Field hockey

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

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 The Netherlands, Germany and Australia gaining importance in the late 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. Other important women teams are China, Korea, Argentina and Germany.

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, field hockey is widely regarded as a women's sport, but there are men's leagues as well, mostly on a collegiate level.

In those countries where winter conditions prevent play on outdoor fields, field hockey is played indoors during the off-season. This indoor variant, known as indoor field hockey differs from its outdoor parent in a number of respects. For example, the players may not raise the ball outside the shooting circle, nor hit it.



Hockey is the oldest known stick-and-ball game (apart perhaps 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 appeared in the mid-18th century in England, primarily in schools, it was not until the first half of the 19th century that hockey became firmly established, the first club being created in 1849 at Blackheath in south-east London.

In the early 1970s, artificial turf fields began to be used in competition. The introduction of synthetic pitches instead of 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 and new techniques have been developed, often followed by the establishment of new rules to take account of these techniques.

For a more detailed history: see Field hockey history.

The field of play

Diagram of a hockey field
Diagram of a hockey field

Most hockey field dimensions were originally fixed using whole numbers of imperial measures and are expressed as such in this article. It is, nevertheless, the metric measurements shown in parenthesis which are the current official dimensions of the field of play as laid down by the International Hockey Federation (FIH) in the "Rules of Hockey 2005".

The game is played between two teams of eleven players on a 100 × 60 yard (91.4 m × 55 m) rectangular field. At each end there is a goal 7 feet (2.14 m) high and 12 feet (3.66 m) wide, and a semi-circle 16 yards (14.63 m) from the goal known as the "arc", or "shooting circle", with a dotted line 5 yards (5 m) from the semi-circle, as well as lines across the field 25 yards (22.9 m) from each end-line and in the center of the field. A spot, called the penalty spot, is placed 7 yards (6.4 m) 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. 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 shot 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". Goalkeepers usually wear extensive protective equipment including helmets, chest guards, body armour, heavily padded gloves, leg guards, and foot guards (called "Kickers"). The Goalkeeper is permitted to deflect or stop the ball with any part of his or her body or stick whilst within their defensive circle (the arc). They are also allowed to propel the ball away using their kickers or their leg guards whilst within their defensive circle (the arc). They also carry a stick which can be used in the same way as any other player, but is primarily used for diving saves.

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. Traditionally each umpire generally controls half of the field, divided roughly diagonally, although now experiments are being made where either umpire can make any decision anywhere on 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.

Major Tournaments

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 Cup held each year for the six top-ranked teams. Amongst the men, India has won 8 Olympic golds and Pakistan have lifted the World Cup 4 times. Amongst the women, Australia has 3 Olympic golds while Netherlands has clinched the World Cup 5 times.

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