Defensive Strategies

When I first approach someone about Floorball the question always comes up.  What’s the difference between floor (ball) hockey and Floorball?  In its simplest terms I break it down by saying different equipment, and different rules.  While there is clearly more to it, that’s a very simplified answer.  When I instruct a new group, one topic I spend more time on, and one that is harder to teach is effective defense.

Effective defense is in and of itself an art form.   It requires all parties to understand their role and position in their space while being acutely aware of who and what is around them.   To further complicate matters defensive players must also recognize body language and other non-verbal cues in order to decipher what is coming at them.  How a defender responds will vary depending on the situation and how one responds the first time may not work the next time.  Knowledge and skill will come with experience, but it’s important to create situational challenges during practice to help simplify the defenders decision making skills.   When I’m working with defenders I encourage them to regularly scan what’s around them.  What I am trying to do is get my defenders to know where they are at all times, especially in relation to the goal.  I will encourage them to find markers on the boards, or floor that can be quickly used to identify where they are in space without always needing to look.  By doing so they have a better chance of being in the proper position.

                             Figure A.                                                                                   Figure B.

 

It’s a good idea to remind players that their role on the court will change and evolve.  At times they’ll be a defender, and others they’ll be a forward.  It just depends on the situation.  If the group on the court is thinking in this manner as the defender moves out of position into an offensive role another player will see that they need to adjust to match the situation.  In figure A, if the defender chooses to go for the ball they will need support from the center and forward on that side.  If they’re playing to maintain a shape of a box then the player near the ball becomes the “free” player.  If the ball is in the corner the defender closest to it will choose to pressure the ball or to seek a better position of defense.   In this situation with the ball behind the end line the player with the ball has a low percentage of scoring.  From here they will be looking to press the ball behind the goal, along the boards, or attack the goal with a pass or shot.  Ultimately they goal of the offensive player in this position is to draw out the defender and slot the ball into the middle to a crashing forward.   Statistically most goals are scored in an around the front of the goal box.

Get out there and start training, pushing, and learning to get better in all aspects of your game.

Pressuring Your Opponent

In Floorball, when playing defense means adding pressure to your opponent. Its really the name of the game. If you do not pressure your opponent, you are not playing the game to its fullest potential.

While a key component to the game is being able to hold, and control the ball; another large aspect is the ability to pressure on defense and recover the ball.

The rules of floorball make prohibit attacking the stick of the offensive player through stick checking or stick lifting.  Both are common choices in hockey to dispossess your opponent.  However, in floorball this would result in a foul (free hit) or potentially a 2-minute penalty.  Defensive players are also prohibited from using their stick to reach for the ball between the opponents’ legs.  This action would result in a 2-mintue penalty.  To dispossess the opponent of the ball there are a few things that can be done while reducing the potential for giving up a free hit.

It’s important to first understand where the ball is on the field as that will determine the amount of pressure needed to be made on the offensive player.  Let’s assume the team Red is on offense and team Blue defense.  If the ball is in team Blue’s end of the court team Red can choose to be more aggressive when dispossessing the ball from team Blue to create a turnover and a quick counter attack.  Since most goals scored tend to fall in this scenario this is one area where it’s safer to give up a potential free hit and makes more sense from a tactical standpoint.  If the ball is lost in the offensive zone it is important to stay aggressive and pressure the opponent to create a turnover.  Sometimes when players lose the ball their first reaction is to give up on the play or immediately drop back on defense.  If the ball is lost players need to make smart decisions on when to pressure, and when to drop back to disrupt a quick counter attack.

If we imagine the roles are reversed now and the ball is in the defensive zone with team blue on defense and team red on offense.  This time team Red has the ball in the bottom corner of the court.  In this situation, the defense has a variety of decisions to make on how and when to pressure the offense.  Depending on where the ball is the defense doesn’t want to give up a goal, or give up a free hit in a dangerous position.  On the court, there is an imaginary line that runs between the corner dots and the goal line.  Any foul committed in this area will place the ball at the corner making this area a somewhat safer area to give up a free hit if necessary.  A player with the ball in the corner is not as big of a threat to score from this position.  It is important to no be sucked out of position while pressuring the offense.  Defenders near the goal line will likely move back and forth between pressuring the offense and backing off to defend a pass to one-timer shot option.

Every person and every team has differed on how they choose to play tactically, and some players choose to be more aggressive than others.  In many cases the choice on how aggressive to pressure the player with the ball will differ depending on the location of the ball, the score, how much time is left in the game, the tactical strategy of the team, and the experience of the player.   The key is to be smart about how you pressure the ball so you avoid needless penalties or give up potential scoring opportunities for the opposite team.

