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The role of stick feints during ball control, passing, receiving and dodging in hockey

Stick feints encourage players to scan the field, protect the ball and control the game. An analysis of how and when to use them.

The hockey game has changed considerably over the last two decades and more

A Stick feint is a skill which has not been given its due share and chance to grow, and show its worth. We are taught dribbling the ball in the traditional way, named the Indian dribble. And in some cases, it results in unnecessary over dribbling. There has to be a move, and a strategic plan behind the move.

Dribbling should be implemented to get one out of the trouble and not into trouble. One of the remedies of over dribbling is to introduce stick feints, as it encourages the player to look up and scan the field, apart from also controlling and protecting the ball in tight game situations. 

In the olden days, when India ruled the world of hockey, the players had a very different way, a style and technique of dribbling the ball. They simply rolled the ball on their stick and used the stick feints and body feints to baffle the opponents and mesmerise the spectators.

Sadly the current generation of coaches and players have difficulty understanding the true value of stick feints while dribbling and when to apply. Where to carry the ball, in relation to one’s body, given game situation and their playing position is another important aspect. Following is a comparative analysis study to elaborate my point. 

Comparative analysis of the style of play of Father and Son: Dhyan Chand versus Ashok Kumar

I often analyse the great hockey player Dhyan Chand’s style of play/dribbling and that of his son Ashok Kumar’s. When you analyse it closely, there is a world of difference in their strategic thought process, decision making and technique.

No wonder Dhyan Chand helped India win three Olympic Gold medals and his son none. Yes, you can argue that the game changed and improved in the 70’s from the 30’s. The 70’s was the decade when Ashok represented India. 

Following were the key features of Dhyan Chand’s game while playing as a CF:

#1 Play first time 

#2 Simply roll the ball and feint the stick over the ball as needed 

#3 Make return passes - give and go - with his inners on the left and right

#4 Eliminate opponents on the run, as the situation demands

#5 His dodges were penetrating, just like a knife cutting through butter

#6 He had very clear mental pictures in his mind

It is very hard to describe in writing. The two video links below of Dhyan Chand show the legendary Indian’s masterful stick control:



The image below from the 1975 World Cup, exhibits Ashok’s style of play. His tendency while playing as an RI, was to run with the ball, rather than pass it first time, like his father. 

Ashok runs with the ball for 5 - 6 seconds, before being fouled.

Another reason that stick feints have gone out of fashion these days is partly due to the game being played at such a fast pace. One only sees it once in a while, when an outstanding player implements the stick feints, at the right place and time. 

Whereas in football, we see the great players still implementing them effectively, time and again, while entertaining the jam-packed stadiums.

Types of stick feints:

#1 Mini stick feints over the ball to control and protect it

#2 Adding tap to these mini stick feints to change the pace and leave the opponent wondering

#3 Selling a dummy as you are going to pass the ball towards your right with a reverse stick and going towards your left and vice versa.

#4 Selling a dummy as you are going to hit the ball hard in deep defence or at the D top, when an opponent is rushing at you in panic, tapping the ball softly or dumping it towards the right in the feet of the onrushing opponent to make the next move.

Here is a video link demonstrating the stick feints:

When and Where to apply:

Following are the game situations, where one can apply stick feints to harvest rich dividends.

#1 To change the pace and direction, with the ball

#2 To distract and confuse the opponent

#3 Intimidate the opponent – making him think that you are going to hit the ball and dodge him by softly tapping the ball

#4 To dodge an opponent, by deceiving him that you are going to pass the ball, and go in a different direction

Conclusion

During the last few decades, new skills – technical and tactical – have been invented, especially by the Dutch and the Germans, and so have various new rules been added. Some of these – skills and rules – have served the game in a positive way and some in a negative way.

One has to be smart enough to know and recognise what skills to take and what not to. Avoid the mob mentality of following blindly, as has been the case, with the majority of the hockey playing nations and their coaches. This is unwise.

Be smart enough to know what will work and what will not, keeping in mind your strengths, culture and personality. Do you think it is a realistic dream for a 5’7” tall player to dream of playing in the NBA and dominate?

Dhyan Chand’s 1936 Berlin Olympics gold medal winning team played first time with flair, whereas the 70’s teams with Ajit Pal and Ashok team avoided playing first time and ran with the ball unnecessary at times. This also set a new trend in India, which resulted in the coming generations in the 80’s, 90’s and onwards, who had players who were dribbling machines, rather than players who combined effectively to become winning combinations. History and results say it all. 

“The truth may hurt for a little while, but a lie hurts forever”. Author unknown

I also think that it is not fair to overly criticise the current generation of players. As the game has changed. Then I ask myself if the current highly skilful and successful German national football team, and Barcelona football club under coach Josep Guardiola played first time with flair, give and go, just the way Dhyan Chand’s team played. Of course, the speed and intensity of the game is of a different level, but the basic tactical concepts and style of play is the same. You be the judge. Think and Rethink.

All change is not growth, as all movement is not forward - Ellen Glasgow

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