“From the chessboard to the field” by Andreu Enrich

In hockey, like in any other culture / field of knowledge, there are many concepts that are commonly used. Words that sound good and tend to fit well in any sentence. For example, in the Netherlands they use the word “energy” as one of these lexic jokers. You say something like “the energy was not good” or “great energy, guys” and everyone agrees and think you’re good. If we talk about hockey tactics, there are also some magic concepts, and today I’m going to reflect about one of these: the superiority.

For this short study I’m going to use some concepts extracted from the great sport of chess (yes, chess is an sport although you can’t buy a chessboard at Decathlon) and I’ll try to bring them into our hockey field. In chess, they have been studying the concept of superiority (or advantage) for centuries. And they have defined some different types of “advantage” that you can get and use in your games.

First-move Advantage

It is statistically proven that starting with whites bring more odds to win than starting with blacks. The average is slightly above 50%, but it’s constantly proven tournament after tournament. For example, in the last Hockey World Cup, out of 36 games, there was a winner in 27 of them (draws are not counting here). Out of these 27 games, in 21 of them, the first team that scored, was the final winner of the game. So, scoring first increases your odds to win the game.

Quantitative Material Advantage

In chess, we say that you have a quantitative material advantage when you have more pieces than your opponent on the chessboard. In football and in hockey, we use the concept of “Numerical Superiority”. We have a numerical superiority when we’re more than our opponent. This is clear when there is a time suspension after a card, but here the meaning goes beyond than this. When the players with potential participation in the action are more than the opponents, we have a numerical superiority. There are more close players than close opponents in the context of the ball.

Qualitative Material Advantage

But if the number of pieces is the same, the absolute value of the pieces can be different, depending on the value of the pieces you can have. For example, it’s not the same to have a bishop and a knight (value of 6), than having a rook and a knight (value of 8). In this case, the blacks have a “quality of advantage” over whites. But this qualitative material advantage can bring us to another possible situation. In football and in hockey, we use the term “Qualitative Superiority”. We have this superiority when we’re better than the others. That means that our players are able to execute the actions with more effectiveness than our opponents. So, given a numerical equality, we will have a qualitative superiority if our players involved in the action are better than the opponents. Actually, we can have another extreme situation: we can have a qualitative superiority and a numerical inferiority at the same time. Yes, if you have Robbert KempermanValentin Verga and Seve VanAss together, they will probably eliminate more than three opponents, because they’re just simply better.

Positional Advantage

While the material advantage is based on the absolute value of the pieces, the positional advantage is based on the relative value. It’s based on the “potency” of the pieces regarding its position on the chessboard and the actions they can do according to their position. The variables that determine this potency are time and space. When a player has space advantage is when their pieces have a better position on the chessboard than the pieces of the opponent. Better mean that we’re able to cover and threat more spaces than our opponent. The time advantage is related to the number of movements you have to execute before achieving a particular goal. The time you spend, compared with the time your opponent has to spend in order to achieve or protect the same goal.
In football and hockey, we use the concept of “Positional Superiority”. We have this superiority when we are better placed than our opponents. Our players are located in a way that disable the successful participation of the opponents. This better placement is related to the space, but also to the body position and the field of vision. Normally, three players that are “facing the play” are in a better position than three opponents that are in the intermediate space. When you have a positional superiority, your players are in a better position to take better decisions and to eliminate opponents while combining between each other. This is what FCBarcelona tries all the time, through concepts like “third man”.

Combinational Advantage

In chess, a seqüence of movements is called “combination”. Every combination has the goal to create an advantage (any of the previously mentioned). The combination emerges from the interaction between different pieces. Their potencies combined. Obviously, every combination has a direct relation with a plan that is in the player’s mind, because pieces are not autonomous agents. Depending on the position of the pieces and the ability of the master to combine them, we will have better potential combinations that can harm the opponent. In football and hockey, this concept is called “Socio-Affective Superiority”. We have this superiority when we relate better than our opponent. That has to be with the identity of our players and their “communicative” capital (concept introduced in my last article). For example, if we’re in a 2v2 situation where there is no qualitative advantage and no positional advantage, we can still get an advantage if our players are able to coordinate themselves together and generate the advantage, for instance, with a perfect (in time and space) draw and pass movement.

As we have seen, there is a relation between all the possible advantages in chess and the theory of superiorities in football and hockey (Seirul·lo). The main weakness I see is that most of the “old paradigm” coaches are only focused on finding the numerical superiority, when the most important ones are the other three.

First of all, try to improve the skills of your players, so they will have a higher value and, given even situations, they’ll be better than the opponents. Second, try to show them where, when and how to be placed inside the field, so they will take the advantage of positional superiority. And finally, develop the capacity to relate between each other, so they will combine better.


Andreu Enrich

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