The recently concluded two-match hockey series against the world eleven was a welcome step to revive international hockey activities in Pakistan. While the young Pakistani hockey players look forward to improve their physical fitness and gain experience against European counterparts, the eight goals scored against Pakistan in two matches showed that our deep defence needs massive improvement in approach and technique.
In modern hockey, a team which has worked hard on its physical fitness, penalty corner conversion and goalkeeping is likely to win.
With the offside rule amendment, the role of the goalkeeper in hockey has become vital. The goalkeeper is now not only a heavily padded deep defender, waiting for the opponents attempt on the goal, but a thinking machine and the last citadel of defence, who guides the entire defence in the circle.
Mansoor Ahmad, one of all-time great goalkeepers of the world, said attitude and confidence are keys to excellent goalkeeping and that is why goalkeepers are born and not made.
Mansoor calls Ian Taylor, Ahmad Alam, Shahid Ali Khan and Saleem Shirwani all-time great goalkeepers who added new dimensions to goalkeeping.
Mansoor says that a good goalkeeper will be able to read the game, direct defence and position himself. The goalkeeper has the best view of the game and should start directing his defenders when the ball reaches 25 yard line. He says that the goalkeeper should be able to anticipate passes and moves of the attackers.
Being a goalkeeper requires strong mental and physical ability and a thinking mind is the most valuable thing that a goalkeeper must possess. He or she must be calm, must make quick decisions and play the ball under pressure.
A great goalkeeper is distinguished from a good goalkeeper by his quick and confident choices. He must be quick at making decisions in angles, clears and saves. A goalkeeper needs strength, agility, flexibility, explosiveness, coordination, quickness, balance, endurance, courage, concentration and above all creativity.
The modern-day hockey goalkeeper has to be extremely fit as he wears a lot of things: helmet, throat protector, shoulder pads, chest protector, elbow pads, blocker, gloves, leg guards, kickers, pelvic protector. Even with all that protection, the ball will find areas on the body that don’t have padding.
In order for a goalkeeper to be successful, he or she must follow the three Cs: Courage, Concentration and Communication. The most important aspect of a goalkeeper’s performance is positioning. A goalkeeper’s skills can be excellent, but if his positioning is incorrect he will be beaten by the attacker.
The goalkeeper must face the ball squarely in the centre of the goal and should always remain in front of the goal, behind the stroke mark. The farther out a goalkeeper plays, the narrower the angle for the attacker. By increasing the distance from the goalmouth, the goalkeeper decreases the angle at which the attacker has to score a goal.
All good goalkeepers are well aware of the dangerous zones. They break the pie of circle in three zones and master its angles. The basic skills for goalkeepers are comparable to the basic skills for the goalkeepers in other sports. Balance, reaction time and good judgment are the key to mastering the goal. Not only his or her stance should be correct, the goalkeeper must also know crossover clearing, redirecting the ball with pads, toe- and punch-clear techniques, glove and stick saves, over-the-head clears, stick dives, lunge saves and quick-split saves.
To master these skills, goalkeepers have to undergo repetitive drills till the time these skills become their second habit.
All great achievements start with a desire. In field hockey, desire needs to be more than a wish for success. It is focused commitment that turns desire into reality. A goalkeeper must possess this desire and inner strength to achieve greatness in the goal.
Pakistan hockey is living in the past when technique and tactics were enough to outmaneuver the physically-fit opponents. Over the last 25 years, hockey has changed drastically and no team in the world can survive without physical fitness, reliable bench strength and a resolute defence, supported by an outstanding goalkeeper.
Pakistan hockey needs a brilliant goalkeeper like Mansoor Ahmad or Ahmad Alam. The sooner we find an exceptional goalkeeper, the earlier the margins of defeat will be reduced for Pakistan hockey.