Bring The Goalie

You have a floorball program up and running, you have players, teams forming, but you don’t have any consistent goalies.

That is pretty normal problem for any sport that involves the position of a goalie to play.  While there are alternatives to have a real goalie such as using a shooter trainer in front of the goal, or by using smaller goals with no goalie, nothing is quite the same as having a live goalie in the mix.  Playing with goalies changes a number of aspects of the game on the defensive and offensive side of the ball.  However, there are some barriers to that mainly the cost associated to purchase the necessary protective equipment.  If you’ve ever been on the receiving end of a shot you know how important it is for goalies to have the proper equipment.  If you’re lucky and have someone who’s dedicated to the position they’ll invest in getting the equipment needed to play.  While having head to toe protection is nice there are a number of options out there that can do that job to get by.

Where you’re an individual looking to buy gear or a program looking to have gear on hand the top three pieces of equipment that are a must have are a helmet, knee pads, and chest protector.  Aside from the helmet you can pretty much piece together the rest to make it work.  If you’re looking to have equipment available for multiple users, such as at a facility, you’ll want to purchase multiples and take into account sanitary and cleaning procedures.  In some cases you might already have some of this equipment if you’re moving from ball hockey to floorball.  There’s nothing that says you can’t use the same helmet and chest protector.  Depending on your situation the catcher style chest protector might be a better financial option for your program. Sometimes you use what you have to make it work, and for recreational purposes that works just fine.

When you’re looking at goalie equipment there is a lot out there online and for the most part it’s all very similar.  Like any product floorball goalie gear is focused around protection, comfort, and the ability to absorb energy to control the ball (think minimizing rebounds).  One thing to note is that a floorball goalie helmet is not the same as an ice hockey helmet.  While there share a lot of the same characteristics floorball helmets are considerably lighter, and are very similar to street hockey goalie helmets.  Pricing will vary as any other piece of equipment, but depending on what your needs are or your personal preferences there is a variety out there to meet your needs.  The same goes for knee padding.  A number of floorball companies sell knee pads, but floorball knee pads vary from volleyball pads.  Floorball knee pads are typically large and provide more complete protection around the knee.  In some cases they will also extend down to the middle of the shin for additional protection.

The biggest thing is don’t worry about the initial cost.  You don’t need every piece of equipment right off the bat, and in many cases those who like playing goalie will go out and buy their own gear.  Just don’t be shy in using goalies or getting some minimal piece of gear to get things going.

Discover The Game Within

Let’s say you’re new and you’ve just found out about floorball.

You have a general understanding of the sport, rules, equipment, and now you’re ready to get involved.

If you’re fortunate you’re already in the process of purchasing equipment to get a program going.  What now?  When starting any new program, or event you’re going to need to create a culture that buys into what you’re doing.  How do you that?  What does that look like?  You can have the greatest product in the world, but no one knows about it you’ll likely fall flat on your face.  In order to make change in this way you need to be the initial driving force pushing for your new program to get out there.  While some people may look at and brush it aside all it takes is one more person to join you and take up your cause.  Now that you have support there is some sense of legitimacy to what you’re doing, and now that you have momentum it’s a matter of time before more and more people join you and things flourish.

I’ll use hockey as an example.  Initially, and in many ways is still the case, hockey coaches and administrators in the US upon first glace look at floorball from one lens.  This isn’t hockey, or it’s similar to ball hockey so why bother?  I’d argue that in many cases from my experience this is a common occurrence for non-hockey people as well.  However, all it takes is one person to see the value in floorball and how it is a useful tool for off-ice training, or engaging and attracting new players in a similar sport for it to take hold.  All businesses, organization, and teams are looking to engage new members and grow their base.  Without regular engagement and new blood in the system facilities, organizations, and team will struggle in the long term.

As a facility recreation program manager at a University I introduced floorball on campus.  In the beginning I spent a lot of time promoting and educating students about floorball.  I hosted events and did other giveaways to entice students to come out.  I engaged them on a personal level and encouraged them to give this new sport a try.  Once I was able to get a few students engaged in the sport it grew from there.  Over time I became less the driving force behind it, and students had taken reins for themselves.  With their involvement and ownership we have an intramural league as well as informal pick-up games that happen on a regular basis.

As with many new programs it will likely take time, and the development and growth of any program will vary based on a number of factors.  Some areas will be able to take floorball and seamlessly integrate it into what they’re already doing.  Others will see slower growth, but in the end I encourage anyone looking to grow a program to stick with it, and if you’re passionate about the sport and what it can do for kids and adults the growth will come.

