Specific Situations and Maneuvers

For all this text’s ponderous mass, its remarks have been at the level of generalities. However, a number of situations recur with enough frequency to merit specific comment.

Blocking shots

When a defender has an opportunity to block a shot at its point of origin, s/he should almost always take it. It is true that it is possible to obstruct the goalie’s view of the ball and on particular occasions actually help the offense. But more often than not, a block attempt is a good play for the defense.

When blocking a shot, the defender should be as close to the ball as courage permits, with the racquet face in a vertical plane (maximizing its profile to the possible vectors of the shot) and positioned close to the ball’s point of origin (of course, actually touching the ball before the shot originates will spoil the opportunity altogether, and is not to be avoided if your phalanges dare it). If both these things can be accomplished, there is a very fair probability that a shot will rebound against the defender’s racquet. If one is simply lunging into the offensive player’s shooting lane, stretch the racquet as close to the ball as possible. An attacker’s possible shots radiate outward in a cone from the point of the ball. A few well-interposed square inches directly in front of the ball cut off huge swaths of that cone. When a shot is certain, the normal defensive rule inverts: focus on obstructing the ball, not the player.

There are additional techniques that will depend on the players involved and the type of shot about to be taken. A player who bounces the ball up for a huge windup is about to unleash a howitzer. The wise def

Shutting down the outside alleys

One often finds oneself in the position of defending the gap between one of the outside net posts and the adjoining fence. This situation is usually not an immediately dangerous one, so one can afford to devote one’s attention to the ball and play with an emphasis on preventing the clear altogether.

The offense’s most comfortable play in this situation is to strike the ball along the fence. The chain link tends to flatten the ball’s rebound, and give one a high probability of passing the defender, with a lower downside if the try is unsuccessful. By contrast, playing the ball between the defender and the post requires more precise pass, and can have disastrous consequences when it is unsuccessful (picture the ball rebounding off the round net post towards the middle of the court...). The defense can therefore play against this predictable scenario.

When defending one-on-one against a player several yards away, overplay the fence: anchor your position against it by bracing your outside foot against it, simultaneously forcing the attacker to elevate the ball in order to pass you on that side (remember that the offense can be guilty of surfacing for clearing the net cord extended ). Then adopt a sound defensive position and be ready to make a quick stick reaction to try to keep the ball on your offensive half of the court. As the ballhandler approaches, his or her chances of passing successfully through the inside alley grow, along with the threat they might pose if they are able to effect this. Keep in mind that, especially at close range, this maneuver will get the momentum of the play moving directly towards your own goal. Therefore, if the ballhandler approaches you directly, shift your position slightly towards the inside , conceding an outside lane – a hard pass on this side will only bury the ball in a corner: not as good as preventing the clear altogether, but not an advantageous situation for the attacking team. Secure that you won’t give up a dangerous offensive situation, you should continue playing to stop the clear, and once you have walled out the inside lane against an oncoming offensive player, simply attack the ball directly, risk a poke check, and try to force the issue. It may not work, but with sound positioning, it won’t hurt to try.

A qualitatively different scenario ensues when the defense has two players attempting to prevent this clear. A simple division of labors can force a quick turnover here unless the ballhandler’s teammates are quick to his or her aid. One player should establish good position between the post and the fence, as outlined above. With the gap controlled, the other player is at liberty to go toe-to-toe with the offensive player and try to take the ball away.

In either event, it will often be to the offense’s advantage to multiply its playmaking possibilities by having someone lift up the net to open a new passing lane. The defense needs to be cognizant of this possibility, and prepared for...

Suppressing the lifted net

Nets are lifted routinely in the course of the game to let a ball under (or create the threat of a pass under the net). Of course, in many cases, this is simply something to be played like any other pass (a defender can also reach over the net to intercept the ball, although one is then is faced with the question of how to dispose of it). But defenders close to the net (e.g., defending the person doing the lifting) can take aggressive action to shut down the play. Aggressive, in this case, verges on outright thuggery. Stomp hard on the net where it touches the ground and rip it from the offensive player’s grasp, sealing off the pass. If the ball remains in play in the net area, and a danger to go under, stand on the bottom of the net, reaching over the top to play the ball.

As one plays, one recognizes under-the-net scenarios as they develop in the normal flow of the game. Bear in mind that with a flash of eye contact, an offensive player might make an “errant” pass towards the net and depend on a teammate to have it lifted by the time the ball reaches it.

Balls successfully intercepted in this way often become the subject of a scrum – one team desperately holding down the net, the other fighting to lift it, and two, three, four or more racquets stabbing at the ball from both halves of the court. All players in this situation need to be wary of the potential for a sudden offensive breakout. Often, one player in the scrum is able to play it cleanly enough to get the ball into space and create an immediate scoring opportunity. A player who might be his or her team’s last line of defense must be alive to the opponents’ possible lines of attack and ready to cut them off as best one can.

When the play cannot be stopped at the net, however, it becomes much like any other breakaway scenario (if it is a breakaway), or simply a successful clear leading to a settled offensive situation. Positioning oneself on the court to direct the flow of the play towards the sides and corners can be a good substitute for aborting the play altogether. And quite often, an under-the-net pass will have to be struck hard enough that, whatever its direction, the player lifting the net has no possibility to control it on the fly, but must chase it down – again, any sort of defensive presence in the area will make this more likely. A ball passed under the net is not inherently more dangerous than one which maneuvers around it; the defense should have no reservations about allowing the play when it is not especially menacing.

Occasionally a defensive player has the opportunity for more creative uses of the net, from either side of the court. A loose ball heading towards the net, or a lazily played ball that, for instance, an offensive player has dumped to the point can be invited into the other side of the court by an alert defender. A well-struck poke or kick at the net can redirect a ball on the other side, even one that is some feet away from the defender (this play is prohibited on the first ball of an opening play from center, which is very often a long pass parallel to the net to a wing player).

Although play at the net tends to be a bit more bruising than elsewhere on the tennis hockey court, it bears emphasis that it is an established norm that the net may not under any circumstances be lifted by anyone as a countermeasure to an opponent’s attempt to hurdle it. It should be obvious how dangerous a maneuver this is, and this author would not hesitate to recommend expulsion from the playing group for any player who shows a propensity to indulge in it.