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All About Field Hockey

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The pitch Playing positions
Fouls and misconduct Equipment
Strokes, hits, and penalties Glossary

The hockey pitch
The hockey pitch


History of the game

Objective: To use the curved hockey sticks to get the ball into the opposing teams net, and score more goals than the opposing team.

Hockey (sometimes also known as field hockey), can be played indoors, or outdoors on grass or an artificial surface. The game is played over two 35-minute halves with a 5-10 minute break in between, with two teams of eleven players. For the second half, the teams change ends.

To start the game, a coin is tossed, and the team captain who wins the toss will elect either which end to attack, or to have possession of the ball at the start of the game. The captain who loses the toss automatically takes the second option.

The game is started with a pass-back from the centre of the field. The ball may be pushed or hit along the ground, but the ball must not be deliberately raised (thrown, bounced, etc) off the ground. The ball is deemed to be in play once it has moved from the centre of the field.

At the moment the pass-back is taken, all opposing players must be at least 4.5 metres (5 yards) away from the ball, and all players on both teams must be in their own half of the field, except for the player making the pass-back.


The pitch

Hockey can be played outdoors or indoors, on grass or an artificial surface.

The hockey pitch

The hockey pitch

The sidelines are 90 metres (100 yards) long, the backlines are 55 metres (60 yards) long. The centre line is drawn 45 metres (50 yards) from the backlines and two 22 metre (25 yard) lines are marked across the field.

The flagposts, (A) which are used for marking, and are between 1.2 and 1.5 metres high (4-5 feet).

For hit-ins, (B) there are lines marked at the end of the centre and 22-metre line. These lines are 1.8 metres (2 yards) long, and are marked 4.5 metres (5 yards) away from the side-lines.

For long corners, (C) there are lines 30 centimetres (12 inches) long in the corners of the pitch, 4.5 metres (5 yards) from the edge of the side-line.

For penalty corners, (D) there are lines 30 centimetres (12 inches) long on either side of the goalposts, 4.5 metre (5 yard) and 9 metre (10 yard) intervals.

For penalties, (E) the area is 6.5 metres (7 yards) in front of the goal line. The penalty spot itself is 15 centimetres (6 inches) across.

Note: For a shot that goes into the goal to count as a goal, it must be struck from within the shooting circle.

Fouls and misconduct

A game of hockey is presided over by two umpires, whose job it is to ensure that the rules of the game are adhered to.

Each umpire will remain in one half for the entire game. They are entirely responsible for that half of the field, and also for timekeeping.

There are ten main offences which are not permitted in hockey:

- The ball must always be hit with the flat side of the hockey stick.

- Taking part in game play unless that player has a stick in their hand.

- Raising any part of the stick in a dangerous or threatening manner.

- Hit the ball into an opponent, or play or kick the ball in a dangerous manner.

- Stop or play the ball, either on the ground or in the air, with any part of the body.

- Use the leg or foot to support the stick when challenging an opponent.

- Pick up, throw, carry the ball in any way without using the stick.

- Hook, hit, hold, or otherwise interfere with an opponents stick at any time.

- Interfere with an opponent (charging, kicking, striking, pulling clothing, etc.)

- Obstructing an opponent when they are playing the ball.

Goalkeepers are exempt from some of these rules, as they are allowed to kick the ball and stop it with any part of the body, within the shooting circle.

Umpires may, as a warning, show a player a green card. This is a caution for misconduct and/or rough, dangerous play. For repeated infractions against any of the rules, a player can be shown a yellow card. This will suspend that player from the game for a matter of time, usually about five minutes. If a player receives a red card, they are sent off, and can take no further part in the game. The team must then continue, minus a player. See Substitutes section for details.

Strokes, hits, and penalties

Free hits

Free hits are taken from the spot where the infringement took place, except when an attacking player caused an infringement within the opponents circle. If this happens, the defending team may take the free hit from anywhere inside the circle, or from a spot no more than 14.5 metres (16 yards) away from the back-line, and parallel to the point of the incident which caused the free hit to be awarded.

Free hit

In the diagram above, if the offence took place at the red X, the free hit could be taken from the yellow X, as it is in line with where the offence occurred. The blue X is in front of the line and therefore the free hit cannot be taken from there.

When the free hit is taken, all opposing players must be at least 4.5 metres (5 yards) away from the ball.

If the attacking side receive a free hit, and it is within 4.5 metres (5 yards) of the defending teams circle, all players must be at least 4.5 metres (5 yards) away from the ball, except the player taking the free hit.

In all cases, the player who takes the free hit may not touch the ball again until another player from either team has touched it.

Penalty corner

When a player commits an offence in their own circle, the umpire usually awards a penalty corner against that team. Penalty corners can also be given if a team commits a deliberate foul within the 22 metre (25 yard) area.

