Building-up in ‘Slang’ – self-pass

(Slang: a type of language consisting of words and phrases that are regarded as very informal, more common in speech than writing and typically restricted to a particular context or group of people.)

(Copyright Dirk Markgraf) Mathias MUELLER #2 of Germany

Mathias Mueller: ‘When there are restarts from the back, in the moment that you pass the ball, it is always a decision about giving one of your teammates a good playing opportunity or ‘putting’ them into lots of trouble (pressure). 
In the best case you should almost be able to anticipate their (team mates) next action.
If there is no space to go or no teammate is available to pass the ball to, then you should not pass the ball. This is probably the most important thing within ball restarts.

And of course, there are some exceptions, some guys you can always give the ball, even if there are surrounded by opponents.’

On a previous article (here) already put out some ideas regarding the behaviour of midfielders during the building-up stage. On this one, will share some thoughts and concepts about situations of build-up, mainly on earlier phases (ball restart from defensive midfield).

The title ‘Building-up in Slang’ means a slightly more informal style on the way I would like to explain this topic. A style that indicates a personal terminology acquired on my practical coaching experience rather than a theoretical or academical approach.

To my knowledge, apart from basic formation shapes and ball restart areas there isn’t much information out there about this fundamental part of the game.

Therefore, I felt like sharing some concepts that I’ve created and developed on my own but also some ideas ‘stolen’ from other coaches or sports. To illustrate it I will use some clips from recent different international matches. The focus is on individual and tactical concepts.

Building up

(worldsportpics Copyright Dirk Markgraf)

A statical ball restart situations, commonly referred as build-up, can be considered a complex system based upon several actions: from the ball carrier and remaining players (off the ball).

Regardless strategy or style, a build-up should be collective manoeuvre with the intention to attack.

When looking at specific build-up situations, it is important to identify some factors: characteristics of own and opponent players, opponent pressing style and ball restart location.
Obviously that certain match elements can influence a given strategy such as time frame, numerical advantage/disadvantage and scoreboard, etc.

3 points that, in my opinion, are defining in a build-up situation:

1. It is always an exercise of manipulation of time and space in order to attack.
2. Type of opponent defensive system?
3. Permanent defensive balance.


The first thing to do before restarting the ball on game play is to observe (scan) and recognise the ‘landscape’, to check if there are immediate opportunities to attack (accelerate).
(Important to mention that not every player has the vision and ability to ‘imagine’ and execute these type of actions.)

Is the opponent still repositioning?
Is there a direct, vertical passing possibility?
Is it convenient to accelerate the game at this moment?
What is the risk of counter attack?

Look at this great example from the German star Moritz Fuerste assist during 2014 Champions Trophy final against Pakistan:


In clip below, the ball restarter either:

  1. Decides to slow down the restart of the ball to give time to his team mates to position themselves properly (and allow some time for substitutions).
  2. And/Or he doesn’t find appropriate passing possibilities to play the ball earlier.

    This is a build-up from the Dutch team during 2017 European Championship Final against Belgium.
    My full analysis about this specific play here.

Fake it

To attack is to fool the opponent, someone might say, quite accurately.
The use of some body and stick ‘fakes’ in order to mislead and make the opponent run further and open some gaps on their individual markings or collective structure it is an important ‘ingredient’ when we speaking about the build-up process.

Some examples:

Aligning and re-aligning (Being off-pressure)

This might be the most elementary concept requested for a ‘builder’ on the central area of the field. Players off the ball should be pro-active and permanently looking to align their position in a way that allows them to receive the ball with minimum opponent pressure. Additionally for the search for ‘off-pressure’, the players should look for positions that will create the most favourable attacking angles possible.

If you watch the clip above, you can observe the central right defender putting enough effort to align and re-align although a ‘bad’ ball control and timing from his team mate creates a situation that a ball was passed crossing an opponent stick reach. Very dangerous indeed…


On my previous article ‘Effective Play’ I elaborated about how important an adequate receiving (receiving type + body position + location in the field) is important when we are looking to playing in pressure areas.
Therefore, the same principles apply to this build-up stage of the play. Obviously, passing quality and speed are fundamental but so is the ‘right’ choice regarding how to receive the ball with the least pressure possible.

Example below:


‘Volume’ means a certain amount of passing, normally horizontal passes or in areas without imminent danger with the intention to create a better momentum to attack while simultaneously building a feeling of ball possession.
Passing Volume has different purposes; to allow for the team to position properly in the field, to ‘inflict’ some fatigue on the opponent (that is ‘running behind the ball’) and as speculative manoeuvre to explore gaps on the opponent defensive structure.

The denomination ‘volume’ to this concept was ‘stolen’ from my Spanish friend, the coach Carlos Cuenca.

A simple example of volume from the German team during last European Championship in Antwerp:


Ball transfer is the ability to move the ball from one point to the other with the intention of eliminating (skipping) opponent lines or to bring the ball to an area with less pressure.

Below a clear example of horizontal and vertical transfer in the same play.


As mentioned before, for me, a build-up is always an exercise of manipulating the space and time with the intention to attack, to find the opportunity (space + time…) to attack. On that equation, the ball represents a very important asset.
Often, to create space or ‘unblock’ pressured situations you need to give to bring the ball closer to the opponent, so their individual or collective defensive structures react on that, or in other words – you let the opponent ‘bite’ the ball. In other words, using the ball to tempt the opponent, to shrink some areas while creating space in other areas.

Walking into ‘pressure’ so the opponent ‘bite’ and react, releasing space somewhere else:

‘Bite and drop’ from a positional style and against a positional opponent.

Here an example of another ‘bite and drop’ but in this case the ball receiver is on a dynamic situation:

Balance / Control

Despite your coaching style, the pursuit for a balanced style of play should be non-negotiable. People usually say that defences win competitions and I can’t disagree with that but defensive consistency is usually obtained with what you can call balance, between different moments and transitions of the game. From possession to non-possession, from attacking to defending.
In the build-up there are a couple of guidelines you can take to reassure, your (defensive) balance isn’t lost when you try to attack.
To start let’s look to what I call ‘squeeze’, basically a collective manoeuvre that intends to follow the ball and shrink the active field of play in order to ‘push’ the pressure further from the goal and ensure an ‘aggressive’ behaviour on regaining the ball in case, the opponent recovers it.

Horizontal ‘Squeeze’:

Vertical ‘Squeeze’:

Interesting to notice the Belgian goalkeeper Vincent Vannasch’s body language ‘commanding’ his defenders to move up and ‘squeeze’ the ball. Vincent is not only one of the most outstanding hockey goalkeepers ever as he is also an excellent defence coordinator, being a fundamental pillar on Belgium recent success: Silver medal at Olympic Games 2016, World Cup 2018 and European Cup 2019 and also at club level helping Waterloo Ducks conquering EHL 2019.

Stretch & Add

Without movement, without dynamic your team will always be limited offensively. Therefore, your tactical formations should have players, positions or areas stimulated to integrate attacking actions. Obviously every coach will have his own game idea and attacking principles, but to ‘add’ more players onto your attack will ensure more power and possibly create a bigger challenge for the opponent defensive tactics.

Example of stretching and adding from the left side:

Example of stretching and adding from the right side:

A final example:

I want to conclude this article with a video example where the majority of elements and principles that I have described above were clearly present.
I chose this great build-up from a recent Pro League match between Germany and Netherlands. (Germany in white shirts)

  • Manipulation of space and time: Check
  • Attack: Check
  • Defensive Balance: Check

A special word for the German Mathias (Tisi) Mueller for his massive conscious and unconscious contribution to this article.

Thank you,

Bernardo Fernandes

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