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Archive for October 10, 2018

Oct. 10, 2018 — The backhand generation

There’s a photograph of senior attacker Charlotte de Vries accompanying this past week’s aggregation of field hockey statistics on the website

She is on the dead run, and winding up to chop a backhand, presumably on the opposing goal cage; the photo doesn’t have perspective, but you could guess that there is a very worried goalkeeper observing the ball out of frame.

If there’s one thing that I’m noticing about today’s crop of skilled forwards and attacking midfielders these days, it’s that few of them have any qualms whatsoever about turning over the stick, unwinding their bodies, and cranking a difficult-to-read backhand shot, frequently for goals.

A couple of weeks ago, I saw the InterAc derby match between Villanova Academy of Notre Dame de Namur (Pa.) and Newtown Square Episcopal Academy (Pa.), and both teams had players who were fearless in using both forehand and backhand for shooting and passing. Some of these players were ninth-graders, and their confidence and daring are off the charts.

I’ve also seen players like Erin Matson score from the top of the circle with not just any backhand, but a purposeful, forceful drive aimed for a particular spot in the lower corner, even against the strong side of the corner flyer’s rush.

Time was, coaches — even U.S. college coaches — would try to coach out that skill from players who may have learned from Europeans at their summer camps. As one coach told me about 25 years ago, “It’s an individual skill, but we need her to play a team game.”

What that coach didn’t tell me is how many times that player had a successful disposal (a goal shot or successful pass) and how many times that player turned the ball over to the other team on a backhand, either from raising the ball dangerously or from giving the ball away.

There are very few coaches who have that kind of data at their disposal; indeed, about the only time I’ve ever seen this kind of possession data at a micro level was on a broadcast of an FIH event four years ago. During the broadcast, there were metrics about successful passes, interceptions, how many kilometers a player traveled, and, of course shots and saves.

It’s something that needs to come to the U.S., especially given how much we’ve become a data-driven country.