Lead; Running off the ball

LEAD: Running off the ball

By Shiv Jagday, FIH Coach


A hockey match consists of 70 minutes playing time. There are 22 players on the field with one ball. The average player spends less than five minutes in possession with the ball, depending upon her position. So it is of paramount importance to know what one has to do for 65 minutes, when one does not have the ball, to receive the ball at an optimum position and be highly effective, especially as a forward: This is called Running off the Ball – Lead.



In the national and international competitions, zones are packed and over loaded and forwards are marked tightly, especially, the front three strikers, R.W., C.F., and L.W. Most probably they will be marked man-to-man when playing against a European team. When we go a step further, even the strikers have a demanding task of marking the defenders if and when they come through to support the attack. And do tremendous work running off the ball, to employ various types of Press tactics. The question is what should one do when one is marked tight? One cannot stand still – FREEZE – on the ground and hoping something to happen. Most likely it won’t happen. One has to make it happen. How can one make it happen? What should one do?


The answer is simple. The first thing to do is to MOVE. Take a LEAD. Move away from the man who is marking, in order to find space to receive the ball. This “individual searching” for space is very important during competition! One has to have this technical know-how, in addition to the tactical awareness of the space available and the various effective options open. Intelligent players/teams know first how to create, expose space and then later exploit it, to their maximum advantage. The basic knowledge of the principles to running off the ball – Lead – will develop better understanding individually and as a team and will dictate the following.

· When to Lead? Timing
· Where to Lead? Direction. Angle
· How far to Lead? Distance
· How fast to Lead? Speed. Deception. Acceleration.
· How to Lead? Technique
· How to Communicate? Verbal. Non Verbal
· Where to Receive / Pass the ball? To pass the ball on the stick or in the space
· How to Receive / Pass the ball? Skills
· When to Receive / Pass the ball? Timing of Receiving /Releasing of pass
· Speed of Ball

The knowledge to answer these basic questions will assist in making the lead and receiving the pass a success. They are further elaborated to develop the receivers and passers technical and tactical understanding during the fast changing TIGHT GAME SITUATIONS. So, one can cope and react in a positive way when marked tightly. With this knowledge and enhanced decisions making ability, the players can quickly take the right step in the right direction, making the team function smoothly and effectively.




Photo 1; 2013 Oceanic Cup, pool match between Australia and New Zealand. Observe how the Aussie center forward has taken a sharp lead in the open space towards her right to receive the pass in the space, given by her right winger




  1. The moment the forward is running away from her marker, she is leaving her behind. The marker starts chasing the forward. During this process, as the forward is being chased, she gains some space and time. The amount of space and time gained might be minimum, often limited to the fraction of a second. During this minimum period, the forward has to receive and control the ball. She has to make a quick decision, whether to pass, dodge or hold the ball, depending upon what the situation demands. In short, lead generates space and time. Depending upon the marker if she does not follow closely, the forward has more space and time at her disposal. On the other hand, if she follows closely and marks tightly, there is less space and time. See Photo 1, and the Kiwi player who is left chasing is in yellow circle.


  1. Another option the forward has is that when she and her maker are in the process

of moving, playing a cat and mouse game, they have both left space behind. Now if

a forward can leave her marker confused and come back to utilize the space she has

vacated, she can be quite effective as the marker is left in a predicament. This is also

called double lead.



Photo 2:  2008 Beijing Olympic Games. Germany vs. China. Can you recognize the similarity in this pattern – Lead – of play, while comparing photos 1 and 2?


Photo 3: Study the photos 3 – 5, as they link the patterns of this effective play.

During the Thursday Nov. 7, practice and the previous practices, in Coquitlam, we have invested lots of time in understanding this play both on the right and left side.



Photo 4: Observe how the Aussie CF is holding her lead and letting the ball come in the front



Photo 5: How the CF has received the ball on the run and become a RW and is moving towards the base line





Photo 6: A good example of a game situation, where the player in the red – circle is

taking his marker away to create space for his teammates. See yellow highlighted



  1. Timing – When to Lead?

This is the most important factor in lead. There has to be an understanding between the player with the ball and the receiver, who is marked, and wants to receive a pass. A too early or a too late lead will only complicate the matters. Both players – passer and receiver – have to collectively read and assess the situation. Make the decision, which is the best pass and will do most damage to the opponents, and can be easily received and controlled by the receiver.


Timing of taking the lead by the receiver and even more important timing of releasing the ball, by the passer is very important. They are both inter-related and inter dependent.









  1. Direction – Where to Lead?

The direction and the angle at which the forward takes the lead from her marker play’s a significant role in the effectiveness and the success of the lead and the next move. It is no point getting a ball in the situation which is not dangerous and exploitable.


  1. Distance – How Far to Lead?

Taking a lead does not mean one has to run 5, 10, or 15 yards every time. Lead can be short and sharp, with a step here and there. Simple, short and sudden leads at the right direction covering optimum distance are the most effective.

