INDIVIDUAL PLAYING SKILLS – DEFENDING
Individual defending skills are not taken seriously enough or even overlooked during training sessions because coaches tend to focus too much on attacking skills (players too like for example shooting much more than shot blocking). But the same way the players are taught to dribble, pass and shoot, they should be also taught to defend. In every goal scoring game, floorball included, defending and attacking are two sides of the same coin – both are very important. Unfortunately some players consider being involved in game only if they are in possession of the ball regardless of the fact that the ball needs to be gained first. Hence playing means both – to attack and to defend. Every floorball player should know it.
Covering of a player without a ball is a basic defending skill which is used to prevent the opponent to receive the ball. The crucial skill when covering a player is the correct approach to the opponent including good timing and right area selection (when you want to approach the opponent and where). There are two types of covering, tight and loose, which depends on a distance from the opponent. There is a general rule of tight/loose covering – more close to the own goal we are tighter cover we choose. Inside the goalkeeper crease the covering is tight and the players are in close physical contact trying to push each other in order to gain better position in this small area. Covering of a player without a ball requires high concentration and anticipation. Defending player moving to the defending position is constantly aware of the ball position and position of his/her opponent and his/her stick. For example when the ball is in corner and the defender is covering a player inside the goalkeeper crease, he/she is turn sideways to the opponent while standing between a goal cage and the opponent. Such a position allows the defending player to see at the same time the ball and the player he/she defends. When the pass is trying to find the opponent then the defending player is ready to intercept the ball or block the actual shot.
There are two stages of covering a player with a ball.
The first stage is active approach to the ball carrier in order to create pressure (psychological, space and time) and force him/her to make a mistake. This could be done by active fore-checking; covering of a player by active movement; or covering a player by a proper positioning. Note: the difference between active fore-checking and active movement is that fore-checking requires closer approach/physical contact. This first stage of covering will stop the opponent from getting into a dangerous situation or position. It will prevent opponent from shooting or passing. It will also get him/her into a less advantageous position or it will at least slow him/her for a while and thus slow the whole attacking attempt down. There are many factors which influence the right implication of one of the three covering ways. Generally choosing one of them depends on level of danger towards our own goal (distance of the opponent) from the goal and position on the rink. Along the board sides of the rink and in the corners we simply stop (“close down”) the opponent from moving towards a goal by a quick step towards the opponent and locking him/her between the defending player and the board, the covering in the middle of the court is different. There must be a more careful approach towards the opponent and by steering him/her into a less dangerous part of the court the defending player must assure the attacker doesn’t get through to the most dangerous middle area of the rink. Defending player must be fully aware and anticipate movement of the opponent and the ball. The second stage is gaining control of the ball by stealing the ball from the opponent player. This is usually possible to do only if the opponent doesn’t have a full control over the ball – is turned back, is near the boards, doesn’t have an option for pass, etc. It is extremely difficult to steal a ball from a player who has the ball under full control, has lot of moving space, open passing lanes and there is no pressure on him/her. Hence the first stage is very important and most attempts to steal a ball from the player without an active approach and creating pressure is unsuccessful and even often leads to unnecessary fouls.
The quality of defending is limited by time. It starts from being in the right place and right position as fast as possible. Rather than skilled hands the good defense is created by “legs and head”, i.e. ability to quickly and tactically correctly move on the court. The worst possible way of defending is standing still and trying to steal the ball by reaching the opponent with stick in one hand and slash the ball. Correct defense means to be at the opponent on time and use the body in a close physical contact. Players also shouldn’t be scared to use their feet to kick out the ball in difficult situations.
It is very important to practice 1 on 1 situations in all parts of floorball court and against all type of releasing (dekes, spinning around, passing the ball through, etc.).
Covering of the space is used in power-play situations. For example one defender against two attackers. In this situation the defender is not covering a player but is trying to occupy and cover the space between the attackers to minimize their chance to pass or get in a good position for shooting (primarily he uses his stick to stop a pass between the attackers and if situation allows he could try to stop one of the player from finishing the situation – e.g. blocks his shot. When covering space the aim is not to gain control of the ball but to make the situation for the attackers as difficult as possible. The defender main task is to slow down the play so the other defenders can get back and help.
Defending skill which can significantly influence a final score is shot blocking. Typical blocking is with a stick blade placed against a shot in near proximity to the blade of attacking player to divert the shot. More successful is blocking using the body and can be divided into blocking while standing and blocking while kneeling on one knee. Advantage of kneeling player (sideways) is that he/she fills more space towards the shot however the disadvantage is that it takes more time to get into the position (the risk is that attacking player will run around kneeling defender instead of taking a direct shot). Blocking a shot while standing the player stands with feet close to each other and a stick blade either next to the feet or against the ball. The reason for this position is to eliminate accidental deflection of the ball into the goal and also to allow goalkeeper to see the ball in case it’s not blocked. It is important for players not to be scared to get hit by the ball. The biggest mistake players do is to take a blocking position against the attacker’s body instead of his/her blade (trajectory of the ball). Special case for shot blocking is during a free-hits and hit-ins. Defending players kneel on one knee and all are turned in the same direction. They are positioned directly in the trajectory of the ball (between ball and goal). Almost all the players (or even all players) are involve in so called “wall” when the free hit is very close to the goal. They kneel with straightened upper body to cover maximum space, they are very close to each other and after the opponent plays the ball they move quickly towards the shooting player. Further from the goal the free hit is the fewer players are involved in a wall.
Although floorball was formerly a non-contact sport it has changed and these days there is a lot of shoulder on shoulder contact play involved. Therefore a tight physical contact play should be an essential part of every player defending skills. Physical contact during a play should be shoulder on shoulder while player’s intention must be to reach/steal/cover the ball. Only this contact is allowed and other types of physical contact like pushing, pressing, holding, charging or hitting the opponent with no intention to play the ball are penalized by referees.