Welcome to our beginner’s guide to Field Hockey.
In the next 10 minutes or so we’ll cover everything from the basic rules and regulations, to the key skills and nuances of one of the most technically challenging and fast paced team sports out there.
Much like football, hockey is an 11 a-side team invasion sport with the primary objective of scoring more goals than the opposition. There are 4 basic categories of position: Goalkeeper, defender, midfielder and forward, all with similar roles to play as their respective footballing counterparts. This, however, is where the comparisons end.
The Field Of Play
The game takes place on an synthetic astroturf surface, rectangular in shape, and measuring 100 yards by 60 yards. This area is separated into 4 equal quarters of 25 yards in length, with 2 semi circles, 16 yards in radius, at either end of the field.
Each team will have a squad of between 16 and 18 players who will all play thanks to rolling substitutions (as many as 40-60 per match).
This continuous change of playing personnel makes for a much faster and more intense game. Players at the top level will not only cover more metres per playing minute than their footballing counterparts, but they will also do so at a far greater average speed, with many more high intensity efforts.
Unlike football the playing ball is manoeuvered using a stick as opposed to your feet (in fact the use of feet is forbidden). Goals can only be scored from within the shooting circle (also known as the D) and the ball must touch an attacking players stick within this scoring area before the ball crosses the goal line in order for the goal to stand.
Infractions during the game, such as the use of feet; over physicality or obstruction will lead to a free hit (like a free kick). Thanks to the ‘self pass’ rule, these free hits can be taken quickly, without the need to pass to a teammate, further increasing the speed at which the game is played.
If any of these fouls are committed by the defending team within their own defensive shooting circle then a penalty corner will be awarded. This gives the offensive team a set-piece opportunity to score with the help of a numerical advantage.
In order to deter players from repeat offences, there is a card system in place. Unlike football, you can be temporarily, as well as permanently, suspended from the game. There are 3 colours of card: green, yellow and red.
A green card will be issued for minor fouls and leads to a 2 minute suspension. A yellow card for more serious offences, including professional fouls and the illegal denial of a goal scoring opportunity. These can result in a 5 or 10 minute suspension depending on the severity of the offence. And red cards for dangerous play, acts of malice and repeat yellow card offences, which result in permanent expulsion from the game (but they are rarely dished out).
At elite, international level, the game is now played in 4 periods of 15 minutes with the match clock paused for any significant stoppage like penalty corners or injuries.
There are short 2 minute breaks between the 1st and 2nd quarters and the third and 4th quarters with a longer 10 minute break at the half way stage. At lower levels, hockey has maintained it’s more traditional 2 halves of 35 minutes.
There isn’t any. Simple as that. Done away with in the mid 90’s, the removal of the offside rule from hockey has revolutionised the game. More goals, less stoppages and so much quicker, present day hockey is a far more entertaining spectacle. Good news all round then!
There are a number of core skills within the game of hockey, which you need to master if you’re going to improve as a player.
This next section will give you the lowdown on the key principles and techniques behind basic passing skills like pushing, slapping and hitting; as well as tips on how to control and manipulate the ball effectively.
Now this may sound like I’m teaching you to suck eggs, but you’d be surprised at how many people new to hockey get the foundations so very very wrong. Let’ start then with how you hold the stick.
There are no left or right handed sticks in hockey, just one standard setup. Consequently, whichever is your dominant hand, the following explanation is going to be absolutely relevant to you.
Place your left hand at the top of the stick with your right hand about halfway down (the bottom of the grip should act as a good guide). The V created by the thumb and index finger on your left hand should line up somewhere between the spine and rounded face of the stick.
The right hand should only be placed lightly on the stick with the left hand the more dominant and controlling of the two.
Because you can only use the flat face of the stick, players must rotate the stick in order to move the ball quickly and effectively. This movement is achieved predominantly with the left hand, whilst the loose grip with the right hand allows the stick to move freely whilst offering a degree of control.
