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There are three major positions in underwater hockey: Forward, Midfields (or Mids), and Back.
Forwards are on the bottom more often than their counterparts, but usually the duration on the bottom is shorter. The key to being a good forward from a fitness standpoint is being able make many repeat drops – go down, take the puck, advance it, pass it off, get a breath of air, then go right back down to the bottom.
At the beginning of every game, the forwards are the ones who race for the puck in the middle of the pool (this initial rush is called the “Strike”). Usually, the center most forward is responsible for getting the puck in this situation – he is called the “Striker”. However, many teams rotate the responsibility of being Striker as it is physically demanding, and can exhaust a player in a high-scoring game.
Forwards should always be ahead of the puck. Their job is to accept passes from the players behind them and then bring the puck forward. Even though forward is an offensive position, and they should always be ahead of the puck, they can still play defense. Forwards swim back towards the puck and steal pucks from opposition players. Attempting steals and other such defensive moments also puts the forwards in close proximity to the puck, which is where they want to be. A good rule of thumb for the forward position is that they should never be more than a single pass away from the puck. A forward should not make their teammates swim to them with the puck; rather, they should swim towards their teammates.
In front of the goal, forwards should take longer drops to ensure the puck is put into the goal.
Scenario Alignment in 3-3 Formation, the Strike is the most dynamic moment of the game. The team that gains the Strike is at an immediate advantage, the Striker should therefore make every effort to win it. Winning the Strike is very simple: it means getting there first. To get there first, the Striker uses the shortest path to his destination: a straight line.
Coiled with both feet against the wall, the Striker has his stick hand ahead and uses the other to grip the wall. When the tone sounds, the Striker "dives" or "jumps" off the wall in a great burst of energy, and immediately starts swimming underwater, on a straight line towards the puck. Players who have mastered the dolphin kick will often use it in this situation, as it is the fastest kick all around.
Playing Mid requires a player with outstanding fitness and the ability to recover quickly from long trips on the bottom of the pool. They have the worst of both worlds; they are on the bottom constantly like a forward, but they can also take long, extended drops like a back.
It is a standard line in underwater hockey that any player’s best position is Mid – the thought being that you don’t have to excel at goal scoring or goal stopping, just be good at both.
Nothing could be farther from the truth. To be a good Mid, and to play in a formation that requires Mids, you have to be excellent at both the forward and back positions. Mid is the most demanding position in hockey. You have to help your backs on defense, and help your forwards on offense. Many teams will play with one Mid if they have one exceptional player and many good players – to make that exceptional player the focal point of their team.
Backs are the main defenders on a team. A Back's responsibility is to make sure that their team has possession of the puck. Backs should always be behind the puck.
One way to make sure your team has possession of the puck is to stop the opposition from bringing the puck forward. As a result of this, backs play very defensively – always positioning themselves between the opposition and the goal.
When the other team has the puck the back should be engaged in the play and preventing the opposing team from advancing the puck. A back should not surface until they've regained possession of the puck or one of their players has established possession of the puck.
Once a back regains possession of the puck their job is to keep possession until one of their teammates can take possession. This can mean a back might swim the length of the pool until they see one of their teammates. Sometimes the back will take the puck and score if the opportunity presents itself. However, as a back’s main responsibility is to make sure their team has possession, and will have to immediately redrop if their attack goes wrong, they should readily pass at the first opportunity.
When a Back's teammate has the puck the back should be close enough to that player that the player could curl and safely pass to the back. Even though the Back responsibilities are mainly defensive, and they should always be behind the puck, accepting a pass is a great way to make sure their team has possession of the puck.
Some backs hang far behind the play; they see their only responsibly as stopping the other team's offense and so position themselves at a safe distance from the play to do so.
This style of play leads to a separation between the players in the formation and removes one of the safest ways of maintaining possession - a pass from one player to another. If the back is only thinking defensively, they can't be in position to accept a safe pass from one of their own players.
Backs usually don’t have the same amount of subs as the other positions, so it is vital for backs to be efficient with their drops. They should drop only when they need to. Once a back drops they should swim into the play and come out with the puck. They shouldn't waste air and energy floating around on the bottom, waiting for opponent’s forwards to break out of a pack. They should swim into the pack, take the puck from the opponent’s forward, and swim out. If a back can’t get the puck back, they should at least disrupt what the other team is doing and slow down the other team's advance. Even though a Back has defensive responsibilities, they should play the position aggressively. They should dictate what the opponent can do.
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