Sometimes Rookie forwards take a lead in the wrong direction covering too much distance 10-20 yards, not knowing where to go? It leads them nowhere, other than wasting time and energy. On top of this, they cut the angles of passes for themselves and their teammates, complicating matters. Out of the Frying Pan into the fire;


  1. Positional Play

The awareness of a positional play is very important. The player who knows, when, where and how to position herself to receive a pass from her teammate not only creates optimum situation with ample space for herself but for her teammates also. She creates big gaps in the opponent’s defense.


The way the forward will position herself will directly influence the positional play of the defender







  1. How Fast to Lead? – Deception – Quick Acceleration

World class forwards use this skill very tactfully. They start moving – taking a lead – from the marker quietly and slowly, developing contacts – communication – with the player controlling the ball and teammates, and all of a sudden accelerate into the open space leaving the marker wondering and in an awkward position panicked.


  1. How to Lead and re-lead? – Double Lead

When a forward takes a lead and she has not been able to receive the pass, she should take a re-lead in a different direction – depending upon the situation – to receive and control the pass. This is very important. It requires thinking on the part of the receiver and the ball carrier. This is also known as double leads.

The Golden rule is to take simple leads and re-leads. Avoid taking complicated leads; it wastes time and energy of both parties involved. Think Simple









  1. How to Communicate? – Verbal / Non Verbal

The receiver and passer have to have a clear idea, what they want to do with the ball. They have to communicate, send and receive messages. These messages can be transmitted via Verbal and Non Verbal Communication.

The most important thing is that these messages should be SHORT, SHARP, and above all CLEAR.

Example – Verbal Communication

  • To communicate for a through pass, call. THROOOOUUGH;
  • To communicate for a reverse stick pass, call. REEVERRSE;
  • Other calls – SWITCH THE PLAY
  • Maddie IS OPEN
  • YEES, NOEE, etc.


Example – Non Verbal Communication

  • Eye contact
  • Hand Pointing Out-Usually the one, from which direction the ball is coming
  • Stick Pointing Out-Usually stick in one hand. Reverse stick
  • Nod of the Head – Left or Right
  • Body Movement. Body Balance. Body tilted Left or Right


  1. Where to Receive / Pass the Ball? – Selection of Zone

In some game situations when the forwards have taken the lead wisely, the player with the ball is left with more than one or two options to pass the ball. In this situation, the selection of the most effective pass is very important. It should be passed to the player who is in the most exploitable position. This does not mean that the player who is in the biggest space in most dangerous.


  1. How to Receive / Pass the Ball? – Selection of Spot

Due to intelligent leads by players individually and as a team various space situations are created when the ball can be passed on the stick or in the open space. Unfortunately, the situation where the ball can be passed into the space is not recognized easily, especially by the receiver. Systematic training to utilize and exploit this open space can bring rich dividends in offence. And this is what we practice in the training sessions and view video tapes for developing better understanding of the space awareness concepts.


When to Receive / Pass the Ball? – Timing

After recognizing the zone the spot where the ball has to be passed, the Timing of Releasing the pass is critical. If it is delayed too much, the space created may be covered. Timing of passing must be optimum; neither too early nor too late.


  1. Speed of Ball

The speed at which the ball is passed to the player who has taken the lead and created open space, should be just fast enough; neither too fast nor too slow. The passer should consider these points while she is executing the pass into the open space.

  • Will the receiver be able to control the ball easily?
  • Will she be able to reach there on time?
  • If I pass the ball too fast, the receiver may not be able to reach there in time
  • If I pass the ball too slow, the marker may intercept the pass





  • To get loose of tight marking
  • To create space and buy time so one can receive the pass easily
  • To force the opponents to move out of their solid defensive positions
  • Dragging them into a position, which puts them in a no win situation



  • To pack the defense. Cut space. Minimize the field
  • To plug gaps and through balls; especially the one’s which are in a direct line to the goal
  • To cover your teammates





  • Makes it easier to make moves
  • Creates primary space and time to receive a pass
  • Teammates can utilize and exploit open space with or without the ball
  • Space can help open up the game for teammates
  • Create gaps
  • Ball can be passed into this space
  • Mentally and physically it does not put pressure on the forward to do things in a hurry



  • Space forces the defense to spread out thinly
  • Entice them to move out of their solid defensive positions and open up gaps
  • Unsettle the defense, with more area – space – to cover, which is not easy
  • Defense can be exploited



Type of Lead Type of Pass Skill Applied
Short Lead Short Pass Push. Mini hit.
Long Lead Long Pass Hit. Scoop
Backward Lead Pass on stick or space Push. Hit.
Forward Lead Through Pass Push. Hit
Angular Lead Pass on stick or space Push. Scoop. Hit
Deceptive Lead Pass in space Push. Scoop. Hit.





Observing International Hockey matches makes one thing very clear, that the major difference between the top teams – both men and women – and the remaining is that the top teams have a very clear idea:

  • How to take a lead, when marked tightly and receive the pass successfully
  • Successfully receive a long range pass of 50-70 meters even when marked tightly
  • Create and utilize space effectively on an individual and team basis


Acknowledgments: Photographs are courtesy Field Hockey New Zealand.

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