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How to Stand Out as an Elite Player on the Pitch
As a coach, I'm often asked by players at all levels for my advice on what they need to do to succeed — to be the best of best and make it at an elite level.
Here’s the truth: For any hockey player, beginner or professional, the answer is largely the same. Being an elite player first requires passion and dedication to the game. But, a very close second is a constant effort to sharpen even the most basic skills — and, with that, the desire to seek feedback along the way.
How can you master these core qualities and stand out on the pitch? I train my players at the London Wayfarers Club using three main categories, each designed to help them grow. I call it my “Players That Can” training model. The idea is to start with the most basic skills and gradually increase in intensity.
Coach Ball suits up for a night practice with the London Wayfarers Club.
Here’s a look inside that strategy:
Being A Player That Can: Master the basics
You might be tired of hearing it, but basics really do count. Having the strength and persistence to practice a skill or set repeatedly is essential to any athlete’s success. Start your training with unopposed passing or shooting at distances that range between 5, 10, and 25 meters. This may seem monotonous, but it will help you perfect your technique without interference and high-level contact. Repeat every line and angle until it feels like second nature.
Coach Ball runs a dribbling drill ahead of the club's annual training camp.
As I was advancing in my career, I remember turning up to training sessions 30 minutes early to practice deflecting the ball into the back-right backboard from the penalty spot. I made sure I completed 150 repetitions before the warm-up started. I knew my teammates wouldn’t mind if I didn’t hit the top right corner when sprinting into the circle, but if I missed a deflection close to the goal, I’d never hear the end of it.
Being A Player That Can Do It Under Pressure: Overcome obstacles
A solid foundation for passing and receiving is critical — but how well can you translate those skills to the pitch? Try to progress into movement before receiving and add a passive defender. This will simulate the pressure of a real match and give you the opportunity to put the skills you’ve honed into play. This stage also gives your coach the opportunity to provide constructive feedback on how to respond in high-stakes situations.
Coach Ball and the team huddle for a post-practice debrief.
Being A Player That Can Do It Under Pressure…and Fast: Increase the intensity
Once you feel confident in your ability to juggle a few obstacles, double down on drills with a constant live defender and max ball speed. One area our team focuses on during this stage is the 10-meter pass. It must be the forehand and it must be perfect — if it isn’t, we do it again and again until we get close to perfection. From there, you can start to adjust your movement and develop a range of receiving techniques at a high speed — backhand, moving left and moving right.
BONUS: Being a Player That Can Take Constructive Feedback
As you move through the stages, be keen to receiving feedback from your coach and teammates. Ask questions about how you can improve. Self-awareness is as important as your shooting technique. If you’re not willing to hear and reflect on areas for growth, you’ll never improve. There might be something in your blind spot that you’re not seeing — don’t let pride hold you back.
Coach Ball and the 2018-2019 London Wayfarers Men's 1s squad.
This training model will allow you to grow your skills at your own pace, while also testing and stretching your performance under pressure. Remember, every team, including yours, has different characters that determine how you function as a group — how you play, how you train, how you win. Identify your greatest strengths, hone them, and be the best you can be.
Before he was coaching for the London Wayfarers Club, Phil Ball was crushing it for Wimbledon Hockey Club — experience a day in the life of his incredible run as an elite hockey player here.