This basic principle allows players to move the ball from side to side and forwards and backwards in order to eliminate opponents in 1v1 actions.
There are a number of different ways in which players can make the ball travel from A to B in the form of a pass. The 3 most widely used are the push, the slap and the hit.
This technique is generally used for short passing, anywhere between 5m and 20m in distance. It can be achieved whilst stationary and in motion and is probably the most common method of moving the ball from player to player.
The idea is to transfer the ball from your back foot to your front foot whilst maintaining contact between the stick head and the ball at all times. This should be achieved with your hands in the split grip position discussed above.
Once the ball is in line with your front foot it can be released towards its intended target. Be sure to make use of a transfer in body weight from right foot to left foot rather than just relying on your arms to do the work. This is where the real power comes from and will allow you to make fast and accurate push passes.
This is probably the method of passing I use most during training and games because it is most reliable when travelling at fast speeds. It also takes a short amount of time to execute and can be easily disguised, which is great when time and space are at a premium.
Generally used to move the ball over longer distances, the slap pass is an effective way of generating more pace. This technique is most commonly used from a stationary position and is particularly prevalent among those players operating in defensive positions.
With your hands together at the top of the stick (left above right), the idea is to make contact with the ball in line with your front foot. Make an exaggerated sweeping motion with the stick from right to left whilst in contact with the turf, in order to generate the force required to move the ball.
You will be required to adopt a very low forward lunge position whilst rotating your upper body in oder to execute this skill properly. Try to make sure your stick is as close to parallel with the pitch as you can on impact. This will require your hands to be as low to the ground as possible (your knuckles should just scrape the turf).
This is probably the least used passing method in today’s game as a result of the transition to synthetic playing surfaces, which allows the ball to move faster and more consistently without as much force.
The hit is nonetheless a useful skill to have within your repertoire. Particularly good for clearing danger from defensive areas of the pitch or applying pressure in and around the offensive circle.
With both hands together at the top of the stick, the grip is much the same as for the slap pass. With the ball in line with your front foot (there’s a common theme here), pull the stick back away from the ball to beyond shoulder height and swing down and through the ball. Be sure to keep your head as still as possible during this process (just like golf), whilst maintaining a strong and balanced body position.
Lifting your head before impact to see where the ball has gone, much like golf, will lead to a poor connection. Keep your eyes on the prize people!
Reverse stick bunt
The reverse stick alternative to a push pass, the reverse stick bunt is a great way of making short passes when the ball is on the left hand side of your body. It can again be used in a stationary position and whilst in motion.
With your hands in a split grip position, rotate the stick so that the flat side is facing up. Sweep your stick from left to right keeping it in contact with the turf at all times. Aim to make contact with the ball with the inside edge of the stick in line with your right foot.
Reverse stick hit
This is a reverse stick equivalent of the hit pass. With your hands together at the top of the grip, rotate the stick again so that the flat side is facing up. Pull the stick back away from the ball to beyond shoulder height and swing down through the ball making sure to adopt a low, lunge type body position. Try to make contact with the ball in line with your right foot with the inside edge of the stick.
It is important to get your hands as low to the turf as possible in order to increase the area of the stick available to make a clean connection.
The key to receiving a pass in hockey is ‘soft hands’. This means you must cushion the ball with your stick rather than simply putting it in the line of the ball. Imagine you are trying to stop an egg. If you’re stick doesn’t give a little as the egg makes contact then it will crack.
The best way of achieving this is to allow the ball across your body on reception.
What’s next for you..?
Practice makes perfect. Now you have the information, it’s time to get out on the astro and put it to good use.
Trial, error and repetition are 100% the best ways to learn and consolidate new skills, so get out there and give it a go.
Not sure how or where to get into hockey? Fear not! Click here for our handy article on everything you need to know about getting involved and start your own hockey journey today.
Who knows, maybe one day you’ll be able to play the game like these guys….
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