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Going 1-1 with the Goalie: Attack Tips from Gold Medalist Alex Danson
"Defense wins championships," as the saying goes, but to walk off the pitch with the W, your team needs to put points up on the board — and that means a strong offensive lineup.
So, what can you do to grow your skills and make a big impact for your team this season? GB Hockey legend Alex Danson has a few ideas…
Alex has been lighting it up for both club and country since she first broke into the elite field hockey scene in 2001. With over 100 career goals and 300 caps to her name – not to mention a Gold Medal from the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio with Great Britain Hockey – Alex is the player every field hockey athlete dreams of becoming. We sat down with the superstar to chat about her success on the pitch, how she’s become such a clinical finisher and why she believes practice makes perfect:
Whether it’s for club or country you’ve consistently been a top-scorer — how do you continue to find creative ways to get past the goalie?
Honestly, I love to practice. I always have! I can’t emphasize enough just how important practice is if you want to get better at something, whether sport related or not. There’s no shortcut.
After practice ends, I usually do extra sessions on the field with the goalies to work on my overall technique and try out new maneuvers. I’ve also started using rebound boards and nets to keep things a little more unpredictable and simulate that in-game experience.
When you’re lining up a shot, what’s your approach? What’s running through your mind?
My attacking strategy is all about trying to create 2-v-1’s across the pitch. If you’re able to do that, then you’ll always have the option to pass, dribble or take the shot. Then, the challenge is making the right move at the right time.
When I go to shoot, I don’t really think. My instinct is to get the ball to the goal and then adrenaline takes over once I get up to the net. When I was younger, one of my coaches told me, “You miss 100 percent of the chances you never take.” That really stuck with me.
What are your top tips for taking on a defender and getting past the goalie?
When you’re approaching a defender, I always recommend three things: move them, spin them and lift the ball around them. If you’re able to execute all three of those as you attack, you’ll throw the defender off balance, decreasing the chances of them blocking or deflecting your shot.
As you begin to approach the goalie, try to head in one direction as quickly as you can, while maintaining possession. Since the goalie wears a heavier kit and more equipment on the pitch, it will always take longer for them to shift direction. Then, when your opportunity comes to get past the goalie, be sure to take care of the ball and its placement as you maneuver. You’ll have more time than you think, so try not to overcomplicate it!
You mentioned how much you love to practice — what are some of your go-to practice drills?
Like I said, I’ve really been enjoying using the rebound nets! Once the ball hits the net, it’s tough to predict where it will land or how it’s going to get there, similar to an in-game experience.
To work on this aspect of my game, once the ball lands, I’ll take a shot from wherever it stops, no matter my body position or placement. Shots are rarely perfect and clean, so this type of drill builds your skill to generate a shot from any body position.
How often would you say things go according to plan on the field vs. how often you have to rely on instinct and team chemistry?
Going into each match, we always have a structure and game plan set. While we’re typically very good at sticking to the strategy, key moments in a match often come down to your instincts. While most people believe instincts come naturally, I believe they can be developed through experience and understanding what the right decisions are in key moments of a game. If you repeatedly practice different scenarios, shots and plays, that instinct will kick in during the game.
Chemistry is essential for a successful team, especially during the course of a match. The culture and environment your team operates in, both on and off the pitch, facilitates this. The better the chemistry, the better I believe teams can work together in the good and rough times.
What’s the best advice you’ve received from another forward on how to approach the position? Who’s your greatest role model in that position?
The best advice I ever received was from our old coach, Craig Keegan. He always said, “Expect the ball will fall to you and always be ready for it — the best goals are the ones you don’t see coming!”
I actually have two role models I try to craft my game from: Team England and Team Great Britain legends Tina Cullen and Jane Smith. They both had such an incredible attitude, working tirelessly at everything they did on the pitch. I try to instill that same mentality and work ethic in my own game.
Another reason we’re obsessed with Alex Danson? On top of her killer attack skills, she’s super passionate about growing the game! Here are a few ideas from Alex on how you can help elevate the sport in your own community.