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Field hockey

A game of field hockey in progress
A game of field hockey in progress

Field hockey is a popular sport for men and women in many countries around the world. It is simply known as hockey in most countries, especially those in which ice hockey is not very prominent.

Field hockey has several regular, prestigious international tournaments for both men and women such as the Olympic Games, the quadrennial World Hockey Cups, the annual Champions Trophies, and World Cups for juniors.

Indian and Pakistani national teams have traditionally dominated men's hockey, but have become less prominent recently, with Australia, The Netherlands, and Germany the strongest since the 1980s. The Netherlands was the predominant international women's team before hockey was added to Olympic events. In the early 1990s Australia emerged as the strongest women's country, though retirement of a number of key players has weakened the team.

Many countries have extensive club competitions for both junior and senior players. Despite the large numbers of participants, club hockey is not a particularly large spectator sport and few players can afford to play professionally. In the United States for instance, hockey is widely regarded as a women's sport, but there are men's leagues as well, mostly on a collegiate level.

In the countries where the winter conditions prevent from playing on the outdoor fields, field hockey is played indoor during the off-season. This indoor variant, known as Indoor field hockey differs from its outdoor parent at some levels. For example, the players may not raise the ball outside the shooting circle, nor hit it.



Field Hockey is the oldest known stick-and-ball game (perhaps apart from Irish Hurling which dates back to pre-historic times). Historical records show that games resembling modern field hockey were played in various ancient civilizations, although it is not possible to know exactly when and where the game began. While Modern hockey appears in the mid-18th century in England, primarily around schools institutions, it is not until the first half of the 19th century that hockey became firmly established, when the first club, Blackheath, is created in 1849 in Southeast London, England.

In the early 1970s, artificial turf fields began to be used in competition. The introduction of the synthetic pitches instead of the grass ones has completely changed most aspects of hockey. The game, as well as the material used to play, has taken a definitive turn, gaining mainly in speed. In order to take into account the specificities of this surface, new tactics, new techniques have been developed and new rules have been settled, often, in order to frame, this new techniques.

For a more detailed history: see Field hockey history

The field of play

Diagram of a hockey field
Diagram of a hockey field

Hockey field measurements were (mostly) fixed before metrication, so despite the game being played in metric-using countries, the field's dimensions are round numbers in imperial measurements and are therefore expressed as such in this article.

The game is played between two teams of eleven players on a 100 × 60 yard (91 × 55 metre) rectangular field. At each end there is a goal approximately 7 feet (2.1 metres) high and 12 feet (3.6 metres) wide, and a semi-circle 16 yards (15 metres) from the goal known as the "arc", or "shooting circle", with a dotted line 5 yards from the semi-circle, as well as lines across the field 25 yards (23 metres) from each end-line and in the center of the field. A spot, called the penalty spot, is placed 7 yards from the center of each goal.


Each player carries a "stick", normally a little over 3 feet (90 centimetres) long and traditionally made of wood but now often made with fibreglass, kevlar and carbon fibre composites, with a rounded handle flattening out on one side and with a hook at the bottom. The flat side of the hook is used to push, dribble, or hit a hard plastic ball. Each field player normally wears a mouth and shin guards. A goalkeeper must wear complete protective gear: normally a helmet, neck guard, chest protector, gloves, super-padded shin guards (known as pads), and kickers which cover their feet and allow them to kick the ball.

Rules and play

Players are only permitted to play the ball with the flat side or edges of the stick. The flat side is always on the "natural" side for a right-handed person — there are no "left-handed" hockey sticks. The flat part does extend about half way up up the shaft of the stick: this area is used to defend and deflect a ball that is in the air. If the ball is raised off the ground in a manner that is in the umpires opinion dangerous the ball is turned over to the other team and they receive a free hit from the point of contact. The definition of a "dangerous ball" is a matter of interpretation by the umpires, but it depends on the speed of the ball, the height at which it is raised, and the number of players near its path. Balls travelling at head height near players are almost always regarded as dangerous, whereas a flick at knee height landing into space would very rarely be so. When shooting at goal any height is permitted as it is a shoot on goal; as long as it is not dangerous to a player within 3 yards (about 3 metres) of the striker.

One player from each team is designated the "goalkeeper", and is permitted to play the ball with any part of their body whilst within their defensive circle (the arc). Goalkeepers usually wear extensive protective equipment including helmets, chest guards, body armour, heavily padded gloves, and leg and foot guards designed not only to protect the goalkeeper but to allow them to propel the ball away without the use of the stick. They do have a stick which is primarily used for dives.

If a defence field player commits one of the many fouls (kicking the ball, obstruction, lifting in a dangerous area, back side of the stick, etc) inside their defensive shooting circle, or commits a deliberate or particularly serious foul outside the circle but within their defensive quarter of the field, then a complicated and indirect penalty shot is taken, called a "penalty corner". A deliberate breach by defenders within the circle, or a rule breach that directly prevents a goal being scored, results in the award of a "penalty stroke", approximately equivalent to a penalty shot in soccer.

The match is officiated by two umpires. Each umpire generally controls half of the field.

The teams' object is to play the ball into their "shooting circle" and, from there, hit or push the ball into the goal. The team with more goals after two 35-minute halves wins the game.


The main methods by which the ball is moved around the field by players are: the "dribble", where the player controls the ball with the stick and runs with the ball, pushing the ball along as they run; the "push", where the player uses their wrists to push at the ball: the "flick" or "scoop", similar to the push but with an additional wrist action to force the stick through at an angle and lift the ball off the ground; and the hit, where a backlift is taken and contact with the ball is made quite forcefully. In order to produce a much stronger hit, usually for travel over long distances, the stick is raised higher and swung at the ball, known as a "drive".Tackles are made by placing the stick into the path of the ball. To increase the effectiveness of the tackle, players will often place the entire stick close to the ground horizontally, thus representing a wider barrier. To avoid the tackle, the ball carrier will either pass the ball to a teammate using any of the push, flick, or hit, or attempt to maneuver or "pull" the ball around the tackle, trying to deceive the tackler.

When passing and maneuvering between players, certain commands are used to ensure understanding of movements and plays among teammates. By calling "through" the ball is passed straight ahead to another player. "Flat" signifies a pass made to the right or left of the player with the ball at a 90 degree angle. A hit made forward at an angle is recognized as "up".

At the highest level, hockey is a fast-moving, highly skilled sport, with players using fast moves with the stick, quick accurate passing, and hard hits, in attempts to keep possession and move the ball towards the goal. While physically tackling and otherwise obstructing players is not permitted, collisions are common, and the speed at which the ball travels along the ground (and sometimes through the air, which is legal if it is not judged dangerous by the umpire) requires the use of padded shin guards to prevent injury. Some of the tactics used resemble soccer, but with greater speed - the best players maneuver and score almost quicker than the eye can see.

External link

  • The FIH

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Last updated: 02-07-2005 09:51:41
Last updated: 02-11-2005 17:47:38