When a penalty corner takes place, no more than five defending players are allowed to go behind the goal line (the part of the back-line covered by the goal), while the other six must wait behind the centre line.

No defending player is allowed to move in front of either the goal line or the centre line until the ball has been played. If a defending player or players move forward of their lines before the ball has been hit or played, the umpire may call for the penalty corner to be retaken. If the umpire deems that the attacking team has not been disadvantaged in any way, the corner may continue regardless.

A player of the attacking team may push or hit the ball from a spot on the back line within 9 metres (10 yards) from the nearest goalpost. The ball can be played from whichever side the player chooses. The player who takes the penalty corner may be on or off the field when playing the ball.

No attacking player is allowed to enter the circle until the ball has been hit or pushed. Also, no player (except the player taking the penalty corner) is allowed within 4.5 metres (5 yards) of the ball before it is played.

The player taking the penalty corner cannot score a goal directly from the push or hit, even if the ball goes into the goal. The ball must be touched by another player before an attempt at goal can be made. The ball must also be stopped outside the circle first, before being taken into the circle for the shot on goal.

A penalty stroke

This blue player plays it from the corner, to the player in the middle, who pushes it into the circle, for the next player to move forward and strike for goal.

If the first shot on goal is hit rather than pushed, it must not be above 45 centimetres (18 inches) unless it has taken a deflection from a defending player or their stick. The next shots(s) can be of any height, as long as there is no danger to other players.

If there are any breaks of the rules during a penalty corner by the attacking side, the umpire may award a free hit to the defending team. If the defending team commit an offence, the corner may be retaken. A penalty stroke may be awarded for continuous disregard of the rules (see below).

Penalty stroke

These are usually given for more serious offences, or offences which could affect the outcome of a game, such as an accidental kick which could have prevented a certain goal, and for deliberate offences in the circle which are more serious than a penalty corner incident.

The penalty stroke is taken from a spot 6.5 metres (7 yards) in front of the goal. The member of the attacking team who takes the penalty stroke may push, hit, scoop, or flick the ball at goal. The goalkeeper is the only player allowed to defend the goal.

As with most hockey moves, any players on either side not taking part in the action must be placed well away from the action. All players must be behind the nearest 22 metre (25 yard) line, and are not allowed to take any part in the penalty stroke.

When taking the penalty stroke, the attacker is only allowed one step forward, and is allowed to hit the ball at any height (can flick it upwards, for example). The attacker is only allowed to touch the ball once and is not allowed to approach either the ball or the goalkeeper after they have taken the penalty stroke. Also, any 'dummy' moves to try and trick the goalkeeper are not allowed, and usually result in the attacking player being penalized.

The goalkeeper must stand on the goal-line and is not allowed to move from the goal-line or move either of their feet until the ball is played.

If a goal is scored, the game is restarted with a pass-back from the centre line. If a goal is not scored, whether the goal is saved, or the striker misses, the penalty stroke is ended, and play is restarted with a free hit taken by a defending player from a point in front of the centre of the goal, at the top of the circle, 14.5 metres (16 yards).

For games, such as tournament matches, where a winner must be decided, there is a period of extra time, followed by a penalty shootout at the end of extra time, if the scores are still level.

A penalty shoot out consists of each team taking five penalties each. The team which scores the most penalties wins. If the score after ten penalties is level, another five are taken by each team, and this continues until a team has won.

Five penalties do not have to be taken by each side if a winner has been decided before.

For example: Team A score 4 penalties. Team B score 2. This game is over because even if Team B scored their remaining penalty, and Team A miss, the score would be 4-3 to Team A, and Team B would lose anyway.

16-yard hits

When the ball is put across the back line by an attacking player in the defending teams half, play is restarted with a 16-yard hit. The hit is taken from a point parallel to where it crossed the line, no more than 14.5 metres (16 yards) forward of the line.

16-yard hit

The blue dots are acceptable, as long as they are within the correct distance. The red dot is unacceptable, as it is not in line with where the ball went out.

Long corners

If the ball is played over the goal line by an attacking player in the defending teams half, play is restarted with a 16-yard hit. If the ball is played over the goal line by a defending player in the attacking teams half, play is restarted with a 16-yard hit again.

If the ball is played over the goal line by a player in their own half, a long corner is used to restart play. The ball is played by the team who did not put the ball out, from a point on the goal line, from within 4.5 metres (5 yards) of the corner flag.

Hit-ins / Push-ins

If the ball is put over the side line by a player, a member of the opposing team can then push or hit the ball back into play at the point on the side line where the ball went out.

When the ball is put back into play, players on the opposing team (the team which put the ball out) must be at least 4.5 metres (5 yards) away from the ball at the moments it is put back into play.


The bully is used to restart play after a breach of the rules by two or more opposing players at once, or if the game is stopped due to an accident or an injury.

