TEAM USA BORROWING FROM THE BULLS?
By Al Mattei
To the first-time watcher, the offensive system of play used by many high-lefel field hockey teams, including Team USA, seems to be somewhat haphazard, with little strategy involved.
But break it down into its basic elements, and the attack system which has been seen at the 1997 "A" camp bears a remarkable similarity to a philosophy used to win six NBA championships: the triangle offense.
The strategy, used by the Chicago Bulls and other teams, is this: attack half the floor with three players, maintaining space in a triangle formation with one of the players on the low block, one to the side, one outside. The idea is to generate a high-percentage, open shot in a short period of time.
The field hockey players of Team USA have plenty of speed and skill, as well as the ability to beat players off the dribble and shoot from any angle. In addition, the triangle offense assumes the ability to withstand individual and team tackling. This allows players not only to attack a defense as individuals, but as a seamless unit.
So, how has the triangle offense been brought into field hockey? It's a matter of skill and spacing, just like how it was conceived as the "Triple Post" attack in the 1940s by Tex Winter, an assistant head coach at Kansas State.
Winter, now an assistant coach with the Bulls, has seen this 50-year-old philosophy used to perfection in Chicago. It has spread to collegiate and scholastic basketball and, more recently, to field hockey.
In field hockey, this means spreading your attack around: your wingers, inners, and midfielders should be reasonably similar in ball-handling and shooting. Have your three "hot" players (the yellow Xs) about six yards apart: one near the edge of the circle, one on the wing, and one as close to the penalty spot as possible. There should be no player within about 15 feet of a teammate: two players too close to each other can be guarded by a single opponent. It also helps avoid crowding, the first symptom which often leads to third-party interference calls.
Once these positions are filled, at least two other attacking players should take up positions on the weak side of the field, inside the circle. You might notice that this style of attack is meant to finish off a possession, not a quick break, which requires a high level of patience with your skill and your interior passing.
The first pass (orange and white arrow) should try to break the defense, and there is no better way than to pass into the heart of the attack. It's just like feeding the post in basketball. With no offside and liberalization of the obstruction rule, an attacker in the center of the defense can take the ball to goal like a basketball post player as long as she keeps moving with the ball.
Once the ball goes inside, it can be shot on goal, or the player on the wing can head to goal for a pass. If not, it gets kicked out to the top, where it can be sent to the opposite side of the attack.
Once that happens, that weak-side player should have open room to shoot. Failing that, a pass down to a cutting player (red arrow) will reset the triangle. The corner players should feel free to flash through at any time for a tip-in on goal rather than take the outside shot as would be the case in basketball. Remember that you are trying to move a defense and a goalkeeper!
If you are looking for more information about the triangle offense, the original book "The Triple Post Offense" by Tex Winter is available along with a supplemental tract authored by the Chicago Bulls' assistant. For information you can e-mail email@example.com.