(with an addendum written after the Cagliari Men's
World Cup Preliminary, Sept.29-Oct.12, 1996.)

In the last two decades we have seen a lot of changes to the rules of hockey. This has helped the game become more interesting and exciting. In some cases, however, the new rules were exploited with negative results [e.g., the chip shot in the 80's.] 

Pushing the ball back replacing the opening bully, and the penalty stroke replacing the penalty bully. 
Hit/push-ins instead of roll-ins for side line free hits. 
Stick stop replacing a hand stop on the offensive penalty corners-with this went the advantage of stopping the ball with the hand in the air. Then, during defensive penalty corners, 5 defenders allowed on the goal line instead of 6. 
Chip shot came and went. 
New obstruction interpretation. 
Offside rule changes from the centre line to the 25; later, 2 defenders instead of 3. 

Now the new "NO OFFSIDE" rule. 

Generally speaking, yes it is. Time tells whether the consequences of the changes are good or bad. Be the judge, and jog your memory back to find the answers. 

To transfer the balance of power towards the offense. 
To create more space around the circle & mid-field. 
To help the flow of play, more goals and less whistles. 
To make the game more exciting and appealing to spectators. 

The front three forwards can float anywhere near the opponents 'D' and goal line — even when the ball is in their deep zone. This will create a situation where the defenders marking them have to make a decision, whether they should stay back and mark their forward or leave them open and support their team attack and score more goals due to having the numerical advantage. It will be interesting to see when the halves don't mark their forwards and go into attack, do the forwards come back and defend or just wait up there for a quick counter attack? I think this will usually depend upon the individual team and the score of the match. 

A decision has to be made depending upon the strength/weakness of the team and the game situation. How much risk a team can afford to take, and what is the game philosophy – is the team offense minded or defense minded? 

Human nature usually tries to find ways to use minimum effort to get maximum results. 
Teams will be looking for long hits to pass the ball to their floating strikers, especially after absorbing the attack and generating a counter attack. 
The weaker teams will try to find short cuts bypassing the mid-field totally. There will be no buildup in attack - just long range hitting to get quick goals, making the game look like ping pong when the opponents also think alike and believe in short cuts. 
This might take away the beauty and buildup of the attack, which is one of the most exciting parts of the game. My biggest concern is that this may defeat the whole purpose of the change. 
The stronger and creative teams will exploit the open mid-field space and have their inners and half line players go more into attack. This will be effective as long as they are selective in doing so and don't leave their defense open. 
The intelligent strikers will take away their markers with them away from the top of the 'D' to create more space in the middle of the 'D' for the inners and halfbacks to come through and take shots on the goal. 

AVOID too many long hits to the floating strikers. 
ENGAGE the opponents mid-field and defensive players near the centre line, so there is space created behind them, which can be exploited. 
DEVELOP the ANTICIPATION and INTERCEPTION skills of the players in the defense to counter the through passes and long hits. 
DEVELOP excellent Tackling / Dodging Skills 1 on 1 or 2 on 1 in open spaces. 

When designing a game plan to gain the maximum advantage from the 'no-offside' rule, the first things to think about are the strengths and weaknesses of your team and the opposition. For example you should ask: 
Do we have strikers who are capable of eliminating the defenders cleanly on 1-on-1 or 2-on-1 situations? 
Do we have defenders who can easily tackle and dispossess forwards in 1-on-1 and 1-on-2 situations? 
How much risk can we afford to take as a team? In other words, how many extra players can we send into the attack? 
Teams should consider these questions before designing a plan. 

 Attacking Principles and Space Knowledge 
The new rule does not change the basic concepts of attacking play - of being aware of width and depth and the angles of passing that are the most dangerous. The awareness of the role of space is, of course, still vital in attack. To elaborate on this point, below the attacking zone is divided into three broad categories (High, Medium & Low Quality) depending on the situation.  

For making a move or a defense splitting pass: 
RI is High Quality; LI is Medium Quality 
For receiving a pass: 
LI, RW & LW are High Quality; base line is Low Quality (LQ) - avoid  
For scoring a goal 
CF is High Quality; LI is Medium-High Quality 

 From a defensive point of view: 
High Quality Zones must be guarded closely; Medium Quality Zones must also be watched. 