A player from each team will face each other, facing the side-line, and with their own goal-line to their right. The ball is placed on the ground between the two players, and after tapping the ground and each others sticks three times, they each try and play the ball.

Until the ball is in play, no player from either team should be within 4.5 metres (5 yards) of the ball. Players do not need to be on-side at the bully (see below).


A player is off-side if they are in the opponents 22 metre (25 yard) area, ahead of the ball, and with one or no opposing players (goalkeeper included) between them and the back line.

A player who is behind the ball, or in their own half, or in possession of the ball (wherever they are) cannot be off-side.


Each team is allowed up to two substitutes, who can be brought on at any point in the game to play in any position. Once a player has been substituted, they may not play in that game again. Also, if a player has been sent off, the team must continue with lesser numbers. Substitutes can still be brought on, but they cannot make up the numbers after a sending off.

Playing positions

Players' positions will be marked by numbers on the shirts.

1 Goalkeeper
2 Full back
3 Full back
4 Midfielder / Defender
5 Central defender
6 Midfielder / Defender
7 Forward / Midfielder
8 Striker / Defender
9 Striker
10 Striker / Defender
11 Forward / Midfielder
12+ Substitutes


The ball
The ball is round, and weighs between 156 grams (5 and a half ounces) and 163 grams (5 and three quarter ounces). The circumference (distance around) of the ball must be between 22.4 centimetres (just under 9 inches) and 23.5 centimetres (just over 9 inches).

The ball must be hard. It can be hollow or solid. The outer surface can be covered with any kind of natural or synthetic material. The surface is usually smooth, although some indentations (like a golf ball) are permitted.

The usual colour is white, although the team captains may agree to use a ball of any colour, as long as it contrasts with the colour of the field of play.

The goals
The goals consist of two posts 3.6 metres (4 yards) apart, and are joined by a crossbar 2.1 metres (7 feet) off the ground. The goal posts and the crossbar are rectangular, and should be 5 centimetres (2 inches) wide, and no more than 7.5 centimetres (3 inches) deep. They are painted white.

The backboard is placed at the back of the net on the ground. It is 45 centimetres (18 inches) high, and 3.6 metres (4 yards) wide, the same width as the goal. The sideboards must be 45 centimetres (18 inches) high, and 1.2 metres (4 feet) long

The stick
A hockey stick has a flat face on its left side only. That whole side of the stick is considered to be the face of the stick. The head of the stick must be curved and made of wood. It must have a smooth surface.

The edges of the stick head must be rounded, and not exceed 10 centimetres (4 inches). The stick must weigh between 340 grams (12 ounces) and 793 grams (28 ounces). It must have a diameter of less than 5.1 centimetres.

Stick heads are made of mulberry (wood), and the handles are made of Tahiti and Manau cane, built up in sections of laminated rubber and wood, and reinforced with fibreglass, carbon fibre, and Kevlar.

Footwear varies according to the type of surface being played upon. On natural grass the players usually wear boots with nylon, rubber or moulded studs. For artificial and synthetic grass surfaces they wear multi-studded shoes. For indoor hockey and some artificial surfaces, flat, non-studded shoes are worn.

Shin and ankle guards are worn by all players, and many players use tape to protect the hands and knuckles, and gumshields to protect the teeth and mouth.

The goalkeepers will wear a lot of protective equipment, an ice hockey style helmet, a throat protector, chest, shoulder, and elbow pads, gloves, an abdominal protector, a genital protector or 'box', padded shorts, lightweight leg guards, knee pads, lightweight kickers, and boots.


Advantage - play may continue when a foul has been committed, if the umpire feels that the non-offending team would benefit more from playing on, rather than stopping the game for a penalty decision

Back-stick - the curved back of the stick, not used to hit the ball

Deflection - when the balls flight through the air is affected when it hits a player or a stick

Dribble - moving the ball across the field while keeping it close with the stick

Far post - the goal post furthest away from the player with the ball

Flick - when a still or rolling ball is pushed and raised off the ground

Indian dribble - the method of tapping the ball from left to right with the stick while moving

Interception - when a player gets the ball as it is passed between players on the opposing team

Marking - when defenders stick closely to opposing players, to prevent them from gaining possession

Near post - the goal post closest to the player with the ball

Obstruction - when a player deliberately stops an opponent from playing the ball by putting their body in the way

Pass-back - the method of starting the game at the start of either half, or after a goal has been scored

Reverse stick - the use of the flat side of the stick, upside-down / reversed, when receiving passes from the opposite side of play

Square pass - a pass made across the width, not length, of the pitch

Tackle - attempting to gain possession of the ball

Third-party obstruction - when a player off the ball puts themselves between an opponent and the ball to allow a player from their own team to have an unfair advantage

Through pass - a pass through the defenders to an attacking player

Zonal marking - cover areas of the pitch, thus denying opposing players space

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