TACTICS AND STRATEGY

Every successful team needs three vital elements: a high level of skilled, gifted and determined players to execute that skill, backed up with a sound game plan.

Shiv Jagday (coach of the USA Men’s team) discusses the subject.

 

INTRODUCTION

THERE IS NO SUBSTITUTE FOR BASIC skills; without a high skill level, no matter how good a game plan a team has, the chances of winning are bleak. The same is also true regarding tactics: a high level of basic and advanced skills will not succeed if the game plan is weak.

"THE HISTORY OF WAR PROVES THAT TACTICS ARE THE MOST IMPORTANT FACTOR IN WINNING BATTLES. THE SAME APPLIES TO FOOTBALL MATCHES. HERE, T00, ONE MUST CONSIDER THE OPPORTUNITIES OF BOTH SIDES. AND WHEN BOTH SIDES ARE OF EQUAL STRENGTH, IT IS THE SIDE WITH THE BETTER TACTICS WHICH WILL WIN."

Ferenc Puskas

"THE ENEMY ADVANCES, WE RETREAT; THE ENEMY CAMPS, WE HARASS; THE ENEMY TIRES, WE ATTACK; THE ENEMY RETREATS, WE PURSUE."

This quotation from Chairman Mao was hung in the locker room of England's 1966 World Cup soccer team. (England won that competition for the first and only time in 1966.)

If this is true in both war and soccer, then why not also in hockey? On this very philosophy the Great Britain hockey team played under the guidance of the manager, Roger Self, and coach, David Whitaker to win the 1988 Seoul Olympic hockey gold medal.

European teams very much apply these concepts to dominate the world of hockey. No wonder all three men's medal-winning teams at the 1998 Utrecht World Cup were European sides, and two of the women's teams too, were from Europe, only Australia being able to break that mould.

TACTICS AND STRATEGY

The definition of tactics and strategy, according to Dr G. R. Gowan, president of the Coaching Association of Canada, is

Strategy - can be defined as the pre-game decisions based upon known strength of one's own team and/or knowledge of the opposition.

Tactics - are changes in original plans that are required because of events occurring during the game.

Strategy is the overall game plan and tactics are the execution or implementation of it. Since the 1970s the use of match video tapes has been a much-used tool in coaching. Their use has increased tremendously in the '90s. Almost every international team travels with its own video equipment to tape their matches, and their opponents, and later review them. Coaches view and analyse the tapes to design their game plans and prepare their teams for the next match and future competitions.

ELEMENTS OF TACTICS

Here are some elements of tactics and strategy that can be incorporated into any game plan, depending on the strength or weakness of the opponents.

1. SURPRISE

The surprise element as a tactic is a very effective weapon. It hits the enemy very hard, leaving him shocked, frustrated, and helpless. Surprise can even have a devastating psychological effect and create confusion.

Let's take this example: Match: Pakistan v Australia (men); Competition: 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, semi-final; final score: Pakistan 1, Australia 0.

Pakistan were famous for their attacking style of play. The Australians were the stronger team on paper coming into the tournament, and were ranked number one, and favourites to win the gold medals.

Pakistan changed their game plan. They focused on Safety First. They played a packed defence, absorbing the attacks and then catching the Australians with counter attacks. They were successful in implementing this plan, as this was the first time - as far as I can remember - that Pakistan played so defensively from the beginning.

The surprise element was packed defence.

Even up to today, Richard Aggiss, then the Australian Olympic team coach and now an FIH Master Coach, shakes his head in disbelief. He has every reason, because his team was star-studded and seemed the very best in the world during that summer of 1984.

Most recently, France did this to Brazil in the France '98 soccer World Cup final, thrashing the Brazilians 3-0.

2. SPEED OF EXECUTION

The speed of executing an attack can have a nerve shattering effect on an opposing team.

For example, the scoring of an equaliser, just after opponents have taken the lead, or retaking the lead after opponents have equalised. The key factor is speed of execution. Do you recall the match between India and Germany in the 1985 Champions Trophy? The score was 6-6 and India scored five goals in the last eight minutes.

In both examples the speed of execution caught the opponents napping.

These days lots of goals are scored on counter attacks, after a penalty comer breaks down or following an offensive free hit out of the circle.

The photographs [#1], [#2], [#3] say it all. They are from the Men's Semi-Final, Australia v Netherlands, 1998 Utrecht World Cup. The Dutch did not score from this particular situation. But in 1994, at the Sydney World Cup, in the pool match between Australia and Pakistan, Australia had a similar free hit just outside the Pakistan circle which was intercepted and moved onto Pakistan's Shahbaz who then executed his famous run with Australia's Ken Wark chasing him. Shahbaz drew a covering defender and reverse-sticked the ball to Kamran Ashraf, who scored. It was after this run that Shahbaz pulled his hamstring.

3. NUMERICAL ADVANTAGE

Both teams have an equal number of players - eleven each. The team which can gain a numerical advantage in a particular zone of the field, over and over again during the run of play, can harvest rich dividends by creating 2 on 1 and 3 on 2 situations.

For an example, take a team playing man for man marking. It is not impossible for a forward to take his marker out of the danger zone by vacating the zone himself. This creates a space for a deep defender to come through and create a numerical advantage. This has been discussed in detail in previous articles on Space and Time.

4. PACE

This element of strategy can be applied to one's advantage, depending on the team's strength. The pace can be set accordingly.

For example Australia and Pakistan, with speedy and skillful forwards, normally set a fast pace with penetrating attacks. A team like Germany, with a strong defence, can slow the pace, tiring the fast forwards and catching out their opposition with counter attacks.

An example occurred in the 1986 London World Cup when Germany played Australia in the pool. It was the only game in the tournament that Australia drew. Germany controlled the pace and was leading 2-1 at one time.

