Field hockey, or hockey, is a team sport in which a team of players attempts to score goals by hitting, pushing or flicking a ball into an opposing team’s goal using sticks. It is most commonly known simply as “hockey”; however, the name field hockey is used in countries in which the word hockey is generally reserved for another form of hockey, such as ice hockey or street hockey.
Hockey has several regular international tournaments for both men and women. These include the Olympic Games, the Commonwealth Games, the quadrennial Hockey World Cups, the annual Champions Trophies and World Cups for juniors.
The International Hockey Federation (FIH) is the global governing body. It organises events such as the Hockey World Cup and Women’s Hockey World Cup. The Hockey Rules Board under FIH produces rules for the sport.
Many countries have extensive club competitions for junior and senior players. Despite the large number of participants—hockey is thought to be the field team sport with the third largest number of participants worldwide (the first being association football and second being Cricket)—club hockey is not a popular spectator sport and few players play as full-time professionals. Hockey is a sport played internationally by both males and females.
In countries where winter prevents play outdoors, hockey is played indoors during the off-season. This variant, indoor field hockey, differs in a number of respects. For example, it is 6-a-side rather than 11, the field is reduced to approximately 40 m x 20 m; the shooting circles are 9m; players may not raise the ball outside the circle nor hit it. The sidelines are replaced with barriers to rebound the ball.
The History of Hockey
There is a depiction of a hockey-like game from 200 BC in Ancient Greece when the game may have been called “kerētízein” because it was played with a horn and a ball-like object. In Inner Mongolia, China, the Daur people have been playing Beikou a game with some similarities to field hockey for about 1,000 years.
The modern game grew from English public schools in the early 19th century. The first club was in 1849 at Blackheath in south-east London, but the modern rules grew out of a version played by Middlesex cricket clubs for winter sport. Teddington Hockey Club formed the modern game by introducing the striking circle and changing the ball to a sphere from a rubber cube. The Hockey Association was founded in 1886. The first international took place in 1895 (Ireland 3, Wales 0) and the International Rules Board was founded in 1900.
Hockey was played at the Summer Olympics in 1908 and 1920. It was dropped in 1924, leading to the foundation of the Fédération Internationale de Hockey sur Gazon (FIH) as an international governing body by seven continental European nations, and hockey was reinstated in 1928. Men’s hockey united under the FIH in 1970.
The game had been taken to India by British servicemen and the first clubs formed in Calcutta in 1885. The Beighton Cup and the Aga Khan tournament commenced within ten years. Entering the Olympics in 1928, India won all five games without conceding a goal and won from 1932 until 1956 and then in 1964 and 1980. Pakistan won in 1960, 1968 and 1984.
In the early 1970s artificial turf began to be used. Synthetic pitches changed most aspects of hockey, gaining speed. New tactics and techniques such as the Indian dribble developed, followed by new rules to take account. The switch to synthetic surfaces ended Indian and Pakistani domination because artificial turf was too expensive—in comparison to the wealthier European countries—and since the 1970s Australia, The Netherlands and Germany have dominated at the Olympics from 2011-2012.
Women’s hockey was first played at British universities and schools, and the first club, Molesey Ladies, was founded in 1887. The first national association was the Irish Ladies Hockey Union in 1894, and though rebuffed by the Hockey Association, women’s hockey grew rapidly around the world. This led to the International Federation of Women’s Hockey Associations (IFWHA) in 1927, though this did not include many continental European countries where women played as sections of men’s associations and were affiliated to the FIH. The IFWHA held conferences every three years, and tournaments associated with these were the primary IFWHA competitions. These tournaments were non-competitive until 1975.
By the early 1970s there were 22 associations with women’s sections in the FIH and 36 associations in the IFWHA. Discussions started about a common rule book. The FIH introduced competitive tournaments in 1974, forcing the acceptance of the principle of competitive hockey by the IFWHA in 1973.
It took until 1982 for the two bodies to merge, but this allowed the introduction of women’s hockey to the Olympic games from 1980 where, as in the men’s game, The Netherlands, Germany, and Australia have been consistently strong. Argentina has emerged as a team to be reckoned with since 2000, winning the world championship in 2002 and 2010 and medals at the last three Olympics.
Outside North America, participation is now fairly evenly balanced between men and women. For example, in England, the England Hockey reports that as of the 2008–09 season there were 2488 registered men’s teams, 1969 women’s teams, 1042 boys’ teams, 966 girls’ teams and 274 mixed teams.