 Changes in Positional Play -- Defender 
Defenders should not be drawn away from their traditional zones by the forwards. You must cover the High and Medium Quality Zones, and not be tempted to the side and back lines. If the forward goes there, just keep an eye on him, but don't follow. If he receives the ball you should: 
-cover the angles 
-delay as long as you can, so help can come 
-not panic and rush in and commit 
-put pressure by feinting as you go to tackle 

 Changes in Positional Play -- Attacker 
Move around to stretch the defender as much as you can. See how far you can move him. The attackers should work to move the defenders from the High and Medium Quality Zones – vacuum him from his traditional position - leaving space for your team to exploit. 
Also, try to pull the opponents' defenders to the centre line to create space near the 25 yd line. Aerial passes can then be sprinkled on the 25 for forwards to run on to. This can be very dangerous. 
-staying (and hence receiving passes) in the low quality zones 
-standing right behind a defender 

 Remember: use your head - the basic concepts of the game have not changed. 

It is good that the "Hockey Gurus" are thinking so much about how to make the game more attractive with mass appeal. In all this though, in my opinion, we are missing the point. The real cause of the problem is that the game is becoming more & more defensive and mechanical. Coaches should encourage Flare & Creativity. To do this we should develop highly skilled players - the ones who can do wonders with the ball in tight game situations - the way Pele & Ramario from Brazil and Manzoor Jr. and Shahbaz from Pakistan have demonstrated on the field under pressure in tight game situations. 

When we can develop coaches and players that are offensively minded, with positive attitudes, imagination – is this possible and realistic? – we need not worry about attracting the spectators. They will come to hockey as bees come to honey. 

Coaches should develop highly skilled, creative players and encourage them to be imaginative and play with flare. This way we will not see the need to make so many rule changes so fast. It is also very important to teach these players how to run off the ball, creating space for them and their teammates. 


Before coming to the first major senior international tournament with the new offside rule -- Men's World Cup, Preliminary, Cagliari, Italy, Sept. 29-Oct.12, 1996 -- I was struggling to find answers to the following burning questions. 
How will the new no offside rule effect the game? 
What type of changes we will see? 
Will it make the game more open, flowing, and attacking? 
Will we see more field goals scored? 
Will there be more flair and opportunity -- with open space -- to demonstrate individual and mini team skills? 
How much more demanding will this be physically and mentally for the players? 
Will this new rule and other recent rule changes help accomplish the objectives set by the F.I.H. Rules Advisory Board? 
These new rules were in effect in some countries on an experiment basis for about a year. The feedback coming in was not clear or specific. After observing the Italy tournament, it is clear that there are changes on the field and the way the teams are trying to play this rule. They are successful to a degree, but maybe it is a bit too early to jump to conclusions! 
Following are the observations of the changes at this tournament. 

 Has It Created More Space? 
YES! The game has definitely opened up, creating more space and gaps to be exploited in certain zones of the field. 

 Which Are Those Zones? 
Depending upon the game plan and the particular style of play of the competing teams, the space seems to be created: 

(i) in the mid-field on the either sides of the Center Line, 10-15 yards towards the Goal Line. Please see diagram. 

(ii) at the D TOP: 
On the counter attack situation, when the links join the high floating strikers on the D top. The strikers force their marking defenders to come with them to the goal line. This creates space at the D top for the on rushing links with the ball. There were certain key goals scored by the links in crucial matches which turned the tempo of the game. Fore example. New Zealand left inners field goal against Switzerland in the pool match (see diagram). Also two important goals by Canada's Robin D'Abreo L.L, and Ian Bird L.B., overlapping against Poland in the semi-final. 

(iii) Side Corners The high up floating strikes seem to be using the space in the four corners of the field a bit more. This is after floating behind the deep defenders, they re-lead into this space to receive passes. Please see diagram and photograph. 


It has stretched the teams to open up and use extra 50 yd., 25yds. Each from 25 yd. line to goal line. This new found space in the mid-field, allows the mid-field players to make more long lateral and diagonal passes - only for the teams who like to, and understand its importance - to maintain possession, change focus of play, or make defense splitting passes. 
The biggest negative effect has been that it has taken the mid-field build up from the game -- please refer to the first part of this article. The weaker teams seem to bypass the mid-field, thinking of 'get-rich-quick' schemes. In a way they are overdoing it and shooting themselves in the foot. Many teams didn't seem to have the skills and the understanding to fully exploit this new rule. 

1 or 2 strikers generally pushed way up high near the opponents D and goal line, on some occasions even when their team was under attack. Please see the following photographs from the semifinal at Cagliari between New Zealand and Ireland. New Zealand is in white. 
In the past it would not look like this. 

