How to Defend when Outnumbered in Field Hockey

In field hockey, you need to play smart, not hard. Defense is a combination of skills and intelligence. When you are outnumbered, you need to focus less on stealing the ball and more on buying time for your team to set up the defense. Because field hockey is a team sport, no matter how great your skills are, you need support from your teammates to defend successfully. This guide will cover the tactics used to turn an outnumbered situation in your favor.

Stick Position

The first thing you must know about defending is that your stick is the biggest aspect of your defensive game. Make sure to keep your body and stick low to the ground. By doing this, you will always be in position to defend against passes or shots on goal.

Your stick provides you with a longer reach so you can cover more area around you. So, maneuver your stick to work in your favor. When outnumbered, your stick should always be between the player and her teammate, ready to block a pass between them or a shot on goal.

Two on One

If you are outnumbered two to one, your main goal is to channel the opponent with the ball to the sideline and contain her (make sure she can’t travel anywhere useful). You’ll also want to cut off her passing lane. Together, those two strategies are called “channeling.” While you do this, stay between her and her teammate, while also being between the ball and the middle of the field.

If you allow her to pass the ball to her teammate, you will be caught at a disadvantage and have to recover your position — you don’t want this to happen! You want to give her no other option but to continue traveling down the sidelines of the field. By channeling, you give your team time to recover. For more in-depth information on how to channel, please see our guide How to Play Defense in Field Hockey.

Hot Tip: Don’t Overcommit

There is a difference between isolating one player from the other and overcommiting. When you overcommit, you focus solely on getting the ball from the player and lose sight of her teammate. This can be a costly mistake. If the player with the ball gets you to commit and then passes to her teammate, you’ve lost any advantage. To avoid overcommitting, don’t go in for the tackle. Instead, make sure you stay a stick’s distance away from your opponent. Be aware of her teammate and use your stick to block any passes, and continue to channel her down the sideline.

Cut off the Passing Lane

One of the most important tactics to remember when you are outnumbered while defending is to cut off your opponents’ passing lane. Do this by keeping your stick positioned between the opponent with the ball and her passing option. Also, stay within a stick’s distance away from the ball so you can maneuver to defend her.

You want to be aware of how you are positioning your body. But more importantly, watch your stick positioning. Use your stick to block her pass and your opponent will think twice before sending the ball across you. By cutting off the passing lane, you isolate her from her teammate, turning a two on one situation into a one-on-one situation.

Take Away the Shooting Angle

If you are in a two-on-one situation inside the defensive zone, your main goal is to take away your opponents’ shot. If two players are approaching your defensive zone, channel and cut off their passing lane. Guide the attacker with the ball away from the front of the goal and to the sides. Make sure that neither attacker can take a shot from the middle of the circle.

Use Your Goalie

When in the shooting circle and outnumbered, your goalie becomes your last defender. Even if you are outnumbered, you can always count on her to have your back — so use her. She can stop any shot that is hit to a post, but stopping a shot from the penalty stroke marker or top of the circle is much harder.

If you keep the defender at a bad angle on goal and away from them middle, the goalie can defend any shots the attacker may take at the posts. You essentially cut off the attackers’ passing lane and the goalie blocks her shooting options. This gives your opponent no other option but to turn over the ball.

Therefore, by utilizing your goalie you turn a two-on-one situation (being outnumbered by the offense) into a two-on-one situation in your favor — you and the goalie against the shooter.

Do not Cross the Goal

Do not let the offense cross the ball in front of your goal. This is incredibly dangerous because one shot by her teammate can result in a goal. Your goalie is responsible for blocking anything that comes to the near post. You are responsible for keeping the ball away from the front (middle) of the goal. To block the cross, stay goal side and ball side to whichever player has the ball. Positioning yourself this way will allow you to use your stick to block any pass that crosses the middle of the goal.


Defense is all about working as a team to make the opposition move where you want them. You want to contain the offense and give your team time to set up their positions and support you. Remember, when you are outnumbered, your number one goal is to buy time for your team and you can do this by isolating the two players. A team that plays together will win more games than a team filled with great individual players. Always support your teammates.

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