentals. If you look at the hits of the good players RELATIVE ORIENTATION you will notice that they do many of the The relative orientation of the stick should things mentioned in this article correctly be maintained throughout the swing. I ran this by two former Olympic coaches If the relative position of the stick is and they agree moreover they agree changed during the swing then the player that the basics are not being taught will have to make a correction during

the swing. As I have emphasised players make compensations during the swing due to bad fundamentals. The orientation will be changed if any of the following occurs: * Rolling the hands * Swaying the body * Lifting the head up. Remember that corrections are easier to make when there is no pressure on the player.

A set of hitting fundamentals is outlined below. Some of the fundamentals are counter intuitive. ADDRESS Put the ball away from the body and on a line between the feet. Many players incorrectly position the ball outside (ahead of) their left foot. Bend the right elbow and wrist, waist, knees, right elbow, and ankles (stationary/motion). Many players stand too upright and their legs are straight. Flat/not bent back. Many players have a curved back. *

coaching the hit

POSITION OF STICK ON THE BALL The ball should be positioned in the middle of the flat part of the stick, not towards the toe of the stick. Hockey sticks have a sweet spot and lining the ball ball up on the sweet spot is important. * The face of the stick is vertical. * GRIP (Coaches this is an unnatural position and the player will resist this change) The grip is the basis for the hit. * Point the vs between the thumb and forefinger to the right chin * The top of the left hand and the left thumb should touch the bottom of the right hand. ARMS/HANDS The coaching points are: * Arms hang down * Hands face each other on the stick * When viewed from behind the right elbow is slightly below the left elbow because the left shoulder should be slightly above the right shoulder and the left hand is above the right hand. So it is natural for the slightly bent right elbow to be slightly below the left elbow. Coaches this is an unnatural position and the player will resist this change. * The angle between the arms and

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the stick will vary, depending on the height of the player, when viewed from the back of the intended path of the ball. Note the position of the ball. It is in a spot directly in the middle of the straight part of the stick.

THE BACKSWING Up to this point the player has not been asked to think about anything during the swing. Key points on the backswing are: head The eyes stay on the spot where ball is during the backswing * Keep the head down during the hit through the ball * The head moves down during the downswing and stays down during and after impact * Watch the spot where the ball is until the stick is at least two feet past the ball * Do not lift the head up above the starting point until well after impact. * right wrist Keep the right wrist bent backwards during the swing (cup the wrist-do not bend it up or down). This is a difficult point to make. But once the right wrist straightens the hitter has lost control of the stick and released through the ball. Keeping the right wrist bent backwards is the key to controlling the direction of the hit * A bent right wrist is one of the keys to generating power and retaining the angle between the stick and the arms until the last moment prior to impact. At this point things get a little complicated but if the player has executed the above points correctly then they have a high probability of executing the hit correctly, if they get the following points right: * centre of gravity The centre of gravity stays between the feet

Right elbow is below the elbow at address

The ball is lined up with the straight part of the stick and not the toe

The arms at the address position

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The player should not shift their weight so that they lean sideways, forwards or backwards Keep the weight centered over the arches of the feet at address Do not drift the weight out over the toes.

swing Do not rotate the stick around the stick-handle axis at any point during * the swing with the hands unless it is just prior to impact and the intent is to disguise the hit * Do not push the hands away from the body or raise them up out of the swing path * The toe of the stick should point up backswing at waist high on the backswing and * Maintain a triangle between the two follow through shoulders and the hands as seen from * Rotate the shoulders around the spine. the front during the take away * Maintain the angle between the arms pivot point and the stick as seen from the back The pivot point should be end of the during the backswing stick next to the left little finger (not the * Arms are both straight until just below right forefinger which is the case of most waist high on the back swing players) * Elbow folds into the side at this point * To picture the pivot point imagine a and may leave the side on a longer horizontal line through the end of the backswing (and the elbow should stick next to the left little finger see return to the side on the downswing). below. As the stick is drawn back the This is the critical point in the swing pivot point should remain on the line. and where most players go astray: If the player incorrectly pivots off their * They rotate the stick around the axis of right hand, which is in a dominant the stick handle so that the toe of the >> *

position, the end of the stick will be pushed below the horizontal line. This is a difficult point to understand and coach see another illustration over the page. Ask the player to relax their arm and hand so that the right hand remains in the correct position on the stick and the right elbow starts to bend gradually on the backswing. An incorrect pivot point leads to all sorts of weird motions in the backswing which cause compensations in the downswing leading to hitting faults, especially under pressure.

pivot point
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Correct pivot point

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right fore nger is the pivot point

right little nger is the pivot point

Problem: picking up the stick with the right hand instead of sweeping the hands back away from the ball.
Common pivot point faults

Problem: pushing the left hand down instead of sweeping the hands back away from the ball.

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Right elbow is below the elbow at address

Right elbow is near right hip bone, stick is between the shoulders

stick points not up at waist high but away from or towards the ball They push the end of the stick away from its pivot position At waist high they pull their hands back away from the ball behind their right hip so that the back of the left hand is facing away from the target line Instead of the upper right arm pointing directly down the upper arm faces backwards (the flying elbow) which results in looping or helicopter swing or the right elbow faces towards the ball and the player chops down on the ball instead of swinging through it The stick should be parallel to the target line and the toe should point straight up at waist high on the backswing and point at the target with the toe up on the follow through.