Another example was in the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics. Germany was playing India and needed only a draw to make the semi-finals. They slowed the game to a snail's pace, frustrating the Indian side and the final score was 0-0. Germany won their semi-final and finished with the silver medal.

A third example came in the 1998 Utrecht World Cup when Spain played Germany in the semi-final. Spain beat Germany 3-0 and shocked the world. Their tactic in the second half was to play a packed defence and control the pace.

5. CHANGE OF STRATEGY

Depending on the state of play, the game plan can be changed. In the final of the 1986 World Cup in London Australia were leading England 2-0 at half time. They played defensively in the second half and finished winners by 2-1. Richard Aggiss told me afterwards: "we had practiced playing defensively back home. It sure helped."

In the 1982 and 1986 soccer World Cups the German soccer team had deliberately played goal-less games against weaker opposition during pool matches in order to 'choose' the opponents they might meet in the quarter-finals. Germany won the silver medals in both of those World Cups, and gold in 1990 under coach Franz Beckenbauer.

6. EXPLOITATION

When you find a weak link in your opponents' defence exploit it by putting your best forward against the weak player.

If, say, the left half is a poor tackler, put your fastest right finger against him and generate your attacks from there.

Perhaps a right half has a habit of attacking too much. Encourage him to attack and then catch him off guard by passing to the left winger quickly when he is up field.

Some players are uncomfortable receiving the ball in the air. Make sure that he receives some aerial passes in his zone and try to force him into making an error.

An example from the 1971 Barcelona World Cup involved Pakistan v India in the semi-final, a match that Pakistan won 2-1.

India was leading by a single goal in the second half. Vinod Kumar, the Indian right back, had difficulty in receiving and controlling an aerial ball. Pakistan recognized the weakness. They exploited it by throwing a number of aerial balls onto Vinod. In one of the situations when Vinod missed the ball the Pakistan centre forward, Rashid, picked it up and scored the equaliser. Later Pakistan converted a short corner to win that first World Cup.

7. MARKING

This has been discussed in a previous article.

8. PSYCHOLOGICAL TACTICS

In competition, teams play different types of mind games. This is done simply to psyche out their opponents.

These are some examples:

i) Intimitation

A good example is how Carsten Fischer of Germany commanded respect in the defence with his hard-hitting style. Everyone gave him respect allowing him time and space to control the deep defensive area.

ii) Moving as a team

Team goes everywhere together in the same colour tracksuits or dress -- just to create a powerful impression.

There, are some unsportsmanlike practices which are put forward by some coaches. We feel that they should be outlined for information although it is to be hoped that teams will always play in a sporting manner and not resort to these unfortunate tactics.

Following are unsportsmanlike:

A. DECEPTION

Watch out! This can be done in several ways and is aimed to give opponents a false sense of security. For example, a player can unsportingly fake an injury by taping his thigh heavily before a match. The effect can be added to by the management and teammates spreading a rumour that the player has a pulled muscle.

A deception can also be achieved by falsely positioning the players at the start of the game so setting a fake system.

B. TIME-WASTING TACTICS

If opponents are getting on top, their rhythm can be broken by faking injuries, another regrettable practice.

In the 1980s, one could see many of the teams faking injuries, especially in a close game that they might be leading by a single goal with only a few minutes to go. A faked injury helped them to take a water break, gain a momentary rest, and so break the flow of the attack.

Psychologically time wasting can upset the opponents and is a good pace-controlling tactic. However, don't expect to get away with it in today's game. Umpires are wise to the tactic and don't allow the game to be stopped for treatment if they are not satisfied that the injury is genuine.

C. CHEAP TRICKS

These schoolboy pranks are intended to upset teams so that they lose their cool and are not able to concentrate and focus to their optimum levels.

For example: 'ghost' telephone calls at night; giving odd hours of practice to participating teams, either early in the morning or late at night. Most teams will be wise to them.

D. DIRTY TACTICS

We see deliberate fouls outside the 25 in almost all international matches. It is done so tactfully that it appears to be just by chance, but the rhythm of the attack is broken, team-mates are given time to recover and regroup and pack their defence again. Again, don't expect to get away with it. Good umpires will punish these deliberate infringements which are against the spirit of the game.

E. PSYCHOLOGICAL

i) Eye Contact Look straight into the eyes of an opponent, giving him a deadly stare - just to scare or upset him. It is childish and rarely works.

ii) Opponents' Territory Warming up in the opponents' half, just before a game, just to irritate them. However, you may not get away with it at a top tournament. Pitch officials will warn you.

iii) Ignore opponent On some occasions, ignoring can be very effective in annoying opponents, especially if they are of a young age. I remember an incident where one of the teams I coached became a victim of this sabotage. We were touring Germany, and were in Limburg in May 1984 to play a Test match against the German national team.

In the team meeting two young players expressed their anger against the Germans. They explained how they had been ignored by them at the reception; further, they explained how they would teach the arrogant Germans a lesson in the next day's Test match. They were sure they were going to beat them. I well remember the two young players who spoke loudest at the meeting both played poorly. They were totally psyched out. I had to substitute them as they had put unnecessary pressure on themselves and became over-excited and frustrated. Was this a deliberate move by the experienced German players?

CONCLUSION

It is very important to recognise what you know and to be aware of what you don't know. Never confuse the two.

To go a step further, to know is one thing and to be able to execute what you know is something else, especially under a pressure-cooker game situation.

As a coach you should study the athletes on your team, be aware of their strengths and weaknesses, both individually and as a team. This also applies to the opponents.

Design a simple, effective game plan. Explain it effectively with simple drawing on a black-board. Keep in mind these few tactical and strategical concepts.