 Picture 1: Ireland attacking with two free 'floating' forwards creating a 4 on 2 

 Picture 2: New Zealand attacking, being man-to-man marked even at the baseline 

Picture 3: Even when defending Ireland leave a striker at the top of the New Zealand circle 

Picture 4: Ireland on the attack - the striker is pulling his shadow across the circle 


Some teams seemed to overload the zone where the ball was, with the aim to totally cut all options - from defensive point of view. In other words, the game seemed to be played more on the sidelines of the field. For example, New Zealand being a dominant right-side attack team, used this move a lot. R.W. pushed near the goal line, taking his marker (L.B.) with him. This created a vacuum zone for the R.H. to overlap to support the attack. A quick switch to the L.I. at the D top lead to the only goal scored by them against Switzerland, a very sound tactical team. Please see diagram below. 

Most teams in this tournament bypassed mid-field, making 
our game look more like ping- pong -- a scary situation to think of. But the good thing is that this did not get them any further either. But I hope the top 6 in the world don't do this! 

My personal views are that the teams did not take full advantage of the new space generated by this new no offside rule. 
Why Was This? 
-Due to lack of space awareness and the basic concepts which govern it. 
-Due to lack of running off the ball individually and as a team. 
-Not fully developed range of skills, individually and as a team -- especially the receiving and passing skills under pressure in dynamic game situations, both short and long range. Same with the 1 on 1 elimination, play making and effective through passes. 
The playing standard of the competing teams was not so high -- they were ranked from 13 to 27 by the F.I.H. It will be interesting to see how the tope six in the world play in the Champions Trophy in Madras, India in Dec.1996. 
Who is the real culprit?…..NO OBSTRUCTION RULE 
This semi new rule has encouraged the modern player to develop so many bad habits that they don't know what they are missing. It takes an extra few seconds to receive and move into an attacking position. These extra seconds snatch away the golden goal scoring opportunities, and this allows the defender and teammates to recover. 

The ball is pushed or hit so hard that it is not possible for the forwards to receive the pass on the run. This forces them to receive the ball in a stationary position which in return gives the marker time to get ready, reposition himself/herself and have more teammates to cover. 

As the players get a first hand experience. They are - the wise one's - in a better position to analyse and make comments. 
I interviewed the following players from the silver medal winning Canadian team, and asked three basic questions. 
* What effect does this new rule have on the game? 
* How has it effected their role and responsibility, in their particular position? 
* Has it been more demanding physically and mentally? 

"It is not such a big change, but in a way it was. Some teams did it a little (long range hitting) and others a lot more." 
"It has been more demanding mentally, as I had to be aware where the forwards were, particularly if they were behind me. There was communication between me and Patrick Burrows (sweeper) to cut the lanes …shift bottom left /bottom right." 
"As far as the physical demands were concerned, I had to do more moving, running left and right, to cover lanes. But not hard running." 
[Note: In this case, Patrick, the sweeper, picked up the high floating striker and Alan marked the zone and supported the attack.] 

"The strikers forced their markers- half backs - to come with them to the backline, this created space at the top of the D. When there was a turnover in the mid-field, the opponents came like a HURRICANE, and left the half backs in a dilemma." 

"The mid-field passes are there, if you want to use them, but they were not used enough. 
"Side line zone was used to attack." 
"No team was able to exploit the rule as much as it should have been or was expected." 
"It has not influenced the game as one thought it would have." 
"There were too many long hits, bypassing the mid-field." 
"Physically it was more demanding, 15-20% more running than before." 

"has not effected the game very much." 
" There have been too many long balls, bypassing the mid-field." 
"Teams have been looking for short cuts, hitting diagonal balls into the D." 
" Being a new rule teams are still experimenting." 
"Slightly more running, but more a useless running." 

" As a forward, you didn't have to worry, being caught offside when making a lead." 
"There have been unnecessary diagonal hits into the D for the onrushing strikers. Too many players looking for a quick reward by hitting long balls." 
"Teams are still adjusting, more time is needed." 
Further Chris comments on the 5 yard rule in the offensive 25: 
" This has helped the defenders to regroup after a foul, especially in a breakaway situation. This takes extra seconds. In a way it has been a disadvantage for the offense." 

In my opinion, this rule is a step in the right direction by the F.I.H. It has certainly created more space and opportunity for a superior and skillful team to play a more flowing game. 
We have seem in this first tournament that the teams are still experimenting, adjusting and waiting to see what the 'Top 6' will do in the coming Madras, Champions Trophy. 
However, with my tongue - in - cheek, I forecast, if the teams play with the same negative mentality as most did in the Atlanta Olympic Games, I can't see a positive impact on the game. As we know, there are no short cuts to success. When the modern player has developed the special skills – individual skills, game sense and intelligence – and has a positive attacking mentality, we will see this rule having a big impact on our game and pushing it in a positive direction.