Play Above All Else

The notion of play is a simple yet complex aspect of our lives. I respect Floorball because it allows us to play, as much as compete. With few “legacy” players coaching Floorball, it allows our young athletes to have equal participation, minus the pressure that other sports provide of having to compare to another athlete who came before them.

Play part of the foundation of who we are a people, and helps us develop a number of skills when we’re younger.  Growing up in Washington State in the late 80’s and 90’s the youth system for youth sports was vastly different from what it is today.  Too many kids and parents are running around with visions of athletic grandeur in their eyes, and miss the realities in front of them.  At the same time there are an equal amount of sports administrators and boards who create and absorb other organizations for the monetary benefit it brings them.  All of this is focused around two things.  Kids and parents hoping they’ll get a college scholarship and get to the big leagues, and the clubs and organizations who gouge them along the way.  Another aspect we’ve found from this has been sport specialization at younger and younger ages and year round play.  Both are a detriment to the athletes and science has proven to be fact, specifically before a certain age.  The athletic world is seeing more and more cases of overuse injuries, a term and condition that has become more common.

More recently there has been more literature and studies written talking about players being sport specific, and the impact it has on their development.  What people forget is that kids are constantly growing and developing across the board.  At the same time there needs to be more direct emphasis on letting kids rest.  I’ve seen it time after time where coaches gripe about players missing a tournament or training during the off season, and feel like they don’t care enough.  A sport season is long and tiresome and it’s important to make sure that kids are getting that time to recover.  The fitness world has done an excellent job over the years emphasizing the importance of recovery, noting that recovery time is when the body grows and develops.

Floorball for instance is in an interesting place in its development as a sport in the USA.  I see it currently positioned primarily as a recreation based sport for youth and adults.  The main reason is that it still needs to attract and develop players beyond the introductory and intermediate levels.  Ultimately we’ll likely see players settle between intermediate and advanced.  In the current progression of the sport some will have an initial advantage, primarily in stick handling ability.  However, that is a skill that can be readily learned and those athletes coming from other sports will have an advantage in speed and agility that will allow them to catch up and surpass.  Again the aspects that will allow that come from those athlete who have skill in multiple areas.

Floorball is very similar in movement and game play to sports like hockey, soccer, basketball, and lacrosse. Players who are playing in these realms can mentally and physically adapt to the sport and be effective.  Through their prior training they’re already learning how to move, avoid, and adjust their bodies based on a variety of situations during game play.  While these skills can be taught to a degree the majority of the time it’s learned through unstructured play.  It will be interesting to see how floorball develops in the USA.  While I know it will spawn club and travel teams, I hope it equally evolves through a more recreation and unstructured form too.

Defensive Tactics in Floorball

(photo credit: Adam Troy)

Understanding the tactics of defense in Floorball can open up the game to a broader audience. Floorball is a fast-paced, competitive sport, with many opportunities on the offensive side of the goal with quick counter attack measures.

However, unlike ice hockey, players in Floorball are not allowed to check their opponent. This creates a strategy differential in how defense is played in Floorball.

Defenders need to be aware of their stick, body position, offensive players and the flow of the attack coming at them.  It is important through the development of youth players that they understand some of these concepts related to defensive play in order to be successful.

Floorball’s rules of play prohibit stick checking, stick lifting, or contact with the stick prior to contact with the ball.   A defensive player may not go through the offensive players stick in order to obtain the ball.  Doing so results in a free hit, which is similar to a free kick in soccer.  However, based on these rules there are some strategic moves defensive players can make in order force a turn over.  A defensive player may pressure the ball and in doing may force the offensive player into a turnover without fouling.  This method can be effective at both ends of the court.  However, defenders must be mindful not to foul, especially in the defensive zone, which requires the defender to be aware of their body positioning to the ball and player.

Body positioning and awareness of the spacing on the court is important when defending.  When on the defense it is important for all players to understand these concepts.  The entire team must work in sync and understand their roles in the defense and know what to do as the offense moves the ball around.  In many cases the defense will form a box in the defensive area with each player responsible for a specific zone.  Each player should be communicating with each other as offensive players move the ball, but should equally be aware of offensive players’ movement without the ball.  This is important as most offensive plays are built on quick passing and movement into open space between the defensive box.

When teaching the concepts of defense to new or younger players it’s important to emphasize zones to start.  In many cases younger players that are playing defense want to hang back as play moves into the offensive zone.  It is best to encourage them to move forward to at least mid-court emphasizing the importance of keeping the ball in the offensive zone.  With regards to body positioning introducing the defensive tactics concept can be as simple as staying between the ball and your goal.  At the beginning this will be a challenge and there are a number of other drills that can be done to help teach defense, but it will take time and patience.  While everyone wants to score the goal spending time focusing on the importance of defense will help solidify the team aspect of the sport.