In a squad, game how vital is the starting XI?
ROLLING substitutions allow hockey to be faster and more tactically fluid. International teams often make 70 substitutions per match, so there’s an argument that the 11 who play together for the first few minutes isn’t that significant.
Perhaps it’s a lingering sense from the days before rolling subs or maybe it still has psychological implications, but how important is it to be in the starting team these days?
The starting 11 does have some responsibility on its collective shoulders. A strong start doesn’t guarantee a perfect performance or result, but it can help a team establish control or score a crucial early goal.
Having said that, starting a game doesn’t automatically mean you are one of the best players!
I remember a coach saying he would rather have his strongest 11 on the pitch at the end of the game than at the beginning. I understand what he was getting at, but surely this is only valid in some situations. If you need a goal or are hanging on, that’s different to a 5-0 scoreline with two minutes left.
It can be difficult to start on the bench. Adapting quickly to the tempo of the game and ‘slotting in’ when you sub on is essential, but not always easy physically or psychologically.
At the upcoming Championship play-offs and promotion/relegation tournaments, coaches will have to make some tough decisions on who plays and when.
There is little room for fairness at the top level when it comes to choosing which players are physically, mentally and emotionally ready to make good decisions and execute under pressure from minute one.
Ultimately, that might mean anything from starting with your ‘strongest’ team to making tactical choices about who is on the pitch when you’re down to ten players, or who takes a shoot-out.