In 2006 the Irish Hockey Association reported that the gender split among its players was approximately 65% female and 35% male. In its 2008 census, Hockey Australia reported 40,534 male club players and 41,542 female. However, in the United States of America, there are few hockey clubs, most play taking place between high school or college sides, almost entirely of females. The strength of college hockey reflects the impact of Title IX which mandated that colleges should fund men’s and women’s sports programmes comparably.
The Rules of Hockey
The game is played between two teams of up to sixteen players, eleven of whom are permitted to be on the pitch at any one time. The remaining five players, the substitutes, may be substituted in any combination, from one to five, an unlimited number of times in the course of a game. Substitutions are permitted at any point in the game, apart from between the award and end of a penalty corner; the only exception to this rule is for injury or suspension of the defending goalkeeper, this is not allowed when you’re playing with a field keep.
Players are permitted to play the ball with the flat of the ‘face side’ and with the edges of the head and handle of the hockey stick with the exception that, for reasons of safety, the ball may not be struck ‘hard’ with a forehand edge stroke, because of the difficulty of controlling the height and direction of the ball from that stroke.
The flat side is always on the “natural” side for a right-handed person swinging the stick at the ball from right to left. Left-handed sticks are rare, but available; however they are pointless as the rules forbid their use in a game. To make a strike at the ball with a left to right swing the player must present the flat of the ‘face’ of the stick to the ball by ‘reversing’ the stick head, i.e. by turning the handle through approximately 180°(while a reverse edge hit would turn the stick head through approximately 90° from the position of an upright forehand stoke with the ‘face’ of the stick head.
Edge hitting of the ball underwent a two year ‘experimental period’, twice the usual length of an ‘experimental trial’ and is still a matter of some controversy within the sport. Ric Charlesworth, the current Australian coach, has been a strong critic of the unrestricted use of the reverse edge hit. The ‘hard’ forehand edge hit was banned after similar concerns were expressed about the ability of players to direct the ball accurately, but the reverse edge hit does appear to be more predictable and controllable than its counterpart.
Other rules include; no foot to ball contact, obstructing other players, high back swing, and no third party. If a player is dribbling the ball and either loses control and kicks the ball or another player interferes that player is not permitted to gain control and continue dribbling. The rules do not allow the person who kicked the ball to gain advantage from the kick, so the ball will automatically be passed on to the opposing team.
Conversely, if no advantage is gained from kicking the ball, play should continue. Players may not obstruct another’s chance of hitting the ball in anyway. No shoving/using your body/stick to prevent advancement in the other team. Penalty for this is the opposing team receives the ball and if the problem continues,the player can be carded. While a player is taking a free hit or starting a corner the back swing of their hit cannot be too high for this is considered dangerous. Finally there may not be three players touching the ball at one time.
Two players from opposing teams can battle for the ball, however if another player interferes it is considered third party and the ball automatically goes to the team who only had one player involved in the third party.
International Hockey Competitions
The biggest two field hockey tournaments are undoubtedly the Olympic Games tournament, and the Hockey World Cup, which is also held every 4 years. Apart from this, there is the Champions Trophy held each year for the six top-ranked teams. Field hockey has also been played at the Commonwealth Games since 1998. Amongst the men,India has won 8 Olympic golds and Pakistan lead in the world cup having lifted it 4 times. Amongst the women, Australia has 3 Olympic golds while Netherlands has clinched the World Cup 6 times.
The Sultan Azlan Shah Hockey Tournament and Sultan Ibrahim Ismail Hockey Tournament is for the junior team but both tournament held annually in Malaysia, is becoming a prominent Hockey Tournament where teams from around the world participate to win the cup.
India and Pakistan dominated men’s hockey until the early 1980s, winning four of the first five world cups, but have become less prominent with The Netherlands, Germany, New Zealand, Australia and Spain gaining importance since the late 1980s, due to introduction of artificial turf instead of the grass fields around the 80s decade.
Other notable men’s nations include Argentina, England (who combine with other British “Home Nations” to form the Great Britain side at Olympic events) and Korea.
The Netherlands was the predominant women’s team before hockey was added to Olympic events. In the early 1990s, Australia emerged as the strongest women’s country although retirement of a number of players weakened the team.