The Best Defense is Whacking Your Opponent’s Shins

Sound team defense in tennis hockey most likely shares many principles with its iceborne forebear, as well as with basketball, soccer and the many other sports featuring continuous action around a goal or target. However, this plausible supposition has been at best haphazardly confirmed by the actual play of games unburdened by organization-minded coaches.

As in any sport, the tennis hockey defense has two related objects: prevent goals, and regain possession of the ball. And as in any team sport, it has two related manifestations: individual (one-on-one) defense, and team coordination. Unique to tennis hockey is the overarching goal: get to Safeway to sit on some cheese.

Individual Defense

Allowing for slight variances, individual defensive technique involves the same principles in virtually every ball-handling sport. Tennis hockey draws from that basic school: a low center of gravity, legs apart, with the weight on the balls of one’s feet, allowing for rapid lateral movement is the starting point for effective one-on-one defense against the player with the ball. Move with short, rapid steps skimming the surface of the court and avoid crossing legs whenever possible, keeping oneself agile and ready for any line of attack the offensive player might attempt. Present the widest possible barrier to the ballhandler, although not to the exclusion of one’s own mobility. The racquet remains a complement to the position of the body -- it can be used to control the movement of the attacking player, or to extend one’s reach, but reliance on stickwork alone is a close cousin to reliance on one’s goalie. One possible approach: play the attacker’s body with one’s own body, maintaining center of gravity and footwork to stay in front of the offensive player, and play the ball with one’s racquet, maneuvering one’s own stick to keep it close to the ball and ready to obstruct a shot, tip a pass, or poke at a carelessly played ball (and, in any event, threaten to do all of these things and thereby decrease the attacker’s level of comfort).

However, whatever the approach, the defender should strive first and foremost — especially when confronted with a dangerous offensive player — to stay between the ball and the goal; of nearly equal importance is gaining a steady defensive stance as described above. Sprinting is occasionally necessary on defense, but a defender on a dead run is vulnerable to being deked out of the play; agility and quickness are prized more highly than stopwatch speed.

A defensive player in good position has a number of options, which may be poor plays or good ones depending on a variety of game situations as well as the level of roughness countenanced by prevailing local standards. Factors to consider for the defender may include, but are not limited to: