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What is Field Hockey? Everything You Need to Know

Field Hockey

Ever wondered why field hockey is the third most popular sport worldwide? This fascinating game, which began in England in the mid-1800s, captures global interest with its combination of strategy and physical prowess.

This blog will explain this engaging sport, from its gameplay rules to the gear used by players, offering insights that can deepen your appreciation or even enhance your performance on the pitch.

Key Takeaways

History of Field Hockey

Field hockey, as we know it today, began in the mid-1800s in England but traces its roots further back in time. Various games involving sticks and a ball have been recorded throughout history across different cultures, yet the unified game we enjoy today was pioneered by the “Blackheath Football and Hockey Club,” established back in 1861.

This club set a precedent for modern field hockey clubs that proliferated worldwide.

India, Pakistan, and Australia emerged as early adopters of this sport soon after its inception. The global appeal of field hockey grew significantly when it earned inclusion at the Olympic Games held in London during 1908.

Over time, Europe and Southeast Asia turned into major hubs for this sport which is now enjoyed by millions globally. Thus far promisingly stepping forward from grass to artificial surfaces while still holding onto its core essence – a passionate game played enthusiastically with sticks and a small plastic ball on an exhilarating pitch under open skies.

Field of Play and Playing Surface

Field Hockey

Field hockey tests the skills of players on a variety of surfaces, predominantly on turf or grass. You would also see games taking place on artificial surfaces, designed to mimic traditional grounds while offering increased durability and consistency.

What’s uniform across all these different fields is their dimensions – a rectangular layout that spans 100 yards in length and 60 yards in width.

The goal size sets another standard throughout field hockey; they are invariably 4 yards wide and 7 feet high. With such precision going into the playing surface design, it’s no surprise that the division of this space is equally meticulous.

A centerline dissects the ground into two halves, further segregated by a 23m line encompassing an area known as the striking circle.

Inside this semi-circle is where goals can be scored during play. However, if foul play occurs within its perimeter by the opposing team, penalty corners come into action just ten meters from each pole on the backline of our playing field.

Similarly, free hits are bestowed upon teams when fouls occur outside this pivotal striking circle, ensuring fair and strategic gameplay at every moment in Field Hockey.

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Rules and Gameplay

Understanding the rules and gameplay of field hockey is essential for maximum enjoyment and performance in the sport.

  1. Each field hockey game consists of two opposing teams with 11 players each, battling to strike a small, hard ball into the opponent’s goal using curved sticks.
  2. The standard duration of a match is 70 minutes, divided into two halves of 35 minutes each with a short break in between.
  3. Players are strictly forbidden from using their hands or lifting their sticks above shoulder height; this significant rule alteration was introduced by the Teddington club to maintain fairness and safety in the sport.
  4. Stickhandling, dribbling, and tackling are fundamental skills required for moving with and gaining control over the ball.
  5. The concept of ‘offside‘ does not exist in field hockey; hence players can roam freely through all areas of the playing surface.
  6. Penalty corners occur when a defensive foul takes place within the shooting circle – this grants an advantageous opportunity to the offensive team.
  7. A penalty stroke may be awarded if a defender commits a severe offense within their defending circle, potentially preventing a likely goal.
  8. In case of tie games that require sudden death solutions such as in knockout stages, shootout method comes into play where singular players attempt to score against the goalkeeper within eight seconds.
  9. Umpires play an essential role in maintaining discipline, ensuring proper conduct, interpreting rules and making critical decisions during matches.
  10. A player may execute reverse stick passes or hits wherein they use the usually non-playing side (the flat left-side edge) of their stick which requires precision and skill.

Positions and General Play

Field Hockey by Women

Field hockey is a dynamic sport that requires strategic positioning and teamwork. Each team consists of 11 players, including 10 field players and one goalkeeper. The field players are further divided into different positions, each with specific roles and responsibilities.

The most common positions in field hockey include forwards, midfielders, defenders, and the goalkeeper. Forwards are responsible for attacking and scoring goals. They use their speed and agility to create opportunities in the opponent’s striking circle.

Midfielders play a crucial role in both defense and offense. They provide support to both the forwards and defenders while maintaining control of the ball in the midfield.

Defenders have a primary responsibility of preventing opponents from entering their own striking circle. Their main focus is on intercepting passes, blocking shots, or tackling opposing players to regain possession of the ball.

The goalkeeper plays a vital role as the last line of defense. They must be agile enough to make saves using their padded protective gear.

In general play, teams aim to move the ball strategically across the field by passing it amongst themselves while maintaining possession. Controlled dribbling skills are essential for maintaining control over the ball without infringing any rules like lifting it dangerously or causing obstruction.

By understanding each position’s unique role and working together as a cohesive unit, teams can effectively attack, defend, and counterattack during a game. Field hockey requires strong communication between teammates along with quick decision-making skills to adapt to changes on the field.

Overall, positions in field hockey require individuals with diverse skill sets who work together towards achieving victory for their team through efficient gameplay tactics.

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Set Plays and Dangerous Play

Set plays in field hockey are strategic moves that teams use to create scoring opportunities or defend against the opposition. These tactical moves can make a significant impact on the outcome of a match, as they often lead to crucial goals or prevent the opposing team from scoring. 

Here are some important aspects of set plays and dangerous play in field hockey:

  • Penalty corners: This is one of the most important set plays in field hockey. It is awarded when a foul is committed by the opposition within the striking circle. The attacking team gets an opportunity to take a direct shot on goal, increasing their chances of scoring.
  • Penalty strokes: Another key set play in field hockey, penalty strokes are awarded when an infringement inside the circle denies a certain goal from being scored. In this situation, it becomes a one-on-one battle between the attacker and the goalkeeper. Careful execution is crucial for converting penalty strokes into goals.
  • Defending against set plays: Teams must also be prepared to defend against their opponents’ set plays. This involves anticipating and countering their tactics, ensuring that defensive players mark their opponents tightly and obstruct any potential scoring opportunities.
  • Dangerous play: In field hockey, dangerous play refers to actions that put players at risk of injury or cause potential harm to opponents. Intentionally swinging the stick in a dangerous manner, tackling from behind, or using excessive force during challenges are examples of dangerous play.
  • Penalties for dangerous play: Field hockey rules strictly penalize dangerous play to maintain fair and safe competition. Offenders can receive penalties such as green, yellow, or red cards depending on the severity of their actions.
  • Importance of safe play: Field hockey players must prioritize safety and avoid engaging in dangerous play. Coaches and officials have a crucial role in educating players about safe practices and enforcing rules to prevent dangerous situations.

Scoring and Rule Change Procedure

field hockey moment

Scoring in field hockey is essential for determining the winner of a game, and rule changes are implemented to ensure fair play. Here are some key points to know about scoring and the rule change procedure in field hockey:

  • Scoring a goal requires the ball to go into the goal and be touched by an attacker’s stick within the shooting circle.
  • The shooting circle is a semi – circular area in front of each goal, extending 14.63 meters from the goal line.
  • Fouls such as raising the stick above the shoulder, stopping the ball with the hand or foot, causing dangerous play, or obstruction can result in penalties or free hits for the opposing team.
  • Penalty corners are awarded when a foul is committed by the opposition within the striking circle. This gives an attacking team an opportunity to score from a set play.
  • During a penalty corner, the ball is placed 10 meters from the goalpost on the backline, and a player pushes it towards the top of the striking circle to create scoring chances.
  • Penalty strokes or flicks may be awarded if an infringement inside the circle denies a certain goal from being scored. This provides a one-on-one opportunity between an attacker and goalkeeper.
  • Free hits are given to a team if their opponents commit fouls outside of the striking circle. These give teams an opportunity to regain control and launch attacks.
  • Rule changes in field hockey are made by International Hockey Federation (FIH) based on feedback from players, coaches, officials, and stakeholders. These changes aim to improve fairness, safety, and overall game experience.

Equipment in Field Hockey

In the fast-paced, strenuous sport of field hockey, having the right equipment is paramount. This not only aids performance but also ensures the safety of players. Below is a table listing the standard equipment used in field hockey.




These provide players with the necessary grip to swiftly maneuver around the field.

Elbow Protectors

These guards protect players’ arms from injuries during collisions and falls.

Face Masks

Worn during penalty corners and shots for extra protection.


Field hockey sticks with rounded heads are designed to help players dribble, pass, and shoot the ball.


This is the main piece of equipment used in the sport. Hockey balls are hard and fast.


These protect a player’s eyes from potential injury from the ball or a stick.


The aim of the game is to get the ball into these. They are marked at each end of the field.

Leg guards

These protect the shins, a vulnerable area during the game, from potential injuries.


These are necessary for protecting players’ teeth during gameplay.

Helmets and Girdles (For Goalies)

Goalies, who face the brunt of high-speed balls, wear additional protective gear for safety.

Each piece of equipment plays a crucial role in the exciting and competitive sport of field hockey.

Also see why you should get the best neck guards for hockey plays.

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Tactics in Field Hockey

Tactics in field hockey play a crucial role in achieving success on the pitch. Teams strategically plan their moves and formations to outwit their opponents and create scoring opportunities.

One common tactic is the “press,” where players apply strong defensive pressure on the opposing team to force turnovers. Another effective tactic is called “overlapping,” where teammates coordinate their movements, with one player passing the ball to another who overlaps them for a quick attack.

Teams also use specific strategies during penalty corners, known as set plays. These carefully choreographed sequences aim to confuse the defense and create open spaces for a shot at goal.

Additionally, teams may adopt different formations depending on game situations. For example, they might switch from an attacking formation to a more defensive one when protecting a narrow lead.

Furthermore, it’s essential for players to understand how tactics can be adjusted based on the playing surface. On grass fields, for instance, long passes may be less accurate due to uneven bounces compared to artificial turf surfaces.

Implementing effective tactics requires teamwork and communication among players along with precise execution of skills such as dribbling, passing, and shooting. By employing strategic maneuvers and adapting strategies accordingly throughout the course of a match, teams can gain an advantage over their opponents ultimately leading them towards victory.

International Competition and Variants

Field hockey is a globally recognized sport, with numerous international competitions and several unique variations of the game. Owing to its widespread popularity, field hockey is played in various forms and rules, giving rise to different versions of the game.




World Cup


Field hockey’s most prestigious tournament, overseen by the International Hockey Federation. Teams from all over the world compete, including powerhouses like India, Pakistan, and Australia.

Olympic Games


Field hockey has been a part of the Summer Olympics since 1908, with matches taking place on grass or artificial surfaces.

EuroHockey Championship


The most significant competition in Europe, featuring the continent’s top field hockey teams. This event showcases some of the most advanced tactics in field hockey.

Sultan Azlan Shah Cup


A prestigious tournament held annually in Malaysia, attracting some of the best teams from Southeast Asia, a region where field hockey enjoys immense popularity.

Africa Cup for Club Champions


The most important club competition in Africa, where lacrosse-style field hockey, a unique variant of the game, is played.

Some variants of field hockey include indoor hockey, beach hockey, mini hockey, and para-hockey. These versions adapt the conventional rules and playstyle to suit different environments and player needs, further enhancing the global appeal of the sport.


In conclusion, field hockey is a thrilling and fast-paced team sport that has captivated audiences around the world. With its rich history, strategic gameplay, and competitive international competitions, it’s no wonder why field hockey continues to be a beloved sport by enthusiasts everywhere. Whether you’re playing on the pitch or cheering from the sidelines, field hockey is sure to ignite your passion for sportsmanship and teamwork.