Lining up again on Thursday with our loaned hockey sticks and OU blues vice-captain Alex Stobbart, our coach, we carried on from where we left off the night before in our second session of hockey training.
A rainbow of cones marked our path as we learned three ways to get around a defender, first learning to drift the ball to our left before a quick flick of the ball to our right allowed us to run around the defence. I’m not sure how many defenders we would have been fooling as we weren’t very quick, but we got the theory at least! The second tactic was similar but involved a dummy pass of our stick to the left, pulling the defender’s eye away from the ball before we would again quickly move round them on the right (which is your strong side in hockey, and the defender’s weaker left side). The final tactic was the most difficult. Here we had to scoop the ball over the imaginary defender’s stick before carrying on dribbling. Not surprisingly, scooping a ball with a hockey stick is not the easiest thing to do, particularly not when you want to keep control of the ball, and this was a very difficult trick to master. Corné picked it up first and was soon running up and down the course of defender cones; Sam had to exercise a great deal more persistance but eventually nailed the technique and could complete the course.
Corné, coach Alex Stobbart, and Sam complete the Hockey Challenge
Armed with the sneaky tactics, Alex moved us on to attacking and defending, using a cone funnel to mark off a zone and avoid the cheat of just running miles, and showing us how to correctly defend (a jabbing technique so that you put pressure on the attacker but don’t over-commit yourself, before a final lunge to steal the ball) and then set us up against each other to practise, which was quite challenging as we knew the tactics in theory but putting them into practice at speed proved tricky! Eventually we were up-to-scratch enough to pass muster.
Skill set achieved (some more than others), it was time for our Challenge contest! Despite Alex’s kind offer (!) we didn’t think we were of the right skill level to pitch our new-found talents against the Oxford Blues mens team, so Alex had come up with a set of skill challenges to ascertain our gold medalist.
First up was passing. Corné and I faced off a few metres from each other, with a cone ‘gate’ between us that we had to pass to the other through. Once we had both passed correctly through the gate we each took a step back – first to miss the gate three times at one distance would lose. We actually started off very well, neatly pushing the ball back and forwards with surprising accuracy! In fact, we ended up about half the pitch apart before we had a couple of misses, so Alex decided to make it more difficult and forced us to use the more difficult ‘slap’ rather than the easier ‘push’ to pass the ball. This soon sorted the wheat (neither of us) from the chaff (both of us) with errors on both sides, but Corné was the first to slip up three times in a row, and the first point went to Sam (to her polite and demure delight as always).
Our next skill test was shooting, with a cone course to dribble before entering the ‘D’ and taking a shot. We could choose to go left or right for our shot; all shots counted but those going through the cone ‘gates’ marking an excellent shot into the corners of the goal would count higher in the event of a tie. Sam started and both of us got our first goals in, but the pressure was soon on Sam as she missed and Corné took the lead – only for him to throw it away again as he went for super-power (claiming it was fun) rather than accuracy and kept missing while Sam went for less power but getting them in the goal as that was the point of the test! So Sam took the challenge point for a 2-0 lead.
Up next was attacking vs defending, with 2 points up for grabs, one for each skill, slightly more subjectively decided by Alex, but who we deemed was a fair umpire. As we had found in the practice, this was quite a tricky drill for us as neither of us was a fast enough attacker to fool the defence – but then we weren’t particularly fast in defence either so it kind of balanced out! After five goes each at attacking (and so five at defending too), Corné picked up his first point of the Challenge by being judged the best defender… but lost the Hockey Challenge as Alex gave the attacking point to Sam (partly due to Corné losing control of the ball a couple of times and completely exiting the cone funnel chasing his escaped ball while attacking!). With five skills being put to the test, Sam had snaffled a sure victory at 3-1 with one point still to play for.
The final skill challenge was the penalty shoot-out and as it was completely new to us Alex and we were up for doing it despite the fact that Sam had already won the Challenge. Alex impressed us yet again with his skills, this time accurately firing the ball into the corners of the goal, and after a few practices it was our turn to face a penalty shoot-out. The vast majority of our challenges have been closely-run between Corné and me, and hockey proved to follow this theme as we matched goal after goal, although not quite as accurately as Alex had (again, getting in the goal was the aim, but a shot to the corners trumped a normal shot). By our pre-arranged five shots, we were neck-and-neck, and so we moved on to sudden death! Another goal each were scored, and so Sam stepped up for her second goal… and scored. The pressure was on Corné and he performed magnificently – shooting a fantastic goal into the bonus area of the right hand corner, and taking the final point of our challenge to regain his dignity by only losing 3-2 to Sam in the Hockey.
A massive thank you to Alex Stobbart for his fantastic coaching, particularly generously given as he had had four hours of his own hockey training on both days and then stayed on to coach us afterwards. We thoroughly enjoyed learning hockey, and this was definitely down to Alex’s enthusiasm, encouragement, and excellent coaching. A big thank you also to his club, Oxford University Hockey Club, for the generous loan of pitch, sticks and balls. Victory in the hockey, our final match, has given Sam a valuable gold medal, clawing back Corné’s lead to a final Challenge score of 12-10 to Corné.