View from behind the target line at address (left) and at the top of the swing. The red line is an imaginary plane running from the ball, through the shoulders the player should stay aligned with the plane through the swing

If the pivot point is the right forefinger then the stick will be out of plane at the top of the swing resulting in a helicopter hit. TOP OF THE SWING The player has set the angle between the arm and the stick * The angle is less than 90 degrees * The player will retain the set angle well into the down swing * The left arm is straight * For a normal hit the weight is on the right foot * The stick is between the shoulders * The toe points down the target line and not left or right of the target. * DOWNSWING Right elbow touching the players side easy for the player check because they know whether the arm is touching their side * The hips lead the downswing * The left knee is bent (for running hits straightening the left knee at impact is going to cause long-term injuries for some players. The left knee was not *

Incorrect pivot point (bottom) causes helicopter swing. Top shows correct position at top of swing

Right elbow is far away from the right hip bone

Right elbow is below the left arm

The hands have been swung behind the right hip

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Right elbow is far away from the right hip bone

Right elbow is below the left arm

The hands have been swung behind the right hip

Shoulders and/or hips have not rotated a sufcient amount and the hands are in front of the plane

Or the player has pivoted off of the right hand instead of the left hand

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middle of the left foot As the stick approaches the ball the player is releasing the right wrist and the right arm through the ball without rolling the wrists and the left arm is straight Maintain the flat plane between the left arm and the stick. Think about hitting the ball with the left arm through the stick to form a wall Hit the back of the ball at impact (if the player hits the top of the ball and raises the ball they probably used a baseball grip or rotated the stick on the backswing) The player must not roll their wrists through the impact area The left arm/wrist does not collapse The player stays bent at the waist. FOLLOW THROUGH Point the right arm at the target and at the ground during the release At waist high the toe of the stick should point up and the stick should point at the target (unless a special side spin hit has been executed or the player has run around the ball to the left-then they need to use a blocking follow through like a forehand cricket shot and not release the wrists). Note that on the follow through the player must not allow the left wrist to collapse or bend backwards. After impact the triangle is maintained to ensure that the face of the stick still points at the target to avoid changing the direction of ball due to prematurely rolling the wrists. After about 18 inches to two feet past the ball, the stick rotates around the pivot point and not the right hand The two forearms should touch each other at waist high on the follow through Do not push the left hand/the end of the stick down on the follow through. The end of the stick is still a pivot point and should not be manipulated in any way >>

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Problems at the top of the swing when viewed from the back (both diagrams above)

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designed for that kind of impact on Astroturf) The player is pushing off of their right foot The right knee is driving into the ground Get the right elbow bent and tucked into the side on the back swing and downswing The right elbow can release during longer swings towards the top but needs to return to the side on the downswing The angle set between the arm and stick is retained until the hands are waist high Straighten the right arm prior to impact to release the right arm through the ball towards the target.

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IMPACT The stick has been returned to its original position at address The triangle between the shoulders and the hands has been restored The right elbow is slightly bent The back is flat The hips, knees, and ankles are bent The hips have turned slightly around the spinal column while the shoulders are square to the ball The right lower leg is close to parallel to the ground The ball is between the feet The player is not leaning to the right. The shoulders are parallel to the the target line (unless a deceptive hit is being used in an advanced technique) The left knee is bent and the over the

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Correct swing and follow through

The right arm straightens after impact, points at the ground, and towards the target.

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Important: Have the player stop their follow through of the stick when it is parallel to the ground. If the arms are not straight and the players stick is not pointing at the target and the two forearms are not touching then something has gone wrong. FOOTWORK DURING THE SWING The player must understand the footwork for a stationary hit more so that for a running hit. During a stationary hit the footwork and the hips are the primary initiators. Address * Feet are flat on the ground * Weight is distributed evenly between the two feet

Weight is not on the heels or the balls of the feet Feet can be together or apart depending on the type of hit being executed.

Back swing The left foot lifts up during the backswing and moves to the left * Alternatively both feet remain on the ground during the hit and the weight is more on the right foot to start with and shifts to the left during the downswing * The right foot does not roll to the right * The right foot provides a brace against the hip wind up. * Downswing The right heel lifts off of the ground and drives towards the ball along with the right knee.

Impact Left foot is turned out toward the target * As a result of the right foot driving towards the ball the body is in a lunge position with the right heel off of the ground, the right knee is six inches off of the ground, the left knee is bent. This is result of the footwork and lowering the body during the downswing. *

next time
Putting it all into practice. Drills to coach and test hitting and an analysis of common faults. p

players to watch
These players all have world class hits under pressure: * * * * * Billy Bakker (Netherlands) Luciana Aymar (Argentina) Moritz Furste (Germany right) Teun de Nooijer (Netherlands) Jamie Dwyer (Australia)

Andy Smith

about Derek Pappas

Derek has played hockey on three continents and in 10 different countries. He was on the US international training squad in the 1980s and now coaches skills, patterns of play, game tactics, and various teams. He is CEO of GroupAngle http://groupangle.com

Their techniques should be studied carefully and communicated to the new generation of players.

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