The Boxes Evolution

Sometimes things change through time so slowly that you can hardly realize the difference one day to the other, but if, after certain period of time, you stop and look back how it was before, and how it is now, you might recognize a big difference.

A couple of months ago I was going through some old posts because I had to prepare a Defensive Course, and I found something I had written that, as soon as I saw it, my first thought was “How on earth did I think that was a good idea???”. Apparently it made sense back then. Now, without having even realized, I do it completely different and I think that was actually a bad idea.

As hockey coaches we are all the time trying to develop new strategies in order to overcome the opposition. At the same time, once we find a way to do it, that opposition will find their own new strategy to stop us again, and that cicles goes on and on.

This is the best path to hockey evolution in general.

For the last years we have been thinking and developing how to beat a zonal press, focusing mostly on playing “The Box Game”. We have spent hours and hours training dynamic receiving, ball routes, deflections and all sort of ways to break those lines and, as those ideas were being successful, the defense part had to start changing again to stop this actions.

So, let get to the important point: What has changed?

Press carried out by Belgium in the 2014 Rio Olympics

We always worked on The Box Game thinking the boxes as squares, of course never perfect, but almost squares. In this picture we can see how much space the argentinean player have to receive inside those boxes.

When this kind of press started, it was very effective, but, as we said before, we worked a lot on how to break it and those boxes started looking bigger and bigger to the speed our players could play. So we had to develop new adjustments in order to stop them.

It’s a permanent “arm wrestle” going one way or the other.

So, how does the zonal press look nowadays?

The solution most teams have found in order to stop player breaking the boxes so easily, was to start putting the center mid higher and higher, in order to be him the one to put pressure as soon as a player received the ball.

While we used to have a 4-3-3 zone, it slowly started shifting, ending up in front with one high forward, a line of 3 behind, and only two midfielders behind.

Boxes Pressure Evolution
How the Zonal Press has evolved over time

So, are we saying that on this kind of press Boxes no longer exist?

Not at all. If you want to see them, they will still be there, it’s all a matter of what you want to interpret. What I personally think is that, in this situations, identifying the old Boxes no longer make sense, since their shape makes it almost impossible to play inside of them.

Same Structure, different interpretations

The main objetive of this press is getting players to receive in, what seems, to be boxes, but in the end will be small triangles (like the last image). This triangles, compared to the squares, are much smaller, hence, the pressure will com faster.

We have seen teams carrying out this kind of press effectively during the Pro League, putting high pressure on the low midfielders when receiving the ball, and, most important: This pressure being done by one high mid and one forward, what means you still have plenty of players behind in case there is a mistake or a long pass.

High Press while still keeping numbers behind

The high forward is in charge of keeping the center defenders far away from the rest of the press, making their pass forward as further away as possible, giving more time for his teammates to react and put pressure.

Some examples

Australia’s Structure against GB (02-02-20)
Australia’s high triangle pressing GB’s Center Mid
NZ’s high triangle pressing GB’s Center Mid

And finally, some videos, from the same press, carried out by Argentina against Spain (Pro League, 08-02-2020)

Argentina Triangles Press against Spain (Pro League 2020)

The whole point of this post is to identify how this kind of Press is working right now. Once we have done that, we have to start creating new tactics and strategies in order to be able to play against it, trying to get the best outcome as possible. Each coach will come out with their own solutions, but, for sure, we will be paying attention to the next couple of Pro League games in order to see how each different country deals with it.

The defensive side has made their move. It’s time for the Offense.

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