10 April 2012
Space noun: a continuous area or expanse that is free, available, or unoccupied.
All day we are surrounded by space, the space of our living room, our office cubicle, or the space of nature around us; yet on the playing field it can sometimes be impossible to find any space at all.
On closer examination you will find that most team sports boil down to the ability of players to find space. Even in a less obvious sport like 10-pin bowling you want your ball to occupy a 'space' just to the left or right of the front pin. Indoor Netball, Indoor Cricket and Indoor Soccer are all sports that, in order for a team to be successful, it require a team's players to occupy the right space.
In this post I am going to discuss and highlight the essence of finding free space on court.
In most team-sports involving a ball, the skill is to find space by running with the ball to where there is no one, or between two players. However, Netball is a sport in which you can not run with the ball, meaning that in order to find free space, you must find it without the ball in hand. Most of the time you will have only one defender marking you, this makes life a little easier, in the sense that you have only one person to shake-off.
Although once you master how to shake-off your defender, the opposition will often put two of their players on the job of trying to stop you. But don't despair, as this leaves one of your fellow attackers free!!
So how do you 'shake-off' a defender and get some free space to yourself?
When receiving the ball from the defenders side of the court, the easiest way to get free space is to claim a spot just behind the halfway line, leaving the defender no space in front of you to get in the way. However, you now must move the ball down court towards the goal circle.
To find space closer to the goal circle it is best to do what I like to call the 'shake & bake'. This is where you first set up the play, by occupying a space a few metres away from the final free space where you want to eventually receive the ball. Your defender will follow you to this space (if they do their job properly). Now when your teammate is looking to pass you the ball, you take a small step in the opposite direction to where you actually want to go, and hope that your defender takes the fake and starts heading that way.
Then using the fact that you weight is now on that foot, push-off quickly in the direction you actually want to go and head to the space with you hands ready to catch the ball. Now your defender will have gone right and you will go left to the free-space, which you have had your eye on for the previous few seconds.
Moral of the story is to keep the free space free, by taking your defender out of the space a few moments before the play actually happens. It is a very simple step to do, and means you won't have to find space by running faster than your defender. Simply outsmart them.
Space in indoor cricket is a bit easier to find when batting, as the fielders are often static; allowing you to identify the free space before the ball is bowled. The hard part is actually getting into position to hit the ball into the free space. Refer to my previous blog on the the art of the 'down-up' for tips on how to hit the ball into free space above the fielders' head.
When fielding the principle of space, is to make it seem as though there is as little as possible to the batsmen. To do this you must occupy fielding positions in a way that you are crowding his field of view. To do this is requires that you field a couple of steps away from the nets towards the pitch, along with having an aggressive stance with your hands ready to field the ball and your legs shoulder width apart. Walking in step or two as the bowler lets the ball go also gets in the batters face.
The two fielders at the middle line should walk over the line (but not until the bowler has released the ball), thus putting 6 fielders in the front court.
Another useful tip is to watch the batsman's feet as the ball is approaching, this will give you a cue as to the likely place the shot will actually go (unless they miss hit the ball of course). From their footwork you can determine if they are going to play a drive (when they are on the front foot), or a cut shot (if they play on the back foot). Following the cues given by their footwork you can move into the space where you think the ball will go (based on their footwork), before it even gets there; giving you plenty of time to catch the ball or make a crucial run-out.
The general theme of this post is to try and identify the free space before the play actually happens. This way you can control the game, rather than simply reacting to where you opponent moves or hits the ball. Stay one step ahead of them and own the free space on court.
Happy space finding!