Field Hockey – a Primer

Field Hockey, a game with a long history ~ Tumbler image (c) all rights reserved

The Bedford Buccaneers Field Hockey has a team just won its first dual county, small division, championship and qualified for the state tournament starting next week.  Many people know very little about the game, and for spectators, it often leads to a lot of head-scratching. The rules are not intuitive.  My daughter played field hockey for years, and I used to joke with new parents about the sport.  The rules basically entailed the 10-second rule, meaning the referee is instructed to blow the whistle at every infraction…. or ten seconds, whichever comes first.  I joke of course, but watching a beginner’s field hockey match sure seems like it.

First, some background.  Field hockey is an international sport, for both men and women.  In fact, it is the second most played sport in the world (after football/soccer).  The popularity in the US is growing, but it still has yet to reach the popularity of other major sports in the States.

Field hockey is a very exciting sport to watch, especially at the higher levels.  As a family, we would often go to the Boston College, Harvard, and UMass Lowell games locally for some really good competition.

Like most sports where you are unfamiliar with the rules, they can be confusing.  I remember once my father took a business associate visiting from France to a Red Sox game.  Trying to explain the rules of baseball to the uninitiated is quite challenging.  Field hockey is the same way, however, now we are the uninitiated.

The rules are….interesting.  The object of the game is to put the ball in the net, simple enough, but there are rules as to how that is to be done.   There are many rules but the most important for a beginner spectator are the following:

Feet:  Feet are bad!  If the ball is touched by a player’s foot, the whistle blows and the other side takes possession of the ball.  This explains the 10-second rule at the beginner games.  When you start getting into the higher levels of play you will notice a lot of the players acting like they’re barefoot on hot pavement as they try to avoid getting hit in the foot during play.

Corners: As I said, getting hit on the foot with the ball results in the ball changing possession, with one exception.  If the ball hits the foot of a defender, while in the half-circle crease around the goal, it results in a “corner.”  I found calling anything that takes place in a circle a corner slightly amusing, but maybe it’s just me.

A corner is where half the defending team including the goalie all start inside the net, yes inside.  The other half of the defending team goes to the center of the field and waits for play to start before they can come back and engage.  For the offense, a player inserts the ball to their teammates from the back line.  Once the ball is inserted into play it must travel through the half circle and exit the circle until it is brought back into play for a scoring chance to begin.

Scoring: This seems simple enough, put the ball in the net, right?  Well… yes and no.  The ball must be touched in the half-circle by someone for the goal to count.  If the ball enters the goal while not being touched in the circle, it results in no goal and a free hit from the defending team.  This rule is very confusing for the uninitiated.  It happens, not often, that if the ball is hit from outside the circle to the net, you will see the goalie quickly move out of the way and let the ball go into the goal.  The reason the goalie does this is it results in a stoppage of play and a free hit for the defending team.

Black Backboard in the Net: Another odd rule about scoring, if you ever noticed there is a black board 18 inches high at the bottom of the goal.  I always thought this was a maintenance issue, but it actually comes into play on scoring.  Going back to the previously discussed “corner” (in the half-circle) when the player shoots the ball on the net, if, and only if, it does not touch anyone, offense or defense, it must hit that black backboard to count.  If it does not hit the black backboard and was not touched by anyone, the results are no goal and a free hit for the defense.   If it is tipped by anyone it can go anywhere in the net and be counted as a score.  My daughter also said there is one other exception, (of course) if the player shoots the ball using the “drag flick’ technique, it counts no matter where it lands in the net..  (Drag flicks are like wrist shots in ice hockey, a very advanced technique).

Goalies:  Goalies are the only ones who can use their feet. In fact, they wear big clown shoes to facilitate kicking the ball out.  Unlike ice hockey, goalies are not allowed to tie up the play.  If they smother the ball the result is a penalty stroke.  Another way to get a penalty stroke is if it hits any defender other than the goalie anywhere other than the stick that keeps the ball out of the goal.  A penalty stroke is where an offensive player shoots on net from 10 feet away and the goalie must start inside the net.

Sticks:  There are only right-handed sticks.  The player can only touch the ball on the face (flat part) of the stick.   Touching the ball with the back of the stick results in a whistle and a turnover.

The rules are confusing, but in action, they make for an interesting sport.  Good luck, Bucs in the playoffs.

Here are some interesting facts from USA Field Hockey

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