Hockey 9s format looks to have great promise
Few would argue that the recent Lanco International Super Series (LISS) – which took place in Perth, Australia – was a bold and fascinating hockey experiment. The LISS went to extremes by creating a completely new format in a bid to increase excitement and broadcasting potential. Significantly, it featured international teams, with Australia, India, Pakistan, New Zealand, and Malaysia competing in this unique men’s and women’s competition.
As has been widely reported, the dramatic format changes included reducing the number of players on field to nine per team, increasing the width of the goals by one metre and introducing a more relaxed approach to foot and stick violations outside the circle. Matches were reduced in length, with two fifteen minute halves being played instead of the normal 35 minute periods. There were also big changes to long and penalty corner situations. All of these adjustments came together to create a sparkling blend of attacking hockey that was thoroughly enjoyed by stadium spectators and television viewers alike.
“We decided to go for a new format because we wanted to change the paradigm a little bit,” said Kookaburras coach Ric Charlesworth in an interview ahead of the tournament. “I think what we have in hockey is that the game has developed significantly in the last ten years. It’s become much faster and more fluent, and we thought that with more space, more opportunities for people to attack and perhaps more goals being scored we could perhaps push the envelope even further.”
As Charlesworth accurately predicted, the extra space created by the reduced number of players on the field resulted in a lot of exciting counter-attacking play and plenty of goal-scoring opportunities. The men’s final in particular showed just how quickly things can happen in this format, with five goals being scored in fifteen frantic first half minutes. This kind of scoring rate may be a common occurrence in the indoor game, but is rarely seen outdoors. The larger goals were certainly a factor behind the scoring statistics as they encouraged players to shoot on sight, but the number of missed chances suggests that the goals were not so big that a score could be virtually guaranteed.
The tournament umpiring also came in for great praise, with the match officials adapting very well to the rule changes. They allowed play to flow following an infringement but also showed good judgement when to award a foul. The players themselves did not take long to adjust, playing to the whistle rather than looking for a free hit to be awarded in their favour.
According to reports submitted to the FIH, the modifications to long corner plays were greatly appreciated by both players and coaches. Under Hockey 9s rules, long corners saw five attackers taking on five defenders (including the goalkeeper), with all other players starting at the half-way line until the ball becomes “live”. The 5 v 5 format reduced circle congestion and resulted in more goal-scoring opportunities.
Penalty corners were also subjected to a Hockey 9s makeover which made them almost unrecognisable to the standard game. These plays saw four attackers facing just two defenders and a goalkeeper, with the ball having to travel outside of the 23 metre line before a goal. The 23 metre rule eliminated the option of a drag-flick from the top of the circle, which reduced the danger of the play and meant that players did not spend a lot of time putting on face-masks. Another interesting experiment regarding penalty corners was the introduction of a timer which demanded that the play must start within 25 seconds of the corner being awarded.
Despite all of its accomplishments, it is clear that Hockey 9s is not yet the finished product. It was reported that many of the coaches would have liked the matches to be longer than 30 minutes, a point made by iconic Kookaburras striker Jamie Dwyer on Twitter shortly after his first game. Dwyer wrote that he was a big fan of the new format, but wished it was “a little longer” and put forward the suggestion of 20 minute halves.
It was also a hectic tournament for technical officials, who had just ten minutes between the end of one match and the start of the next. However, the quick turnaround was great news for the spectators who got great value for money by being able to watch intense and electrifying international matches in quick succession.
Although there are clearly some issues that still need to be ironed out, it is apparent from early feedback that this format has the potential to develop into something very special. There have already been a number of reports in the media that the Lanco International Super Series is likely to become an annual event, something which would certainly please the majority of fans who watched a wonderful weekend of hockey in Perth.
Players, coaches and fans give their thoughts about the tournament.
"I often said that Hockey 9s is a fun variety. This modified version helps to sharpen reflexes and scoring prowess. We also tested our players' readiness to adapt to different formats." India women’s coach CR Kumar speaking to The Times of India.
"Just finished first game of LISS and it was fun. Just wish it was a little longer, 20 minute halves maybe." Legendary Kookaburras striker Jamie Dwyer via Twitter.
“Wooo! Victories for both Hockeyroos and Kookaburras at LISS. Great weekend enjoyed by all! Huge success.” Hockeyroos star Marnie Hudson via Twitter.
“I think it has been a success and enjoyable to play. The players have enjoyed it. The goalkeepers have been brought more into the play which is a good thing. If you look at the stats, we are generating the same amount of chances in this form of the game than what we would usually get in a full 70 minutes in a regular game so there is a lot of action.” Kookaburras coach Ric Charlesworth.
“Congrats to Hurricane fan Eddie Ockenden who captained the Kookaburras to a series win in the LISS. Exciting & fast format just like T20!” Hobart Hurricanes Cricket Team via Twitter.
“Can't believe the LISS is over. Watching hockey in Australia has been an ABSOLUTE treat!” Hockey fan Sukhmanani Singh on Twitter following the completion of the tournament finals.
“Just finished watching the LISS. Great to see the Hockeyroos and Kookaburras, great wins and good to see on TV just not sold on format.” Jim Maloney via Twitter.
“Saw Kookaburras v India yesterday. It was pretty good. Fast paced. The long and short corners are interesting.” Blogger Matthew Kelly via Twitter.
“I think it’s an exciting form of the game and we need to embrace it. I think that in the future we will see it become very popular with the crowds and that’s what we need to promote our sport.” Adam Commens, coach of Australia’s Hockeyroos.
More information about the Lanco International Super Series can be found on the Hockey Australia website by clicking here.